Friday, December 21, 2007

Window on Eurasia: Putin Enthusiasts in West Not Ready to Live Under Him

Paul Goble

Vienna, December 22 -- “Putin Mania” is sweeping Western countries, Moscow media outlets have insisted this week following “Time” magazine’s selection of the Russian president as its “man of the year.” But one Moscow paper suggests that there are some real limits to this affection, even among the most devoted.
According to Moskovskiy Komsomolets, there are now dozens of Putin fan clubs and websites in Europe and North America, but few of their organizers want their friends to find out from the media about just how far their passion for the Russian leader goes and thus many insist on anonymity (
And one of the three Putin enthusiasts the paper talked to said that she, a Bulgarian now studying abroad, could not imagine having Putin running her country -- such an arrangement would be “funny” -- and added that she would never be “crazy” enough to think about moving to the Russian Federation so she could live under his rule
The founder of the Putin Mania Fan Club in Ireland -- unnamed -- said that he was interested in everything about Putin but added that “if my fellow classmates were to find out about my interest, at a minimum, they would not understand [this extreme passion], and some would laugh at me.”
Naidel Neim, a Canadian citizen whose mother is Russian, said he had founded the VVP Fan Club because Putin “had made Russia into an influential state” and given Russians a higher standard of living. He said he favored changing the Russian constitution so that Putin could remain in office because that is what Russians want.
Neim added that Western countries were objecting to such a step not because they cared about legal niceties but rather because they wanted “Russia to be [their] slave” and therefore were interested in Putin’s exit from office and the appearance of those “prepared to serve” the interests of the West rather than the interests of Russia.
Asked by the Moscow paper whether he would favor having Putin become “president of the world,” Neim said that he was against that because “such a talented individual [as Putin] should serve only the interests of Russia. If he became president of the world, then he would not be able to focus on the interests of the Russian Federation.”
And that country, he insisted, “needs the full attention of its leader.”
The third Putin enthusiast the paper interviewed was a Bulgarian student now enrolled at university somewhere in Europe. Like her counterpart in Ireland, she was reluctant to talk about her passion and said that she “would not like any of her fellow students or professors to study encounter my name in an article about Putin.”
The Bulgarian, one of 823 people who currently takes part in the Putin Facebook page, said that she like the Russian president “in the first instance” more as a man than as a politician. But she added that she was certain that “he had done more for Russians than anyone else,” although she noted that there was a lot more to be done.
As far as Western accusations that Putin was moving away from democracy, violating human rights, or killing journalists and other opponents, the Bulgarian student said that she considered all of this “untrue,” claims that “no one has yet been able” to provide evidence for.
And she noted that one Russian student had told her that the Western hatred for Putin was a good thing “because it means that he is doing good for Russia.” And because “all of them hate Russia,” they thus hate him. She said that she “entirely agreed with this assertion.”
The paper then asked her for her reaction about reports that Putin had rigged the recent parliamentary elections in Russia. That was nonsense, she said,, and while acknowledging that no voting was ever “100 percent free,” the results of this poll accurately reflected the will of the Russian people.
“Why can’t the Americans believe that Russians voted for United Russia?” she asked rhetorically. “After all, they voted for Bush.”
The Moskovskiy Komsomolets journalist concluded with two questions about her willingness to live under Putin’s rule. Asked whether she would like to see him become president of Bulgaria, the student said absolutely not. If he were, that would be simply “funny,” something like Saakashvili in Georgia.
And asked by the Russian newspaper if she would be willing to move to the Russian Federation in order to be “closer to Putin,” the Bulgarian student answered that she “would not be so crazy as to immigrate to the Russian Federation only because of sympathy for your president.”

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