Thursday, January 03, 2008

Tsar struck


Tsar struck

Jan 3rd 2008

Man of the year, or scandal of the decade?

Get article background

CHOOSING a “Man of the Year” is a risky business and writing about him even more so. Take this sentence: “His was no ordinary dictatorship, but rather one of great energy and magnificent planning.” It is a fair bet that by 1941, the editors of Time magazine regretted this description of Adolf Hitler, used in “Hymn of Hate”, a (largely negative) cover story that celebrated his crowning as 1938’s “Man of the Year”.

Now Vladimir Putin is Time’s “Person of the Year” for 2007: not an honour, the magazine insists, but just a recognition of “bold, earth-changing leadership”. Even so, that is hardly future-proof. Russia’s still-shaky economy and disastrous demographics mean that rather than being the harbinger of Russia’s stability-based revival, as Time predicts in a cooing article it cheekily titled “A Tsar is born”, Mr Putin may be seen as the mortuary assistant who presided over the greatest missed opportunity in its history.


He didn't even finish dinner

Even without endorsing Mr Putin’s rule outright, Time largely swallows the Kremlin’s version of Russia’s past and present. Yet as Michael McFaul and Kathryn Stoner-Weiss point out in the latest edition of Foreign Affairs, it is far from obvious that autocracy has been good for Russia, either in economics or in the growth of modern, efficient and accountable state institutions.

Russia’s economy is certainly doing better now than in the 1990s under Boris Yeltsin, but any comparison based on that must also include the wildly different starting conditions and external environments. “Even in good economic times, autocracy has done no better than democracy at promoting public safety, health, or a secure legal and property-owning environment,” they note.

Russia’s economic history lends itself to sharply different interpretations. An excellent recent book by Anders Aslund, “Russia’s Capitalist Revolution: Why Market Reform Succeeded and Democracy Failed”, gives Mr Putin and his team high marks for their economic policy in the early years of his rule, particularly the unglamorous but vital fiscal reforms of 1999-2001, which ended an era of chaos in Russian public finances.

But Russia’s recent political history tends to attract criticism from all corners. The audible but mostly invisible feuds inside the Kremlin, and the total secrecy about political decision-making, make even the stability so praised by Time look precarious. Even Mr Putin’s biggest fans would find it hard to argue that he enjoys a robust debate with critics, or promotes a fastidious separation of business and political interests.

He has also a troubling habit of dissembling when faced with awkward facts—claiming, for example, that the state had nothing to do with the onslaught on Yukos, the energy company owned by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, an anti-Kremlin tycoon. Mr Aslund says of this episode that Mr Putin, Soviet-style, “re-established the public lie” as an official standard.

The Time journalists avoided calling Mr Putin a liar, though they clearly struggled to like the man they interviewed for more than three hours. They politely bemoan his humourlessness, rudeness, and “vein-popping” short temper, and note that he left abruptly and without explanation, with his dinner just half-eaten. They signally failed to confront his absurd equation of America’s deplorable electoral hiccoughs with the Kremlin’s crushing of its political opponents, or Mr Putin’s slanderous attacks on the opposition leader, Garry Kasparov, or his brazen evasion of allegations about corruption in his inner circle. And how come Mr Putin demands strict non-intervention from other countries when it comes to Russia, but shows no such restraint when the Kremlin is dealing with its troublesome neighbours?

No doubt Time will have plenty of opportunity to deal with these questions in the months and years to come. So will everyone eView Bloglse.


nicu said...

I felt the same reading Time. was ammazed by the Time's almost verbatim and uncritical reproduction of putin's own claims about himself - and obsession with Russia's stability etc.

andyk said...

Naughty, naughty Putin. Wasn't nice to the representatives of the second oldest profession in the world. I'm surprised he put up with them as much as he did:

BTW, statistical demagoguery will not endear one to the Russians. They will think you either naive at best, or a malicious hypocrite more likely. The fact of the matter is that the average Russian has never had it so good and they know it. Especially after the romantic liberal 90s, when many experienced the freedom to starve. This will remain the case as long as the living standards continue, or at least don't stop, improving.

Where did Putin slander Kasparov?

Giustino said...

In 2001, there is no doubt in my mind that the "Person of the Year" was Osama bin Laden. Instead, they gave it to Rudy Giuliani, who affected world politics how exactly?

No, they didn't honor Bin Laden because he was a terrorist and they didn't wish to glamorize terrorism. Yet they don't mind glamorizing Russian autocrats.

Nobody in the US trusts Putin. Bush is considered a fool for the "I looked in his eyes comment." In reality, we know there is very little we can do and "they devil we know" approach holds.

Russia is undoubtedly better off, in a material sense, than it was in 10 or 15 years ago, although many regions remain extremely poor.

But the Soviet system began tanking in the mid-1970s -- it's naive to blame it all on one public figure, though quite convenient, especially for Putin.

Now we are left with the same old problems. Corruption, the threat of instability, "Napoleon syndrome" -- as a friend calls the short-statured Putin's attempts to project power in the world.

I keep waiting for Russia to become "the next India" -- ie. the next low-cost country that benefits from massive outsourcing and builds a diverse economic foundation from which it can command a sizeable chunk of the global market. But it hasn't happened yet.

Anyway, he does look like a mortuary assistant. Nice call.

Kristopher said...

"Electoral hiccoughs" (in the US) which have been called a coup by some, not completely unjustifiably, followed by a whole lot of monkey business in late summer of the inaugural year. Russia and its undertaker in chief can only dream of such sophistication and hence the sour grapes attitude.

Ruslanas said...

Since the Time has run out of the options they should have chosen a real Tsar, who is running the world at the moment. It is His Majesty OIL!

Ruslanas from

TErr said...

Here is a complete interview:,28804,1690753_1690757_1695787,00.html

Make your opinion and argue upon facts and exact statements but not some shitty theories...

stalker said...

Russia's economy is growing despite oil and gas production (which are stagnant or rising slowly), being fuelled by retail trade, construction and manufacturing growth. You can find confirmation from the newspaper you write for.

The government has amassed massive foreign currency reserves (rather than wasting them on populist projects) which will shield Russia from any downturn in the developed world (hmmm...what with the US's sub-prime crisis, exactly who economy is "shaky"?) and is now being utilized for public infrastructure and development projects.

The "disastrous demographics" is one those things that get repeated so often it assumes the status of gospel truth. Firstly, Russia's population growth rate (-0.3%) is not that different from Germany's or Japan's 0%, or indeed your beloved Estonia's -0.6%. Secondly, the trend is positive - mortality has been falling and birth rates rising since about 2003.

Putin did not slander Kasparov in any way. He told the truth. Why indeed is Kasparov speaking to the cameras in English? if he is so concerned about freedom and democracy for Russians.

In any case, how exactly is the demographic situation Putin's fault?

The only mortuary he is presiding over is that of Russia's subserviance to America's interests.

However, congratulations for one thing - managing to fulfil Godwin's Law in the 3rd sentence of your main post.

stalker from