Three Girl Rhumba: Breakthrough, Stagnation, Strife

tiny warriors

Great Breakthroughs: Putin Warns of a Great Exertion
Mikhail Shevchuk
Delovoi Peterburg
May 7, 2018

In his inauguration speech, Vladimir Putin warned the country was in such circumstances that only a decisive breakthrough on all fronts could save it. Nevertheless, there were certain conditions.

Putin kicked off his fourth term as Russia’s president with an inauguration at the Great Kremlin Palace. The scenario was almost the same as during previous inaugurations, except, perhaps, that TV viewers were shown the president getting up from his chair in his office, donning a blazer, and setting off down the hallways of the Kremlin, finally to descend a staircase, get in a car, and make the short trip to the Great Kremlin Palace in a motorcade.

In rituals, every particular has symbolic import, I guess, and the blazer and the solitude and the utter silence in which Putin walked along the corridors were probably meant to suggest the absoluteness of Putin’s power.

“In Russia, the president is the person responsible for everything”: Putin led off his inauguration speech with this phrase eighteen years ago. He ended the speech as follows: “We have one future in common.” Back then, very few people could have guessed how literally these words were meant.

As the president walked unperturbed down the enfilade of the Great Kremlin Palace on his way to the Great Hall of St. Andrew, he was greeted by guests. There were many more guests compared to his inauguration in 2000, and as he passed by them, every other guest took a snaphot of Putin on their smartphones. This was meant to show us two things, apparently: their telephones had not been confiscated at the entrance, despite the gravity of the occasion, and the fact people could take pictures symbolized the rights and freedom Russians supposedly enjoyed.

During his speech, it transpired Putin still felt “colossal responsibility.” This responsibility had only become greater over the years. Naturally, only faithfulness to the legacy of his forebears could help him cope with it now.

Yet the word Putin invoked most often in his speech was “breakthrough.” On five occasions, Putin mentioned the need for a breakthrough in all areas of life and the need to shape an agenda focused on breakthroughs. He repeated the adjective “intense” three times. To make his point clear to everyone, he said the country had to achieve breakthroughs and large-scale transformations (for the better) in its cities and villages. There was no time for warming up. The president laid particular stress on this phrase.

Not so long ago, during the so-called fat years, the prevailing view among the authorities was Russia should not make any sudden moves. “Not revolution, but evolution,” as the Kremlin’s spin doctors would put it. The concept has now apparently changed. Revolution is now called for again. Quietly and peacefully evolving doesn’t work. Once more, we have to catch up, and once again there is no time to warm up.

We will fulfill the five-year-plan in four years!

The regime’s vocabulary has come to resembe the militaristic vocabulary of Soviet leaders, who went into a state of permanent breakthrough in the 1920s and never came out of it. The word “breakthrough” implies we are surrounded. Official propaganda tells us that we are, in fact, encircled, but, just like sixty years ago, it is deemed inappropriate to ask who got us where we are today.

Putin had a lot to say about the conditions of the imminent breakthrough. What he said witnessed to the fact he more or less understood why things had turned out this way, and why circumstances had emerged which we needed to break through. We must, he said, reject “stagnation, crass conservatism, and bureaucratic deadness,” and give more freedom to everyone who yearned for renewal.

Yet the president stipulated time and again that, even as we change, we must not break away from our roots. Our country’s beauty and strength lay in its distinctness. Even “daring young people,” on whom he placed great hopes, must see the limits of their audacity and be faithful to traditional values.

In fact, two days before the inauguaration, Putin’s sentiments were clearly illustrated on the streets of Russia’s cities. Especially audacious young people were dragged along the pavement by crass conservatives whom no one has thought to reject for the time being.

What should we do if stagnation is considered a traditional value? The president had no answer to that question.

“For over a thousand years, Russia has faced periods of strife and trial, and has always been reborn like a phoenix,” Putin reminded his listeners.

It sounded alarming. Rebirth, it turned out, must inevitably be preceded by strife.

Photo and translation by the Russian Reader

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Wire
Three Girl Rhumba

Think of a number
Divide it by two
Something is nothing
Nothing is nothing
Open a box
Tear off the lid
Then think of a number
Don’t think of an answer
Open your eyes
Think of a number
Don’t get swept under
A number’s a number
A chance encounter you want to avoid
The inevitable
So you do, oh yes you do
The impossible
Now you ain’t got a number
You just want to rhumba
And there ain’t no way you’re gonna go under
Go under, go under
Go under, go under
You tear me asunder
Go under, go under
Go under, yeah

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