Democratist

Democracy. Russia. CIS.

“Colour Revolution” and the Myths of Putinism.

Posted by democratist on March 23, 2012

23rd March 2012,

Since 2000, Russia has increasingly come to be governed by the use of propaganda as a method for ensuring the legitimation of the regime and keeping the population in check. A series of half-truths, exaggerations and myths have been created to this end, each of which bears the none too subtle whiff of the work of political technologists; that Russia’s elections are “more or less” democratic; that the country only suffers from “civilized” levels of corruption; that Skolkovo will make Russia’s economy a globally competitive center of innovation within a few years; that the Duma is an institution that dutifully scrutinizes legislation on behalf of the electorate; that political and economic reform is “just around the corner…”

But perhaps the overarching legitimation myth of Putinism is idea of the “Colour Revolution,” the notion that the processes of revolt and democratization which have taken place in the near abroad and (more recently) middle East over the past decade are part of some all-powerful, hydra-headed American conspiracy, aimed at “destroying Russia” (and incidentally, world domination). Indeed, according to this narrative we are to believe that those perfidious Americans work day and night to confound otherwise perfectly content populations into overthrowing such beloved (and, of course, free and fairly elected) leaders as Milosevic, Yanukovich, Mubarak, Gaddafi and Assad.

The rationale behind the promotion of such theories is an unwillingness to accept the growing appeal of democratic governance to people in autocratic states generally, and of the applicability of the democratic model to Russia specifically. The need for the continued promotion of such a view of the world is dictated by the elite’s unwillingness to relax their grip on power domestically, or allow themselves to be put to the test of a genuinely fair election (regardless of how popular the opinion polls say they are). It is far easier to ascribe an unwarranted role in these revolts to the CIA, George Soros, the Bilderburg group or whoever, than to accept that the autocratic model of governance, while currently popular in Russia,  has a very limited shelf life in the absence of high oil revenues, and has been rejected by the populations of at least a dozen countries over the last decade.

In terms of the implications of this we might expect for Russia’s domestic political development over the coming years, the continued employment of conspiracy theory as a means of control does not bode well. It is unlikely that the government will allow any genuine political alternatives to emerge to the current system whilst it also tars them, at the same time, as agents of foreign influence. This makes an eventual peaceful transition of power less likely.

A related problem is that Russian history already has several examples which demonstrate that where conspiracy is given prominence, there is a strong tendency that eventually even the leadership and security organs will come to believe their own inventions.

In Voodoo Histories: How Conspiracy Theory has Shaped Modern History (2009) the British author David Aaronovich gives the example of the so-called Protocols of the Elders of Zion; a forged document supposedly describing how senior representatives of the Jewish community were plotting to achieve world domination, which was in fact cooked-up by the Okhrana in the early 1900′s as a weapon to bolster tsarist autocracy against reformism (many reformist politicians were Jews).

Another example of the NKVD’s (as it was by then called) handiwork can be seen in the Moscow “show trials” of the late 1930′s. During these trials several senior party members were coerced into implicating themselves in a complex series of conspiracies apparently intended to derail Soviet industrialization and overthrow Stalin in favour of the exiled Leon Trotsky. Needless to say (as was later admitted), no such plots ever existed; they were invented by the NKVD in order to consolidate Stalin’s grip on power, provide excuses for the numerous shortcomings of the first 5-year plan, and pander to the leader’s own deep personal paranoia. As Robert Conquest has described in The Great Terror (1968/1991), many millions died in the subsequent purges.

What is important in both cases is that eventually those in power in Russia came to believe the fictions they had created were true: In The Mitrokhin Archive (a document whose veracity and accuracy never been officially denied, more than a decade after publication), Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin recount that many among the KGB senior ranks still fully believed in the existence of Zionist plots well into the 1960′s and 1970′s. Similarly, many in the nomenklatura genuinely believed in the truth of the “show trials,” and supported the purges up until Khrushchev’s “secret speech” in 1956.

