Thursday, November 29, 2007

Window on Eurasia: Putin’s ‘Enemies of Russia’ Recalls Stalin’s ‘Enemies of the People’

Paul Goble

Vienna, November 29 – Russian President Vladimir Putin’s characterization of his political opponents and those standing behind them as “the enemies of Russia” has sparked a discussion among his supporters about the relationship of that term to Stalin’s notorious one, “the enemies of the people.”
Pavel Danilin, editor of the pro-Putin website, addressed that issue directly in response to a question posed by a correspondent of the “New Region” news agency on Tuesday. His comment should disturb all who care about the prospects for democracy and freedom in Russia (
“’Enemy of the People,’ Danilin said, “is a specific term which sends us back to the times of the Stalinist period of history. Unfortunately, in Russia today it has an additional political meaning. In ‘Stalin’s times,’ it was extended in addition to everything else, also to the relatives of persons declared to be ‘enemies of the people.’”
As a result, the editor concluded, “to use it [now] is incorrect. [And] ‘Enemies of Russia is a more suitable description.” In short, for Danilin, the problem is not with the category of “enemy of the people” as Stalin understood it but rather with the extension of that term to the family members of people the dictator so described.
That moral and political indifference to the use of a term which not only poisoned the atmosphere of the Stalinist era but led to the incarceration of millions and the deaths of hundreds of thousands makes what Danilin and other Putin supporters are now saying about its effective synonym all the more frightening.
Danilin himself added during a roundtable organized by the Effective Politics foundation that Putin’s use of the term showed that it was time to talk about “enemies” and to wage “war” against them because Putin’s opponents want “ to return for themselves the 1990s and for all the rest, for the people, the 1930s.”
He added that Putin’s call for “a purge of the ranks” of United Russia after its victory in the parliamentary elections was absolutely necessary to cleanse it from careerists and hangers on. And for prompting Putin to plan for such a step, he said, “it is possible to say thanks to the opposition.”
Another participant in that roundtable, Vladimir Zharikhin, the deputy director of the Moscow Institute of CIS Countries, provided an additional gloss on the meaning of “enemies of Russia.” “Enemies,” he said, “are not only those who openly say; “I am an enemy of Putin.’”
Rather “the largest number of the enemies of Putin today say; ‘I am not interested in politics’ or ‘I am friend of Putin’s’” – in short, he suggests, a large fraction of those who constitute the “enemies” of Putin and hence of Russia are people who profess to be his and its supporters.
Yet another speaker, Andrei Ashkerov, identified as a philosopher, described the current situation in words that recall Stalin’s comments in the 1930s. “Those who call themselves ‘friends of Putin,’” he said, love him only “because it’s expected or out of bureaucratic considerations.”
Such people, Ashkerov continued, are especially dangerous because they do not love Putin “in a sufficiently sincere fashion,” much like the daughters in Shakespeare’s play, King Lear. On the one hand, he said, at the moment, this is not a major problem because “Putin is already the victor.”
But on the other, unless an effort is made to identify the real “friends of Putin,” those who do not love him enough will link up with those enemies of Russia and together they will undercut the Russian President’s still only “tactical victory” and thus bring harm to the country.
An analogue to every one of these remarks can easily be found in the Communist lexicon of the 1930s, but perhaps an even clearer indication of the direction things are taking involves yet another ideological development in the wake of Putin’s remarks at the Luzhniki stadium rally.
As the New Region news agency pointed out yesterday, novelists and poets are now making a contribution to the definition of “enemy of Russia.” And it cites the verses of Tajik poet Rakhimkhon Rashidov from the site to show just how far things have gone (
In one poetic offering entitled “What awaits the enemies of Russia?” Rashidov describes the enemies of Russia as “rotten people with the character of hyenas” and said that they should be pushed into “the grave” because of the harm they do to Putin and Russia.
But Rashidov’s views about Putin and his enemies are even more clearly expressed in the following three quatrains, loosely translated from the Russian:

“Vladimir Vladimirovich, our dear man,
Among all the strong, you stand out above the rest.
You lead behind you not only Russia
But also my dear Tajikistan.

“In our difficult times, you are a real hero.
The people will never forget you – for them, you are holy.
We believe in the light of your soul and in another world
Where there is no war, where joy flows like a river.

“And you perform you job honestly and with a pure soul.
Here is why you have the right to be the best
President in the world, and all the peoples will follow you.
And I believe, that you are with Allah and Allah is with you.”

Except for that last line, no Stalin era poetaster screaming for the deaths of “the enemies of the people” the Soviet dictator had identified could have expressed the situation more precisely.

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