Sunday, February 24, 2013

Putin's Kiss, an important documentary for Generation Putin

Putin's Kiss, a documentary by Oleg Kashin, is about the dark side of Nashi, the pro-Putin youth movement, and the personal journey of Masha Drokova whose new friendship with liberal journalists and Oleg Kashin changed her.

This documentary has been out for awhile, but I was only recently made aware that it was available for download. I'll allow you to view with the official website and trailer at least. Better yet, download the movie (US release, with English subtitles) right now. (Please buy it and support the film-makers--don't just rip it from a file-sharing site.) Then, come back and read the rest of this post. I'll wait.




Done? That was fast. Now you can hear me ramble on my view of this documentary, as a one-time resident of Moscow, and as a citizen-of-the-world-who-hasn't-quite-settled-down-anywhere.

It is difficult to do a documentary with a complete lack of bias, and of course this one is particularly anti-Putin. You would be too, if you were beaten to pulp by those who appear to be Putin supporters. But this is an important documentary for all who live in Putin's Russia, and for Generation Putin.

Why would I promote an anti-Putin film, you may ask, on the Generation Putin blog? But why not? It is just about the only one about Generation Putin, and the internal conflict each of us suffers when having to choose sides, speak out, or make career choices. Besides, I'm simply pro-Putin. I'm not anti-Putin-critic. We need critics.

Then there is Nashi with their red scarves and Putin t-shirts. (That ring a bell? But at the same time I do want a Putin shirt.) While I applaud young Russians to feel passionate about the leadership of their country, I'm cautious of politicising youth movements--there is a reason why someone needs to be above 18 years of age to be able to vote. Like Drokova,  I feel strongly about the values reflected in Nashi's doctrine, but I do not approve about some the activities they choose to champion these values.

Attacks, harassments, character assassination, mob-like protests etc. are not constructive ways to build a solid, positive youth movement. Maybe this was a result of politicising youth. Once the spark has ignited, there is no telling what--or who--will be burned. As a result of hate, some Nashi members may have taken a step too far with harassment, and one of the fruits of that was Kashin's brutal attack. Nashi doesn't claim to have sanctioned the attack, of course, but they are to blame for igniting the spark of hate, which escalated into violence.

I was highly politicised as a teenager, but there were few outlets for political activity in Singapore. I was thus "self-politicised". The PAP Youth was nowhere as powerful as Nashi. Besides, it wasn't "cool" enough for most people to want to join. Our leaders weren't exactly charismatic, but they got the job done without having to brainwash kids. (But what about PAP Kindergartens? OK, lets not open yet another can of worms here...) And for the opposition? Well... nothing really worth noting, either.

Personally, I see the main source of Nashi's problems has to do with their leader, Vasily Yakemenko. Throughout Drokova's career in Nashi, it's clear that he is a tyrant and manipulator, and he is only friendly to people he can use--people like Masha, and when that person is no longer of any use because they've gotten more independent of him, he dumps them. Friendship is only a tool to him.

So, is Yakemenko Putin-like? Far from it. Yakemenko main goal, it seems, it simply to be anti-opposition--enemy focused, and... that's about it really. Hate and character assassinations. The rest is just window-dressing. But there are only so many enemies you can make.

This might seem the same for Putin, who made the military campaign in Chechnya his trump card during his first election campaign. But that alone does not account for the economic prosperity and political stability that came with him in power. And as for free press? I think we are under the illusion that the press was freer under Yeltsin, but in my opinion, it is not. Instead of being controlled by the Kremlin, it was controlled by the oligarchs, and whoever was waving money in front of journalists to print whatever the hell they want. Outside of that, I guess they wrote whatever they wanted, as long as they didn't step on some big shot's toes. It wasn't freedom--it was anarchy.

I think the fact that there are opposition parties and independent journalists is a sign of growing prosperity and political progress. If one doesn't have to worry about food and shelter, then one will start thinking about more about getting a new car, being able to afford vacations abroad, higher education, fulfilling hobbies, self-actualisation, or, god-forbid, freedom. This happened under Putin, and no one, especially the pro-Putin camp, should see this as a threat. Russia isn't going down the drain. It may not be rosy, but it isn't getting worse.

What we may worry now is that Nashi (and possibly, Putin), may be in their twilight years. What happens when Generation Putin grows up? What will happen after Putin, when he isn't around to get the house in order, or to inspire young people with something as simple as a kiss?

There are some really big shoes to fill. Good luck with that.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Putin Personality Disorder - By Fiona Hill and Clifford G. Gaddy | Foreign Policy

Putin Personality Disorder - By Fiona Hill and Clifford G. Gaddy | Foreign Policy

 FEBRUARY 15, 2013
Russia's president may like to look tough, but he's weaker than you think.

Russia merited just one mention in President Barack Obama's State of the Union address on Tuesday night, an offhand remark that his administration will continue to "engage Russia to seek further reductions in our nuclear arsenals." Obama's first term did see some thaw with Moscow -- the "reset," a modest relationship with then President Dmitry Medvedev, and the passage of the New START agreement -- but it's clear that things have become frostier since Vladimir Putin returned to power. It's an indication of an impasse in dealing with the Kremlin -- and perhaps one that is fundamentally about personality. No one in Washington really knows what to make of Russia's famously immodest and opaque leader.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

After Putin (RFE/RL)

One thing, I admit, that is scarier than Putin... is life after Putin.

Leonid Brezhnev did it. Boris Yeltsin did it. Is Vladimir Putin doing it, too? 

Kremlin leaders tend to be obsessed with succession. They think about it. They worry about it. And they actively try to manage it.