Therefore we should perhaps not be too surprised at the anger in Prime Minister Putin’s voice, and the tears which streamed down his face during his otherwise carefully choreographed acceptance speech on the Manezhka earlier this month. His invocation of outside forces trying to interfere in Russia’s internal affairs may seem contrived to the foreign observer, especially after what the OSCE described as a poll which was “clearly skewed in favour of one of the contestants.” But, old chekist that he is, the possibility remains that Russia’s old-new President has come to genuinely believe in the myths that have been invented over the years by his colleagues in order to ensure he retains his grip on power.

Additional note: I have just added a link for the Wikipedia page for The Mitrokhin Archive. Oddly enough, there is no Russian translation of this page.  I wonder why?

11 Responses to ““Colour Revolution” and the Myths of Putinism.”

  1. Irina, Russia said

    Misters British journalists! Leave Russia alone, at last! Let’s to us live and work quietly!

  2. Attenborough said

    “Russia has increasingly come to be governed by the use of propaganda as a method for ensuring the legitimation of the regime and keeping the population in check”. Or, in other words, for how long will Russia live in the atmosphere of myths and conspiracy theories?
    I believe as long as the Western society will live in atmosphere of its own myths.
    Somebody in the West doesn’t like Russian authoritarian model of governance? But Russians pay with the same coin: the overwhelming majority of them sincerely don’t like Western type of democracy, moreover nobody in the world has ever proven that namely this type of democracy was better. US system of presidential elections is ugly – the country’s chief commander is not being elected directly by US citizens. In these terms Russian presidential election legislation is a model one – every single vote is calculated. The author of this article in Democratist may scream out again – last election of March 4 in Russia was not transparent and fair. But Russians say it was. A bunch of idiots and marginal protesters who demonstrate in Moscow and St. Pete just for Western TV cameras is nothing for Russia. Just nothing. Everybody in Moscow and St. Pete knows that it’s merely a way to earn little cash – about USD 20 per a protester – (opposition leaders are definitely paid much more than 20).
    “The rationale behind the promotion of such theories is an unwillingness to accept the growing appeal of democratic governance to people in autocratic states generally, and of the applicability of the democratic model to Russia specifically”, is written in the article.
    Is really a Western type of democracy better? Is there any freedom of media in this type? Is it possible to find anything else in the media except for standard, extremely biased, aggressive and incompetent clichés of Cold War style? Does Western democracy guaranty absence of corruption and manipulation of people’s will? The last election of Mr. Harper in Canada was a complete disgrace. For what reasons did German president have to leave his office several weeks ago? What’s the story of Mr Cameron’s Treasurer? What’s the story of the News Of The World? What’s the story of selling arms by Western countries to dictatorship regimes in Africa that are under UN sanctions?
    Will anybody insist that Western democracy is somehow better than Russian one?

    • “Nobody in the world has ever proven that namely this type of democracy was better. US system of presidential elections is ugly – the country’s chief commander is not being elected directly by US citizens.”

      First the US system is only one variant. There are plenty of alternative models. Second, the US model has an electoral college, but again there are other posibilities. Third. It is questionable whether Russia’s type of “democracy” is democratic at all – preventing various candidates from standing during the presidential elections. Saying that they are not popular is hardly a valid excuse. Forth democracy is better for many reasons, moral, political and economic – read Karl Popper.

      “Russians say it was.”

      Really? Got some polling data that supports that huh? How about a REAL election if the system is do good?

      “A bunch of idiots and marginal protesters who demonstrate in Moscow and St. Pete just for Western TV cameras is nothing for Russia. Just nothing.Everybody in Moscow and St. Pete knows that it’s merely a way to earn little cash – about USD 20 per a protester – (opposition leaders are definitely paid much more than 20).”

      Been watching NTV?

      Is there any freedom of media in this type? Sure is. And we are both enjoying it right here and now.

      “Is it possible to find anything else in the media except for standard, extremely biased, aggressive and incompetent clichés of Cold War style?”

      Ever watched Russia Today? No one has banned them.

      Does Western democracy guaranty absence of corruption and manipulation of people’s will?

      No. No political system does. But it makes both much harder.

      “For what reasons did German president have to leave his office several weeks ago?”

      And when will there be an investigation into where Putin and Medvedev get the money for those fancy watches?

      “Will anybody insist that Western democracy is somehow better than Russian one?”

      Yes. I insist. That is why I write the blog.

