One of the things that most annoys me about Western coverage of St.-Petersburg’s law against homosexual propaganda to minors, the case against Pussy Riot, etc., is how it is almost always presented as a show-down between “liberated” and “creative” Russians and the macho dictator Putin.
In reality, of course, it’s a culture war – and as a result the majority is on the conservative side of the spectrum and the government merely accedes to this fact. This is the case with Pussy Riot. It is also the case with the anti-homosexual laws. According to the polls, which no Western journalist cares about for all his feigned concern for the opinions of “ordinary Russians”, 14% of Russians support homosexual marriages, 84% oppose; 8% want to allow gay parades, 82% are against. Three quarters consider homosexuality to be a deviancy, a disease, or a mental illness.
A honorable exception to this rule is Sam Bollier, whose recent piece for Al Jazeera I highly recommend: Madonna to sing out on ‘gay propaganda’ law.
Yet whatever their own ideological leanings Western journalists pay no mind whatsoever to these elementary realities. Liberal Guardianistas believe that most Russians think just like them when they are oddballs even in Britain. One might think Conservatives might have a more nuanced view, but that is not the case. As noted by Kononenko, they pass off the prosecution of Pussy Riot as a political punishment for their song “Holy Mother of God, chase Putin out!”; whereas as meticulously documented by Alex Mercouris there is nothing tying Putin to the case (indeed one wonders why Putin would wish to involve himself at all with those freaks with colored bags over their heads) and the prosecution is for a hooligan act that is in contravention of Russian laws that are not dissimilar from laws in numerous European countries*.
I don’t agree with all its arguments, but another very good article I came across recently was Robert Kaplan’s STRATFOR piece Putin’s Geopolitical Logic.
Regrettably, it’s behind a paywall, but its well worth quoting in extenso:
Tyrants who kill millions or at least hundreds of thousands are well known to history and are consequently seen as impersonal forces of nature, like hurricanes or tornadoes. But the dislike of Putin is quite personal**. He is not a mass murderer, but he gets under the skin of Western elites in ways that mass murderers do not.
Even Syria’s notorious dictator, Bashar al Assad, is always nattily dressed in a suit and tie. Not so Putin, who sometimes wears a leather jacket and occasionally rides bare-chested on a horse. Putin flaunts the mores and conventions of the global elite. A black belt in judo, he affects the appearance of a manly bully in a world where high culture is increasingly cosmopolitan and feminine. …
In fact, it is Putin’s very rational foreign policy that truly insults Western elites. These elites, whether liberal internationalists or neoconservatives, are intent on Progress — in the magisterial uppercase sense of the word. … Putin is no warmonger. For when all sides are looking out for their own interests, they comprehend the interests of their adversaries, and therein lies compromise. It’s often when the national interest is equated with a moral absolute that conflict tends to become violent, because in that case your adversary is judged to be immoral, and thus compromise becomes harder to achieve.
To be sure, it is the West that has played the warmonger in Iraq, Libya and Syria — in terms of rhetoric, if not always in terms of action. And while the West’s goals may have certainly been laudatory in some cases, they have also been at times self-righteous and destabilizing. …
The West considers Putin’s hostility to regime change in Libya and Syria immoral. But what I think secretly enrages Western elites is that they themselves know that Putin’s hostility is not immoral at all: It is amoral, or morally indifferent. An immoral foreign policy can be easily attacked as such. But an amoral policy — a policy rationally based on geopolitics, on geographically-based self-interest, that is — is a greater threat to Western elites because it is an assertion that the world has actually changed less than they thought following the toppling of the Berlin Wall. It is an assertion that fundamental opposition to what the West wants is not necessarily evil or even necessarily wrong.
Exactly. This is Putin Derangement Syndrome in a nutshell.
* Of course, before all the trolls pile in, that is not to argue that such laws are correct in principle – be they on the books in Russia or in Western Europe. In the US, for instance, the First Amendment pretty much guarantees that a case like Pussy Riot would never reach the courts. Nonetheless, for all that I am pretty sure that quite a lot of the people foaming at the mouth at Pussy Riot’s treatment were quite happy to see Emma West imprisoned for 21 weeks for holding a racist rant in a tram.
** Indeed, the only other major personage who arouses quite the same level of visceral hatred in your standard Western journalist be (s)he liberal or conservative is Julian Assange. I have long come to the conclusion that deeply psychosexual (feminist / beta male orbiter) reasons underlie both the hatred of Putin and Assange.