Geopolitics

Under Pressure In Moscow, Putin Pins Hopes On The “Other Russia”

Vladimir Putin is still the man to beat in Russia’s upcoming presidential election, thanks in large part to support from rural working-class voters. As urban protesters take to the streets, Putin heads off to chat up miners and laborers in far-off provinc

A construction site near Yekaterinburg (peretzp)
A construction site near Yekaterinburg (peretzp)
Marie Jégo

MOSCOW Since the urban middle class doesn't want him anymore, Vladimir Putin is turning elsewhere. You just had to see the campaigning prime minister during a visit late last month in Kemerovo, Siberia, where he whipped some 6,000 miners and laborers into a frenzy by promising some $117 billion worth of public investment for the area.

That's apparently what it takes to win over the people of Kemerovo, who have a reputation for being hard to impress. Last October, for example, locals barely noticed when the regional administration announced the sighting of a Yeti (abominable snowman). In Siberia, as elsewhere in Russia, people are generally wary of what political leaders say.

This time, though, the crowd really seemed pleased with Putin's message. "Our country, especially in difficult times, has always been supported by the powerful shoulders of miners and metal workers," he said. "I know that real people live here, people who know real life, not just the life that is described in magazines. I'm counting on you."

Putin was staying on message when stoking antagonisms between European Russia's urban middle class – i.e. those who have been demonstrating against him – and the rural working class who generally support him.

As the country's presidential election nears, one thing is becoming increasingly clear: there are really two Russias. There is an urban middle-class Russia that is looking for changes, and there is rural Russia, where people still heat their homes with wood fires and dream of someday having running water.

Putin is depending on the latter – the austere, less pampered Russia – to win on March 4. His relationship with the former, meanwhile, seems to be deteriorating by the day. The prime minister recently sounded off against the Moscow radio station Echo for covering him with "shit all day long." He accused the Russian writer Boris Akunin (whose real name is Tchkhartichvili) of having joined the opposition because of "his Georgian origins." Indeed, there are days he seems to be at his wit's end.

Except he's not. Putin – despite the increasingly visible protests against him – is still the overwhelminng favorite to succeed Dmitry Medvedev as president, even if he falls short on March 4 of the 50% vote mark needed to avoid a runoff.

In the meantime, the prime minister's campaign organizers are planning a series of counter-offenses to the rising protest movement. They also came up with the idea of sending some freshly elected Popular Front deputies out on the campaign trail to drum up rural support for Putin. The Popular Front is a new pro-Putin movement – founded by Putin himself – that is taking an increasingly visible role in the campaign as his controversial pro-Kremlin party, United Russia, has been asked to take more of a backseat.

Criss-crossing the country

The deputies in question include Valeri Trapeznikov, a retired machine operator from Perm; history teacher Lioumila Bokova from Saratov; and Valeri Lakouchev, a retired metal worker from Nizhni Taguil. Accompanied by Dr. Leonid Rochal, Putin's campaign director, they are criss-crossing the vastness of rural Russia. At the various campaign stops, each member of the team addresses his own target audience: the blue collar workers talk to blue-collar workers, the doctor talks to healthcare professionals, while the teacher deals with the schools.

They have been a sensation. Not so much because of their speeches, but because of the "business jet" that they have used as transport, a Bombardier CRJ-200 with a luxurious interior. Renting the jet costs at least 100,000 euros, according to Forbes Russia magazine.

That revelation has been an embarrassment for the party. But it didn't stop Valeri Trapeznikov, the former machine worker, from using his latest speech to bash the bourgeoisie. "The power of the people, that's us. It is time to say no to those protesting clowns in Bolotnaya square," he said to a crowd of about 15,000 in Yekaterinburg. "All those bastards would do better to come work in a factory on this side of the Urals."

Putin's critics dismiss such rallies as pure political theater, saying many of the people in attendance were bussed in from neighboring communities. The protesting youth hardly seem to notice them at all. Instead they prefer the kind of political showmanship that pops up on YouTube. A recent example is a music video involving former paratroopers who sing about how Putin "ruined the defense."

"The army is a wreck," they sing. "You spit on the soldiers and you sent the officers packing. We are respectfully asking: get lost, Tyrant! You are nothing but a civil servant, not a Tzar or a God." The YouTube video has already been viewed more than 500,000 times.

Putin is not a God. But perhaps he is something of a Tzar. On Jan. 30, after leaving a meeting on innovation, Vladimir Putin went to light a candle in front of the Icon of the Virgin in the Tikhvin Monastery, near Saint Petersburg. It is not the first time he's been there. Nor is he the first leader to make her acquaintance. Nearly all of Russia's Tzars visited the Icon at one point – except for Nicolas II. And we know how his story ended.

Read more from Le Monde in French

Photo - peretzp

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Society

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel

-Essay-

BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.


Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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