Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Could a Cult of Personality Reemerge in Russia?

Paul Goble

Vienna, July 1 – Fifty-two years after the CPSU Central Committee published its decree on “overcoming the cult of personality and its consequences,” Russia remains at some risk of the appearance of a new “cult,” albeit one different in kind from that which existed under Stalin, according to a survey of Russian politicians, religious leaders and commentators.
In an article timed to the 52nd anniversary of the CPSU decree which was issued on June 30, 1956, the Regions.ru news portal suggested that, as reactions to Vladimir Putin showed, the tendency of Russians to engage in “idol worship” and the willingness of those in power to exploit this “survived the Soviet Union” (www.regions.ru/news/2152235/).
The news site then asked a panel of Russian leaders whether “Russia is protected against a new cult of personality in the future, and what must be done if this has not yet happened.” Those surveyed by Regions.ru were far from unanimous in believing that Russia could avoid such an outcome.
Russia “will never again return to a cult of personality,” according to Nikolai Tonkov, who represents Yavoslavl in the Federation Council. “People remember the terrible period of Stalin’s cult of personality” and have no wish to see that reported. But Vasiliy Likhachev, senator from Ingushetia suggested that more will be needed to prevent a recurrence.
On the one hand, he said, the person in the top job will have to behave in such a way as not to encourage the emergence of such a cult. And on the other, “and no less important,” the chief of state must be subject to the control of social organizations, something that will protect against any efforts directed toward “the rebirth of authoritarianism.”
Gennady Gorbunov, who heads the Federation Council’s agriculture committee, agreed, observing that many Russians continue to display “an inclination” to defer entirely too much to their leaders. And Duma member Nikolai Kharitonov suggested that a cult could reemerge all too easily because “Russians are accustomed to place their hopes on anyone but themselves.”
But Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, the deputy chairman of the Patriarchate’s External Affairs Department said that Russians now “simply do not have the conditions needed for the establishment of a cult of personality. Nowadays, it might exist in sects or fan clubs but not at the all-national level. We have already put this stage of development behind us.”
Anas-khadzhi Pshikhachev, the chairman of the Muslim Spiritual Directorate of Kabardino-Balkaria, argued that “no country is completely insured against a new cult of personality.” Such leaders can emerge when there is “a low level of self-consciousness among the population,” something that opens the way for the creation of a demigod.
Other religious leaders suggested that religion in the distorted form of communism helped create conditions for a cult, but others, including Rabbi Zinovy Kogan of the Congress of Jewish Organizations and Unions in Russia (KEROOR), insisted that “the roots of the cult of personality lie in atheism.”
As interesting as these answers may be, the far more intriguing aspect of this report lies elsewhere. More than half a century after Moscow condemned the Stalinist cult of personality, Russians still find it necessary and even useful to ask themselves whether such a political conjunction might occur again.

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