      • Attenborough said

        not convincing… The same doubtful (and mostly based on personal likes or dislikes) arguments. The same number of clichés.

        You say that you insist on superiority of Western democracy over the Russian one. OK, but I insist that there’s no superiority. Who is the judge?

        Russia Today isn’t banned in America and Europe? Euronews (HQ is in Lyon, France) is being broadcasted 24 hrs a day at one of the most popular channels in Russia. Everybody can buy CNN or BBC via satellite in Russia – it’s just a matter of intellectual need and money. Nobody bans watching them.

        One doesn’t need to see any NTV just to know that ALL the rallies (both pro-Putin and counter-Putin) were paid – it’s a common knowledge in Moscow and St. Pete. Every student can tell you this – it’s an opportunity to grab easy money for students who everywhere in the world are permanently short of budget. At all the universities and colleges one can find so called ‘brigadiers’ who are responsible for recruiting hundreds of schoolmates for various flash-mobs, political demonstrations included. This is why one could see so many young faces among protesters…

        “Been watching NTV?” – you are asking. The same question just from me: Been watching FoxNews, CNN? Reading Washington Post, The Independent, The Guardian?

        “Is there any freedom of media in this type? Sure is. And we are both enjoying it right here and now”. We also can enjoy freedom of media at any Russian online resource. No censorship, my friend. Absolutely NO. And you are sure to know this not worth than myself since you are interested in Russian politics…

        But! In Russia at leading TV channels and AM/FM radio stations one can find various and very serious disputes of political and economic profile, – even at the mentioned NTV channel. Those disputes reflect extremes in standpoints, regarding all the aspects of political/econ. situation in Russia and outside the country. Pro-Western liberals debate with local nationalists, commies – with wealthiest capitalists, etc. No forbidden issues! Even foreign policy of the state is not a ‘sacred cow’ – sometimes it is being sharply criticized. I’ve never watched anything like this in any Western country, neither in North America, nor in Europe. I mean I’ve never experienced such a full freedom and variety of expression of thoughts and political proclamations, especially at leading media sources of the West. Can you give me a link to any detailed discussion of complete failure of the US military campaign in Iraq and Afghanistan, let’s say, on CNN or another popular channel? Can you give me any link at ZDF channel or Deutsche Welle where the problem of humiliating German contributions still being paid to Israel and Jews after WWII was discussed? You won’t give me a single clue, because this topic in Germany is strictly tabooed, despite the fact that it drives crazy lots of Germans. Maybe you’ll give me a clue for examples of public discussion of complete US-dependence of all the European nations, especially in foreign policy? or about expediency of anti-missile shield being planned for Europe that converts any European country (that stations elements of this shield) into a well-defined target for nuclear strike? Or about a problem of mass corruption in the US and West European defense industrial sector? (namely because of this corruption Western arms so unreasonably expensive, even regarding all the R&D burden)… I’ve never watched or read any discussion of this sort at any popular TV channels or papers of the West. Is this a freedom of speech?

        So what’s the superiority of Western type of democracy?

        None. Just another myth!

  3. Attenborough said

    “And you are sure to know this not WORSE than myself” – sorry for the misprint in the phrase…

  4. Not convincing because;

    Euronews does not deal with Russian affairs in any depth. BBC and CNN are hard to access. Domestic TV (like NTV) clearly biased. There is more freedom in the press and on the net, but 80% of people are reliant on TV for news information.

    “Every student can tell you this…”

    “A grandmother said…”

    There are hundreds of sources for news about Russia in the UK, including translations of many Russian news articles.

    No censorship. That is not true – there is a very narrow range of opinions on Russian TV.

    Radio stations. Nonsense. In the regions the choice is often very limited. Most stations are for music and avoid news/follow the party line.

    No forbidden issues! Ever seen a story about corruption among the leadership on Russian TV?

    “Can you give me a link to any detailed discussion of complete failure of the US military campaign in Iraq and Afghanistan, let’s say, on CNN or another popular channel?”

    Well, we cannot yet be sure that these are “complete” failures (and you need to define what you mean by this). I think that using that kind of description would be premature. A more detailled analysis is needed. Besides there is always RT if you want the propagandistic and simplistic “America is going to hell” view. Besides, the obsession with the US is rather telling. As I said before, there are litterally dozens of models of democracy available – but Russia does not represent one of them.

