Putin’s Russia

Next Saturday, March 21st Garry Kasparov visits Tilburg University. On invitation of the Nexus Institute the former world chess champion will debate with the public about the political situation in Russia. As is known, Kasparov is a fierce opponent of Vladimir Putin. Preceding Kasparov’s visit universonline.nl publishes a number of blogs. Both students and professors will have their say on a complex matter of present interest: ‘Putin’s Russia’. The fourth blog is by Anton Zvonkov (20), a Liberal Arts and Sciences student born in Russia. From the age of 14 Anton lived in Ukraine.

Once I was listening to one of the Russian podcasts. The man who was talking said something like: “Imagine, what is going on in the heads of Russian youth, who were born, for example, in 1995. They lived all their conscious life under Putin’s rule. They do not know that there might be some other president, unlike Putin. What changes can we even expect from them?”

After I heard this point of view, I understood that I strongly disagree with this man. Yes, I may not remember Yeltsin’s period in modern Russian history, but what I do remember are the first years of Vladimir Putin’s reign. I remember how in the early 2000’s I was watching federal channels together with my father and saw how unbiased they were and how their freedom of speech was slowly decaying. For example, in the beginning there were a lot of shows based on political satire, where every politician, including president Putin, could be made fun of or criticized for their actions. Then, with each month, these programs were becoming duller, critique became toothless. The channel which was airing most of these shows, NTV, eventually was bought by Putin’s sympathizers (some say it was bought by Gazprom, but this is just a rumor). All of the old programs were shut down and the main crew of the channel was completely replaced.

Today the NTV channel is as pro-Putin as it can get. Most of the programs are complete propaganda, in which for example Ukraine is shown only how Kremlin wants to see it. Sometimes they call opposition members to participate in the talk shows, but through the great work of camera operators and sound directors their point of view is never really heard. The documentaries, which they broadcast, are mostly about Ukrainian Nationalists or how happy Crimean people are.

I am afraid that most of the Russian population truly cannot imagine their country without its ‘one and only’ leader

From my perspective, this story of the transformation of NTV − from the unbiased source of information and satire to one of the most efficient instruments of Putin’s propaganda − can be viewed as a mirror to what happened with Russia overall. During the Putin rule our country changed from a developing state with pro-Western views into a stable ‘soft dictatorship’, where there is no way but Putin’s way. Due to the good work of a finely honed propaganda machine Putin is treated almost as half god. The first deputy chief of staff of the Presidential Administration of Russia, Vyacheslav Volodin even said: “Without Putin, there is no Russia.”

For me, as witness of these transformations, it is very hard to expect real changes in the current political situation in Russia. I am afraid that most of the Russian population truly cannot imagine their country without its ‘one and only’ leader. When I say ‘most of the Russian population’ I don’t mean youngsters like myself, who grew up during the Putin’s rule, but mostly older people who are nostalgic about the Soviet Union.


Written by Anton Zvonkov

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