Russia is mysterious. Russia is sententious. Russia is ludicrous.
The recent spate of articles purporting to see the fell hand of Moscow behind the recent American presidential campaign has brought this traditional construct back into the headlines.
To avoid igniting partisan passions -- and alienating half of my audience before the story gets moving -- I won’t be looking at any of the Donald Trump pieces, but a series of stories on “Tsar” Vladimir Putin.
Reports that some Russians are calling for the restoration of the monarchy and the crowning of strongman Vladimir Putin as Tsar are circulating in the press and being built upon the mysterious, sententious, ludicrous triad. This is not new.
In Woody Allen’s 1975 film "Love and Death," Diane Keaton’s Sonja character and Allen’s Boris offered several comic set pieces on the deep soul that lurks within the Russian breast.
Sonja: To love is to suffer. To avoid suffering one must not love. But then one suffers from not loving. Therefore, to love is to suffer; not to love is to suffer; to suffer is to suffer. To be happy is to love. To be happy, then, is to suffer, but suffering makes one unhappy. Therefore, to be unhappy, one must love or love to suffer or suffer from too much happiness. I hope you're getting this down.
The inability to comprehend the workings of the Russian mind is not confined to middlebrow comedy. In his 1993 biography of Nicholas II entitled “The Last Tsar,” historian Edvard Radzinsky struggled to explain the power Rasputin held over the royal family and Russian political life. The outrageous behavior of the “mad monk,” he believed, was a pose. It was a:
“... wholly self conscious attempt to exploit the mystery of the Russian soul for his own ends. Tolstoy plus Dostoevsky, a kind of banal Tolstoevsky -- the symbol of the West's perception of Russia.” (p 108)
It is not merely the Romanovs who couldn't seem to get a handle on the mysterious Russian soul. Reporters, politicians and pundits -- as well as American college students for whom Tolstoevsky remains Russia’s greatest writer -- seem unable to grasp the otherness of Russia’s people, its literature, politics, history and art.
Attempts to understand the Russian mind or manners are often batted away by references to this mysterious soul, whose focus seldom waivers from the contemplation of what Reinhold Niebuhr called the “ultimate problems of human existence.” Or the Russian mind and manner are summarily dismissed as ridiculous.
An example appeared last week in The Australian’s on-line section, which ran a story on a new pro-Putin Moscow television station, Tsargrad TV. The article, “What Russian TV can tell us about Putin’s goals” noted:
Instead of hip young things talking about political change, Tsargrad has a sombre newsroom dedicated to conservative values, patriotism and the Russian Orthodox Church. The channel’s studio is decorated with expensive religious imagery. Its owner, Konstantin Malofeev, is devoutly religious, extremely rich and a vocal supporter of President Putin.
“He is a genius,” Malofeev told me, with absolute conviction. Malofeev is a monarchist and suggested a scenario whereby some kind of constitutional assembly might persuade President Putin to become Russia’s first post-revolutionary Tsar: Tsar Vladimir
Mysterious, sententious, and in the next paragraph the article’s author touches upon the ludicrous.
It’s an extraordinary idea and would almost be funny, were it not for Malofeev’s obvious power and political connections.
The idea of Tsar Vladimir has not been confined to Tsargrad TV. In March, Newsweek reported the leader of Crimea has called for a restoration of the monarchy. The article entitled “Putin’s Crimea Chief Calls For Restoring Russian Monarchy.”
Continue reading "Tsar Ludicrous: Daily Mail & The Australian come up short when covering Putin, religion," by George Conger.
First image: Portrait of Vladimir Putin as czar, by artist Tim O'Brien. Website here.