Staunton, August 6 –Vladimir Putin gained plaudits for his adroit answer to a blogger who sharply criticized him in Putin-like language – even though the blogger’s site was later shut down – but the Moscow leader and his United Russia Party appear to be in some difficulty now because their use of Photoshop technology to falsify that party’s role in fighting fires.
Earlier this week, the United Russia branch in Voronezh released a photograph which it said showed party members helping those who suffering from the fires there. But a Russian blogger, “avmalgin,” demonstrated that the picture was a falsification produced with Photoshop on the basis of a picture two years old (avmalgin.livejournal.com/2047533.html).
After his posting, the blogger reported, the United Russia group in Voronezh took the photograph off its site, although not before he was able to capture it via Screenshot (i065.radikal.ru/1008/21/01b6b622950d.jpg) and thus provide visual confirmation of what he had said on his blog.
Given the seriousness of the fire situation in European Russia and mounting anger about the failure of the authorities, people were outraged, and more than 400 have written to the United Russia’s regional site, most of whom have denounced this fraud and accused party leaders of seeking to “make political capital” out of a deeply human tragedy (vrn.vestipk.ru/?p=12130).
Local United Russia leaders have not commented on the case, but as several Russian news agencies have pointed out, it is clear that this latest case of “pokazuka” was connected with the visit of Prime Minister Putin to Voronezh on Wednesday and intended to make his local party comrades look good in his eyes (obozrevatel.com/news/2010/8/6/382877.htm).
But as these same agencies report, other bloggers there say that “the powers that be [in Voronezh] dispersed all the volunteers who had been participating in fighting the fires” and created with the help of the militia, the FSB, and other bodies a false “staff” in order to “make an impression on the high guest” (newsru.com/russia/06aug2010/edro.html).
Such falsifications, especially if they can be so quickly and convincingly demonstrated, are a danger to any ruling party, even if people feel there is no real alternative to it because the population becomes alienated, ceasing to believe even what is in fact the case and increasingly engaging in some of the worst kinds of conspiracy-mongering.
And that in turn opens the way not so much for the responsible opposition but for radical populists who are prepared to play to precisely those kinds of beliefs. Consequently, what likely seemed to the United Russia leaders to be a risk worth taking may force them and perhaps their entire organization to combat a different kind of fire than the one they clearly didn’t fight in fact.