Cult of personality and satire surround Putin’s 60th birthday
The Russian government is outdoing itself with a Cult of Personality campaign to mark the 60th anniversary of strongman Vladimir Putin – an event that coincides with the sixth anniversary of the unsolved murder of Kremlin critic Anna Politkovskaya.
The former KGB man, once known among his colleagues by the nickname “Stasi” for his work with the East German secret police, is overcompensating for an even worse nickname he had while growing up, referring to alleged effeminacy and related self-identity issues. In more than a decade at the top of Russia’s power pyramid, Putin has outgrown the past with a macho man image, touched with a pinch of modesty.
He claimed not to want anyone to make a big deal about his 60th.
The Independent of London reports that Putin’s latest birthday saw “unprecedented exhibition of Putin-idolatry reminiscent of some of the world’s oddest cults of personality. Much of it, such as the fawning profile on Kremlin-friendly television channel NTV, looked like propaganda. Some of the praise was so extreme as to appear almost like a subtle form of satire.”
The cult of personality is so crass that it has prompted satirical responses.
The birthday bash, according to The Independent, “was also an opportunity for Putin opponents to poke fun. A small group bearing mocking retirement gifts assembled outside the presidential administration yesterday, and a Facebook page titled ‘Time For Grandfather to Retire’ was created.”
Riot police trundled away “many of the present-givers,” according to the report.
Putin can’t take criticism that pokes fun of him. In 2002, after he pressured President Boris Yeltsin to resign and took the presidency himself, Putin got a popular satirical puppet show, Kukly, yanked from the formerly independent NTV channel after Gazprom took control of the media enterprise. Kukly had been on the air since 1994. (See Kukly puppet of Putin at left and at the top of this article.)
Kukly, which means “Puppets,” was a hilarious, irreverent mockery of the Russian leadership. Yeltsin seemed to find the show amusing, but Putin saw it as intolerable.
Last year, Reuters reported that “For many Russians it is all too much, and they are reverting to satire and jokes to cope, just as they did in Soviet times.”
“Satire always offers the sharpest and most accurate diagnosis of societies’ problems. Tell me what a country is laughing about and I’ll tell you what kind of country it is,” Viktor Shenderovich, a satirist and writer who was behind Kukly, told Reuters.
“Today that is Putin and his United Russia party,” said Shenderovich. “In the last few days, the Internet has filled up with caricatures and jokes depicting a Brezhnev-like Putin: The analogy is obvious.”
One scene of Putin as president portrayed the ex-KGB man as what Reuters called “a screeching, foul-mouthed dwarf. The episode was one of the last.”
Putin didn’t take the show well, Shenderovich said. “People told me he went into hysterics.”