All That Is Solid Melts Into Air

8 November 2012

By Russia On My Mind

Imagine you are the President and one night you fall asleep and dream. You have spent the last twelve years doing hard labour making your country a better place (true, you took time out as PM, over the last four years, though you never stopped labouring away, you never once abdicated responsibility). You have built a perfect pyramid, a ‘vertical’ of power, you believe, as elegant and perfect and as strong as one of the Kremlin’s Towers. Things have been going better and better: everyone (well, everyone who counts) tells you so. 

But then one day sitting in your Kremlin Tower you hear from outside, in the Street, the motley public disagreeing with your policies, airing their views about what should or should not be done. Imagine how distasteful that would be!

And there are ‘elections’ around the corner, elections you have planned to win with the least fuss and bother – in the usual, calm and orderly ‘administrative’ way. And when you do ‘win’ these elections, the Street raises such a fuss, such a loud chatter.

But you have the power to stop this chatter. With a stroke of your pen, or a word from your mouth, you can set the law enforcement agencies onto them. You can have laws passed by the subservient parliament. You can cajole the rabble into silence, frighten them, imprison them. Or worse…Why, otherwise they might spoil everything.

And the coterie around you – those smiling and agreeable faces – all report on their achievements: So-and-So has been arrested, Such-and-Such a TV Programme has been aired, New Legislation has been passed. Policy, they assure you, will remain your sole preserve. The Street will be excluded from all discussion and debate.

And, indeed the noise from the Street dies away (but why do they insist the President not travel in his beloved motorcade? And is that triple – or quadruple – glazing they are fitting in the Kremlin windows?)

Soon, in your Kremlin Tower, no sounds from the Street will reach you at all. Ruling, it seems, is such an easy and satisfying thing to do. The world you have done so much to create is solid and firm. That smiling coterie around you (people you have elevated to sit, just below you, near the apex of your ‘vertical of power’) are so alacritous in their service, so devoted, so swift with assurance that all is well. So well, they say, that you can probably resume your trips again quite soon (when your back is somewhat better). There is probably no need to fly with the cranes again, or to dive to the seabed for amphorae. But something similar, no doubt, could be arranged, if a little less testing. After all, something is needed for the television news.

But, now, what have we here? The lowering of the volume from outside attracts your attention to noises within the Kremlin walls. There is a mumbling and a grumbling going on. Your close friend of many years, Mr Z, a former prime minster and chair of your gas monopoly, has fallen out with his son-in-law, the Minister of Defence, Mr S! This faithless son-in-law has split up with his wife and, they say, is having an affair! Z is in a rage. And where are the smiling and agreeable faces? The knives are out. Mr S, with his multi-billion dollar budget, suddenly has a host of enemies. The police are brought in to investigate. There are allegations of corruption. The smiling faces are snarling: Mr I, Mr R, Mr C, and Mr S (another one) - they are all at it! The smiling comrades of yesterday are lions demanding blood. You are not even certain there is no malice in their eyes when they look at you!

Now, below the surface of the Pyramid, the earth is moving. The quarrelling is rocking the very Towers of the Kremlin! The windows are broken. The sound of the Street rushes in, louder, more vibrant and insistent than ever before.

The Pyramid, that precious Vertical, is about to fall!

Imagine you are President. You wake from this dream with a troubled head. But though your eyesight is still fuzzy from sleep, you have a clear sense of what needs to be done. A new beginning. You are a reformed individual! You realize that locking yourself away with a tiny number of your coterie at the top of your pyramid, treating large parts of the rest of the country as your enemy, is no way for a President to behave. You look out of the window. The sun is shining, trees are shimmering in the sunlight, and far away you catch a glimpse of your fellow citizens going about their daily business. You open the window and the distant hum of the World enters in. You sit down at your desk. And you write. Your first task: Free and fair elections.