    “problem of mass corruption in the US and West European defense industrial sector?”

    BBC has reported on this extensively in relation to BAE bribes to Saudi Arabia.

    So what’s the superiority of Western type of democracy?

    It is superior in many ways: Strength of the rule of law, the fight against corruption and organized crime, human rights and – as I have argued – freedom of speech. You call Russia a democracy? Where are the free and fair elections? Why do you apparently feel that it is unimportant that mass falsification took place in both recent polls? Why is there no diversity of opinion on Russian TV?
    Why is it unimport that four candidates were prevented from running in the presidential polls on technicalities? What about what has happened in Chechnya over the last decade? Why has economic diversification not taken place?

    • Abos said

      “I think that using that kind of description would be premature” – demagogue ! “Failure” or “success” definition is clear and very simple: just to compare what was Before the “Compaign” and what do we have Now (2 criterias to evaluate: the Country and the People). So? Iraq – devastated country, splitted (de-facto) for 3 failed “states”…People – killed during “campaigh” much much more than total losses during “saddam’s dictatorship” age. Lybia – absolutely the same…Afganistan – the same (even nobody in West knows what to do there and what target NATO forces have there excepting builing up excepting Nato bases, to use against Iran in the future). Who’s next ? Syria ? Iran ? Why not such dictatorships as Saudi Arabia or Bahrain or Katar? Why ?
      Also…what for the russian to see CNN or BBC (by the way, they both are available in main packages of SatTV and CableTV in Russia…do not tell anything you have no idea about))))…Both Channels do “smart propaganda” ))) For example – about real situation in Lybia in the past, and real situation in Syria – at present. How ? Simply hiding opinion&view from one side and “highlighting” widely info/reports from another ? Example – bulshitting brains about “killing peaceful civilians” in Syria…Lives lost: 8k “civilians” VS 5k “asad’s soldiers” ? Does anybody try to realise what a kind of “civilians” there, which manage to have about paritet with the Army ? And did anybody noted, that 80% of entire syrian population took part in recent referendum there ? What doen this fugure say about said “civilians” ?

  5. Abos said

    Whom this stupid atricle is “cooked” for ?
    1) “Be governed by the use of propaganda” – is applicable for the entire word…And for UK/USA citizent in the first head.
    The best example of said “democratic elections” is the situation in UK and USA where the people is “free” to choose between 2 “parties”, which are…ABSOLUTELY the same ))) Sorry, but it’s can be named somehow else but the TRICK or SIMULATION.
    2) “are part of…American conspiracy” ? Pardon, but the russians (whom I know and have discussed this) are not so stupid to think so… Russians say that the Americans are USED as a tool for…and it’s easily proveed by a collapse in US finances and economy. And that US Government have no power to change this and even no brains to realise the situation… Also, most part of russians I spoke, have CLEAR understanding of reasons of resent drammatic/worse changes in UE, US and other parts of the world. They say that “West” rapidly deviates from democracy by subtitution of main democracy principles by “neo-liberal” ideas…which allow very smal part of people to govern/drive all the others ! And this is exactly what the russians in no way can accept to be emplemented in Russia.
    3) “agents of foreign influence”. And what is wrong in such a clear naming ? How else to name persons who are paid by a FOREING goverment ? US spent 200 millions last year for “domocracy emplementation & support in Russia” ! The same is unacceptable either in UK or in US (for example FARA low in US). Sorry, but …are you so stupid to beleive into such a MYTH that it’s a kind of “altruism from US” ? o_O

    Finally…the russian says that they will never accept ANY kind of “imported ideas” which ARE failed already completely on the West ))) So, sorry, but “western” peole leave in real myth, thinking that they leave “in democracy”…and last years prove so ! Why you wish russians to step into the same shit ?

  6. [...] Comments (RSS) « “Colour Revolution” and the Myths of Putinism. [...]

  7. [...] a previous article, I described the argument that Russia’s elections are “more or less” democratic as one of the [...]

  8. [...] Georgia and Ukraine. This line of propagandizing is not new, and its historical lineage includes examples from the work of the KGB, NKVD, and even the [...]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: