Putin’s “Last Autumn”? (Song of the Ordinary Man)
Echo of Moscow
August 28, 2020
I’m an ordinary guy, not lacking in simplicity.
I’m just like him, I’m just like you.
I don’t see the point in talking to me —
It’s the same as talking to yourself.
The are the opening lines from Mike Naumenko’s “Song of the Ordinary Man.” Mike Naumenko died on August 27, 1991, twenty-nine years ago, an anniversary that many remembered, especially since in recent years Mike’s legacy has been held in high esteem, and rightly so. However, I’m sorry to say I won’t be talking about my late friend this time, but about something else entirely. I recalled Mike’s song because I am a one-hundred-percent “ordinary man” in Mike’s sense of the term, someone who has neither inside info nor insights, nor political science tricks up his sleeve, nor political party experience, and besides I am absolutely indifferent to conspiracy theories. At the same time, I am quite interested in what is happening in Russia, and I want to get to the bottom of it without resorting to any bells and whistles except for publicly available information and common sense.
For many months, the popular expert and lonely nightingale known as Valery Solovey has been trying to persuade his audience, weary with uncertainty, that this autumn 1) mass protests of unprecedented power will kick off; 2) the authorities will most likely be unable to cope with this “turbulence,” especially since 3) President Putin, due to “force majeure” circumstances, will hardly be able to be involved in this process and generally has been fading away; 4) although Putin has appointed a successor, there is little chance that the Kremlin’s scenario will be implemented; 5) consequently, we will probably be “living in a different country” by 2022. Needless to say, this all appears quite appetizing (to a person with my anarcho-libertarian tastes).
Because I live abroad permanently, I did not attend Solovey’s private lectures. I was too bashful to shout “Give me the details!” over the phone, so I didn’t think it possible to get into a debate or, on the contrary, celebrate our country’s imminent deliverance from the hated regime. But another dear “talker and troublemaker,” Gennady Gudkov, has just made a similar forecast (in an article entitled “Putin is leaving: the transition has already begun”). Gudkov is super-experienced: he’s an KGB officer, a former MP, and a prominent opposition figure. At the same time, like the “ordinary man” that I am, Gudkov does not rely on secret data from the backstreets of the deep state, instead making his conclusions based on news bulletins. And his conclusions, in short, are that Putin is going to leave the Kremlin, either due to unbearably bad health, or because he is just very tired. Accordingly, the people of Russia are going to be transported from one reality to another like a passenger changing planes.
This, unfortunately, is what I would like to argue with.
First of all, I don’t enjoy regularly watching Putin on screen, but from the bits and pieces I have come across, I wouldn’t conclude that he has physically and/or mentally noticeably thrown in the towel. Sixty-eight is a laid-back age: I am sixty-five, say, but I don’t do sports and fitness, I’m not under the care of doctors, I don’t inject Botox and stem cells, I don’t deny myself any “harmful excesses” (except smoking tobacco), and I feel great. And since when did a ruler’s feeble state affect anything in Russia? Let’s remember dear old Leonid Brezhnev, who could barely move his tongue, the zombie-like Chernenko, and late-period Yeltsin. Secondly, it is absolutely impossible that Putin would voluntarily deign to vacate the throne due to fatigue or anything else. He’s only going out on a gun carriage. In my opinion, it is quite clear: this is Lukashenko’s scenario, not F****ace’s. And we should note that the Reset One doesn’t even have Consanguineous Kolenka to fall back on, while iPhone Boy, the Buddhist, and the Reindeer Herder are . . . Even arguing this point is boring.
Nikolai “Kolenka” Lukashenko (far left) and his father, Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko, at a meeting “in the situation room of Independence Palace” on August 23, 2020. Screenshot from the Telegram channel Pul Pervogo. Courtesy of Mediazona Belarus
Nor do I think that the predictions of mighty grassroots turbulence are more realistic. Why should I? Russians have learned to put up with poverty, and empty store shelves, and “elections,” and the riot police. Russians who haven’t learned to put with these things have left the country and will continue to leave it: as many who can get out will get out as soon as the quarantine is lifted. What happened on Maidan and is happening in Belarus is regarded by the majority of the Russian populace as a nightmare, while the minority sees it as a miracle, an impossible miracle. The only obvious reaction to the events in Belarus has been on the darned social networks. In tiny Lithuania, fifty thousand people turned out for a rally of solidarity with the rebellious people of Belarus; in Tallinn, two or three thousand people lined up in a chain; in Moscow, a couple of hundred young people protested outside the Belarusian embassy on Maroseyka, most of them Belarusian nationals. And what about the Russian city of Khabarovsk? Everyone is, like, amazed at the resilience of the protesters (for the time being it’s as if they’re talking to a brick wall), but only solo picketers come out in support of them in other parts of Russia. Or have I fallen behind the times in my own little corner of Europe, and it’s just the good weather that is to blame for everything? And in the autumn Russians are going to cut loose and go bonkers?
This is how Mike’s song ends:
If you ask me what the moral is,
I will turn my gaze into the misty distance
And I’ll tell you: I’m sorry,
But, by God, I don’t know what the moral is.
We live the way we lived before,
And we’ll live that way until we die,
And if we live like this,
That means that’s how we should live!
Mike always spat out the last line with fury. I don’t know whether this was the desperate rage of a stoic or the impotent rage of a fatalist . . . Let’s hope, in any case, that I’m wrong.
Artemy Troitsky is a well-known Russian journalist and musical critic. Thanks to Comrade Koganzon for the heads-up. Thanks to TL, VL, NK, and AR for helping me to identify the Belarusian and Russian supervillains mentioned at the end of the fifth paragraph. Translated by the Russian Reader