“If a country is ruled by great wise men, their subjects fail to notice them.”
Lao-tzu, 6th-century B.C. Chinese philosopher
“Who are you, Mr. Putin?” – was the question asked by the Russian and European public back in the year 2000. Today the question is closed.
Vladimir Putin is a full-blown and successful president of Russia. There is a social and political stability in this country. The authorities are taking steps to clear out the mess following the oligarchic robbery. The economy is on the increase. In terms of the international political scene, Russia is regaining the positions that were lost in the 1990s. As his second term in office draws to a close, Putin enjoys widespread popularity. Now the questions are: What will the future hold in store for Mr. Putin when he leaves the Kremlin? Who will succeed him?
Franklin Roosevelt, one of the most successful U.S. presidents, put it this way when asked about his possible successor: “At least a million U.S. citizens are capable of performing the president’s duties.”
The Russian elite view the issue in a different light. Being incapable of coming up with a comprehensive development program for the nation, the elite do nothing but indulge in an endless verbal masturbation trying to envisage the future after Vladimir Putin steps down. The debate is just a smoke screen that can barely conceal the elite’s biggest concern i.e. the devising of Putin’s new role, which would enable them to stay at the top. The tailor’s shops making the president’s new clothes grow like mushrooms in Moscow. Some outfits are already ready for trying on. What about a prime minister’s designer suit? Shall we consider a caftan befitting the leader of a “ruling party”? “That wouldn’t be enough to do the trick,” cry out the most sophisticated tailors. “We’d better cut out a spiritual guru’s toga. Putin should become the father of a nation, somebody akin to Mahatma Gandhi or Deng Xiaoping,” say the tailors. The attitude of President Putin toward the issue is well-known: “I’m not going to break the constitution, I’m not going to run for the third term in office.” Still, they keep trying to persuade the president into changing his mind.
Political parties are a breeding ground for new leaders in the U.S. and Europe. Russia’s political parties are still burning the old Soviet-era staffing manure for the same purposes. But the old manure is only good for giving off a lot of soot, it cannot fuel the fire in the right way. The public confidence in United Russia has hit rock bottom. Vladimir Putin’s reluctance to stake his fate on the “ruling party” is perfectly understandable.
There is a big difference between today’s Russia and Russia under Gorbachev and Yeltsin, regardless of all the harshest criticisms leveled at the “Putin democracy” by the West. It is highly unlikely that the old patterns of the “succession to the throne” will work out these days. The level of public expectations has not suffered a plunge in the last six years. On the contrary, it went up, no matter what the liberals say about “Putin’s Russia backsliding on democracy.” Society shows a more demanding, more critical attitude toward the powers that be and leaders. The mechanism of selection and succession of leaders is yet to take shape. As the new presidential election draws near, society is beginning to fear for a new boss – what if he is not up to the job?
Things did not look that difficult for Vladimir Putin in 2000. In contrast with Boris Yeltsin whose popularity nearly died out at the time, he seemed a “good guy.” Judging by the results of numerous opinion polls, Putin still looks that way. According to the well-known sociologist Yuri Levada, Russia’s population values Putin higher than Lenin, Stalin, and Andropov. In other words, a presidential candidate should take lessons of pole vault if he wants to become a “second Putin”. Russian society will, without doubt, continue raising the crossbar when it comes to requirements deemed necessary for a political leader. As for Russia’s new world outlook, politicians of such a caliber as Winston Churchill, Conrad Adenauer, and Margaret Thatcher are already required for this country.
There is definitely a reason for the ghost of Josef Stalin to frequently show up in the letters addressed to Arguments and Facts. Needless to day, the liberals are up in arms about the people who are allegedly stupid enough to forget about Gulag and keep dreaming of a ruler with the “iron hand.” But our readers are not so simple-minded. They remember well the gory price the Soviet people had to pay while carrying out the “Stalin’s Ten Strikes” during WWII. By referring to Stalin and his “iron People’s Commissars” in their letters, our readers do not mean to highlight bloodthirstiness of the “father of the peoples.” The readers primarily point out the political will, severe discipline of the executive, a personal modesty and the striving (in terms applicable to Stalin’s era) to serve the country and ideology.
Russia’s new political elite that originated in Yeltsin’s time would like to have a president who could leave intact the elite’s perks and benefits, a president who could legalize its new riches. The people have a different view with regard to the role of the next leader. “We need a president who would feel sorry for the people. He should be good at “catching mice” too, I mean the fight against corruption, crime and bureaucracy,” reads the letter sent to Arguments and Facts by Nayil Salikhov from the city of Ufa .
A cat called Humphrey has recently died in the residence of British prime minister in Downing Street. The cat had lived in the residence for 16 years. Despite being part of the retinue, the cat was known for his modesty. His bills totaled a mere 100 pounds per year. The Times published an obituary of sorts following the death of Humphrey. It read: “Humphrey was a workaholic, spending most of his time at work. He did not have any brushes with the law. A rather unsociable personality, he did not go out much. Humphrey was never caught red-handed in any scandal involving drugs or sex. He was always very diligent in catching mice.”
The above description may as well fit in the image of a new Russian president.
Translated by Guerman Grachev
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