Staunton, September 21 – Aleksandr Sotnik, who has set up an independent television studio in Moscow, says that “unfortunately Western politicians absolutely do not understand what is happening in present-day Russia” and thus are incapable either of assessing the nature of the threat Vladimir Putin represents or countering it effectively.
In an interview with NR2.com.ua, Sotnik says that Putin has assembled around himself backward lumpenized people who dream of Soviet “’greatness’” when “’they feared us and this means they respected us’” and who are all too happy to come out again as exemplars of Homo Sovieticus” (nr2.com.ua/News/world_and_russia/Aleksandr-Sotnik-Kreml-reanimiruet-chekistskogo-Frankenshteyna-stalinskih-vremen-80450.html).
But that is not enough for Putin, the Moscow journalist says. Instead, what is on offer as a result of his intense propaganda campaign which appeals to “the basest instincts” of the population is “the reanimation of the Chekist Frankenstein of Stalin’s times” – angry and suspicion beings who are prepared to see enemies everywhere and ready to kill them.
The regime is clearly preparing to move even further in that direction, Sotnik says, noting that he recently discovered a new prison under construction near Moscow. Supposedly for illegal migrants, it was in fact being overseen not by the migration service but by the interior ministry and suggests Putin wants to “convert the country into a fascist Auschwitz.”
The support Putin is getting from the Russian population reflects many things, he continues: indifference, fear, despair, but also “’convinced Soviet people’” who really want to believe what Putin is saying. These are pure Putinists, “active as a virus and strong and decisive in their plans for career growth. Today is there star hour,” and they are ready to seize it.
While the poll numbers being reported are exaggerated, Sotnik says, his own informal surveys suggest that popular support for Putin is quite high. Most people with whom he has talked say “’Putin is right,’ ‘he is doing everything correctly,’ ‘he is a wise politician,’ and ‘in Ukraine are fascists and a junta.’”
People who say this get most of their information from Moscow television, but they also like to say that they have used alternative channels like the Internet. “No one,” he points out, “wants to feel himself to have been zombified, and it is always possible to find justification for a cannibal-like position.”
Fewer than a third of Russians have ever been abroad, and those who have often find themselves uncomfortable and in a panic run back to what is for them their own familiar and comfortable society. And this desire to restore a past, despite all its horrors, is very much in evidence in the Kremlin itself, Sotnik says.
Citing Churchill’s remark that “’the next generation of fascists will call itself anti-fascist,’” Sotnik suggests that something similar is at work among post-communist Russians and their leaders. Playing games with words and meanings, he points out, is the everyday task of the Russian secret police.
Those who refuse to call along are labelled enemies. And many find it much simpler not to look at the Internet but to go along with what is on television: such people know that by not swimming “against the current,” they won’t have any problems with the authorities or suffer doubts themselves.
And most Russians are prepared to accept the false logic that because “we defeated fascists, we cannot be fascists by definition” and that anyone “who does not love us is a fascist.” Thinking that way is “very simple, convincing and sympathetic,” Sotnik says. But even these people sometimes reflect that they are following leaders who are taking them into a new hell.