Amid the varying readings of the dissident mood currently sweeping through Russia, my attention was drawn today to a piece by Paul Starobin in the Boston Globe, who sees the current situation through the optic of the ‘family feud’ borne out of a centuries-old pattern of patriarchal rule. Using historical and literary reference points, Starobin develops the idea that the current state of affairs is the inevitable progeniture of a perennial Russian model in which the nation’s omniscient leader runs the country as a father a household. The whole article makes for interesting reading, but below is one extract where he clarifies how Putin has fit neatly into the role of the great white father:
When Putin, an ex-KGB colonel born in 1952, took the reins of power, at the end of 1999, he satisfied a yearning for a strong leader who could make the Russian family proud. As I gleaned from my own reporting — I was living in Russia at the time — ordinary Russians hailed him as a strongman, a silne chilovek. A worshipful pop song about Putin played on the radio, with the all-girl band singing of its desire for “a man like Putin, full of strength/ a man like Putin, who doesn’t drink/ a man like Putin, who doesn’t hurt me/ a man like Putin, who won’t run away.”
Keen to take advantage of the political moment, the Kremlin cultivated a pro-Putin following among young people, who were encouraged to revive Orthodox traditions such as having large families. (Putin propagandists may have had a hand in that “man like Putin” song.) There were few objections as Putin consolidated his hold over the media, made regional governors subject to the Kremlin’s appointment, and imprisoned or exiled Yeltsin-era business magnates who bridled at his autocratic rule. Putin had become an intimate, familiar presence in the Russian national family — the so-called pervoye litso or first face in Russia, not just head of government but custodian of the national soul. “The importance of the pervoye litso is overwhelming, much more important than in America,” I was reminded at the time by an Orthodox priest who served as Putin’s confessor.
But a good father can become a bad father — a beneficent czar turn into an abusive one. And when that happens, the “Domostroi” model, in its worshipful attitude toward paternal authority, offers no solution to the problem of replacing a father who has led the nation astray.
Read on here.