The Kremlin seems capable of creating two types of figures: heroes and martyrs. The production of heroes is crystal clear and requires no elaboration. Martyrs, however, are a different story because they provide adrenaline to political movements to galvanize their adherents, sanctify their positions, and strengthen their solidarity. Moreover, martyrs are so needlessly created, and the Kremlin, out of either ineffectiveness or incompetence, can’t seem to stop providing even its most retrograde political foes the fertile soil for their germination into impeccable flora. And that’s the thing; the path to martyrdom is always one of transformation, a cleansing ritual that turns the corrupted into the incorruptible, the self-interested into the selfless, the vulgar into the prosaic, and the invisible into the visible. Don’t believe me? Just ask the three young women of Pussy Riot.
Sure, some will note that a vast propaganda machine, mostly emanating from the West, plays an enormous role in the elevation of the Russian opposition to sainthood. This is true. But even still, the buck stops at the Kremlin, because it is Russia’s leaders who provide the initial baptismal waters with their often unnecessary heavy handedness.
It’s too soon to say if the latest defamation, search, interrogation, and possible criminal indictment of Left Front leader Sergei Udaltsov will result in his martyrdom. But the placid surface of the baptismal pools is once again rippling. And be sure the steely pens of the international martyr machine are pulsating with ink waiting to shower Udaltsov with words of benediction.
As reported yesterday, the Russian authorities prompted by their own propaganda “documentary,” Anatomy of a Protest-2, searched the apartment of and interrogated Sergei Udaltsov, arrested his aide Konstantin Lebedev, and scoured the resident of Leonid Razvozzhaev, an aide of the State Duma deputy Ilya Ponomarev. The Left Front leader has since been released on recognizance, but an indictment is expected in the coming days. Today, a court foreshadowed this inevitability by lengthening Lebedev’s original 48 hour detention to two months. As for Razvozzhaev, he’s has gone underground to whereabouts unknown.
According to the latest, prospectors have opened a criminal case claiming that Udaltsov et al. were planning their own little coup of the Russian government funded with Georgian cum American money. Originally, this coup was to take place in Kaliningrad. But according to documents filed with the Basmmanyi Court, the plot was far more ambitious. “[The trio] and other undetermined persons have planned mass violent disorder, riots and arson with the use of firearms and explosive devices in the territories of Moscow, Kaliningrad, Vladivostok and other cities.” That’s not all. The court files also state that for Udaltsov, Lebedev and Razvozzhaev to carry out their scheme, “they planned to recruit 35,000 people to carry out mass disorder by means of SMS-messages.” Given the conspiracy’s expanding breath one might think that Udaltsov, Lebedev and Razvozzhaev were really Lenin, Trotsky and Zinoviev readying the Military Revolutionary Committee to seize the bridges, railways and telegraphic stations before carrying out their own October Revolution. What will the Russian authorities think up next? Implicate the trio in a plot to kill Putin, Medvedev, and other Soviet, err, Russian leaders?
All of this sounds ridiculous because, well, it is. Yet, the question that consistently boggles my mind is: Why? Why does the Kremlin persist in turning virtual political nobodies with little public stature into fodder for martyrdom? One easy answer is because Russian politics is a zero-sum game, and this all or nothing contest breeds authoritarian responses. Now while access to politics is circumscribed in liberal democratic states, and repression is freely used to squash dissent (i.e. the Occupy movement), these states still maintain the illusion of political inclusion. Not in Russia. Since he’s formally returned to the driver seat, Vladimir Putin has abandoned the political chimeras people like Vladislav Surkov understood were a vital technology of rule. In its place is a strategy, if one can even call it that, that is far blunter and forceful.
Another answer, which is not wholly disconnected from the first, is that Putin et al are really, really scared. They are scared partly because Russian politics is a zero-sum game, and partly because they know deep down they sit atop a weak state that makes their ability to manage Russian society tenuous. In this scenario putting out fires replaces governance and the stick supplants the carrot. Thus, I expect this siege mentality to keep on intensifying, and the fate of Udaltsov is just another indication of that trend. The only problem is that while siege mentality is good for extinguishing fires, the ashy remains makes fertile terrain for sprouting more and more martyrs.