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The state of the country on the eve of the Olympics: Trusting in God and His Vice-Regent on Earth - (Novaya gazeta)

7 January 2014

By Andrei Kolesnikov  
Columnist at Novaya Gazeta 

Source: Novaya gazeta

The prior of Kazan Cathedral, archpriest Vyacheslav Zhebelev, flew around Volgograd in a helicopter with a myrrh-streaming icon of the Mother of God with Seven Arrows entitled ‘The Softening of Evil Hearts’. Vladimir Putin himself personally examined all the Olympic sites, tried on a volunteer’s jacket and tested out the ice which has already brought ill fortune to the Russian hockey team, whilst at the same time, so would seem, blessing it. The President also signed a law criminalising incitement to separatism (without any clear legal definition of what this might be). A number of State Duma deputies called for the end to the moratorium on the death penalty.

So this is the news we have received between New Year and Christmas.

As Viktor Shenderovich rightly pointed out, all our problems could be resolved by flying round the entire country a couple of times in a helicopter, bearing an icon. We trust in the great power of God and His vice-regent on Earth. In fact, the icon above the Kremlin’s Saviour Gate runs along the same lines: it is there to protect the ruler from his people, as well as other unfortunate forces majeures, as though it were a professional icon for the Federal Security Service. The second option – God’s vice-regent on Earth – is otherwise known as micro-management of the country by one man. Apart from that, we can also rely on the distribution of harsh punishments.

Blatantly mediaeval

Why is it like this? Because nothing else works any more: it is a crisis of management. There are no institutions, only personal decisions taken either by the Leader or by God, and these decisions are reinforced by repression. Personal micro-management and repression – these are the only two institutions still in existence.

Another characteristic of this system – finely spun and hard-to-decode script of symbols and insinuations

Why is it that Vladimir Putin, during his inspection of Sochi (his ‘consecration’ of Olympic sites), made his way onto the ice in a No. 11 shirt, and not No. 1? Because his position was not goalkeeper, but forward? Aleksandr Lukashenko – President of Belarus – heftily skated out onto the arena in the No. 1 shirt. Does this mean that ‘Bat’ka’ (Lukashenko’s nickname - the ‘father’ of Belarus – trans.) is the most important man in the post-Soviet lands of historical Rus? Or is this a sort of rescue service – for Lukashenko-Putin, dial 1-11? Or perhaps it is because the president, as an ex-KGB agent, is a member of the Dynamo Sports Club, and chose No. 11 – taken out of use by former player Aleksandr Maltsev – in order to appropriate the latter’s legendary charisma and miraculous strength… In any event, it is a metaphor for power, just like the positioning of Politburo members atop the Mausoleum. Except in this case there is almost no sense whatsoever: the system itself is not becoming any more effective for all this logistical and numerical magic.

One key feature of such systems is that they simultaneously suffer from an inferiority complex as regards the West and feel superior to it

One minute we adopt a mediaeval anti-gay law; the next – out of the blue – we allow protests to take place in Sochi. All because of the West, all for the sake of the West. No wonder it is said that the Kremlin’s relative political softness in the easy game of amnesty and reprieve will last only until the Olympics – and then the real game will begin.

In this system, fragments of quasi-modernisation are possible only as an exception to the rule. In fact, even the Olympic buildings and infrastructure are exceptions to the rule, throwing dust into everyone’s eyes and depleting huge financial resources. This is exactly how the Soviet Union dealt with the West, foreigners and indeed everything foreign. And it is according to this logic that such a notion as the ‘foreign agent’ can exist, a barely defined notion that escapes legal or general evaluation. Why, in a country full of ‘foreign agents’, can we indeed not solve all problems with magical icons, the death penalty and having the Head of State go ice-skating?

…In the Dolmabahçe Palace of Istanbul is a magnificent clock – simultaneously serving as a thermometer, barometer and calendar. It was a gift from the viceroy of Egypt to one of the Sultans.

As English historian Niall Ferguson points out in his book, ‘Civilisation: the West and the Rest’, this clock ‘looks like a masterpiece of Oriental technology – except for one small detail: it was made in Austria, by Wilhelm Kirsch.

As Kirsch’s clock perfectly illustrates, the mere importation of Western technology [Ferguson means technology of the social and political kind as well – A.K.] was no substitute for a home-grown modernisation of the Ottoman Empire.’

In reality, an empire is lost when it has lost the capacity to compete with the outside world, and when its trust in the Divine (whatever ‘nationality’ it may be) has replaced its own efforts and aspirations for development. This applies as much to the Soviet empire, still decaying in the minds of the rulers and citizens of Russia, as it did to the Ottoman Empire.

The author’s opinions may not reflect those of the editors

Translated by Catriona Gilham