Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Would Be Once and Future Tsar of Some of the Russias

I was cruising around the interwebs yesterday, doing some research on the Ukrainian Thing and The Evil That Is Putin, and I came across RT's coverage of the Inauguration of Vladimir Putin as President of the Russian Federation in 2012, and I was struck with how strangely it resembled the Coronation Pageant of the Tsars, and yet how much it differed as well.

There are movies of the Tsar Nicolas II's Coronation Pageant in the Kremlin, which utilizes some of the same locations as Vladimir's inauguration, prominently the Grand (Red) Staircase beside the Faceted Palace adjacent to the Grand Kremlin Palace where the Inauguration and parts of the Coronation Pageant took place.

The difference, however, is that in Vladimir's Pageant, he is either alone or accompanied only by Dmitri Medvedev whom he is to replace as President. He and Medvedev are driven in huge Mercedes limosines through empty Moscow streets accompanied only by guards on motorcycles and in SUVs, they walk through the squares of the Kremlin by themselves, they pass through the vast and elegant halls of the Grand Palace alone, not even their ceremonial guards accompany them. As they pass through the halls of the Palace, the crowds of well-wishers are kept behind stately velvet ropes. Vladimir doesn't notice them or acknowledge their applause. The guards pose like toy soldiers in elaborate Tsarist get ups at every gilded doorway and along all the expansive stair cases, and they cock their heads becomingly as Vladimir passes by, very much as one imagines the Tsar's ceremonial guards must have done in times past.

The inaugural ceremony itself is very simple, and it takes place on the podium where the thrones of the Tsars once were (and will be again, once this pageant is done). The ceremony includes speeches by Medvedev and Putin, an oath taken on a bound copy of the Constitution of the Federation, and the singing of the (Soviet) anthem (with new words, of course, written by the same man who wrote the Soviet anthem in 1944 during the Great Patriotic War. Continuity, you know?)

After a few handshakes, it's done. (Which, if I recall correctly -- and who knows -- was pretty much the inaugural ceremony of the Soviet era, a very simple ceremony that, however, did not include Tsarist trappings or pageantry.)

During Tsarist times, the Tsar was accompanied by hordes of family, relations, courtiers, priests, and military functionaries where ever he went. During the Coronation Pageant of Tsar Nicolas II, the Grand (Red) Staircase beside the Faceted Palace was filled with so many of these people, it is nearly impossible to pick out the Tsar if you don't know what to look for. The squares of the Kremlin were also filled with people, whereas during Vladimir's inauguration, there are only a few ceremonial troops to greet him.

By contrast to the Tsar's Pageant, the whole city of Moscow itself -- let alone the Kremlin -- is made to appear empty, as if it were a stage set, for the inauguration of Vladimir Putin. There is no one in the halls at the White House from whence he departs for the Kremlin, there are no crowds on the streets cheering the passage of his limousine, no one is assembled in Red Square to sing his praises. In fact, apart from a handful of guards and a small detachment of military personnel, Vladimir encounters no one else at all until he is well inside the Grand Palace, and he does not acknowledge those assembled in the Palace to witness his inauguration until after it is done.

So Vladimir does not exactly emulate the coronation of the Tsar, though he does utilize some of the same locations and imagery. What he does, by making the city and the Kremlin appear to be empty for this pageant, though, is psychologically more profound. He focuses the attention on him alone, rather than on the pageant of which he is a part -- as well as apart from. There are very limited aspects of Tsarist pageantry: the ceremonial guards, the crowds in the Palace, the small assemblies of troops passing in review. None of these elements of pageantry, however, is allowed to overshadow the star of the show, Putin himself. Thus, if anything, he outdoes the Tsars, not by overdoing but by underplaying the pageantry and by focusing attention on himself rather than on the pageant.

It's slick.

Until I saw it yesterday, I didn't know that's how he did it. Now that I've seen it, it seems clear enough that the idea that he is "Hitler" or "Stalin" reincarnated is even more absurd. No, this is not someone trying "desperately" to revive the Soviet Union, as I've heard so often on the teevee. He is certainly not someone seeking to conquer new territory and wipe out the subhumans for the benefit of the Race. (Good God, anyone who believes that is insane.)

No, from what I've seen of him -- admittedly superficial -- his mission is more like that of Peter the Great, to bring his country into the Modern Era, integrate it with the West to the extent that can happen without destroying the cultural and historical uniqueness of Mother Russia, maintain control of its borders and protect its people at home and nearby, and to be respected and taken "seriously" by other world leaders -- because he is worthy, not because he demands it like a petulant child.

In this respect, what he's doing with regard to Ukraine and Russia's interests therein are obviously not the acts of a "madman" "desperate" to become the New "Stalin-Hitler." Those who are saying so are looking more and more foolish. Putin, almost alone among world leaders, comes across as resolute and responsible, somewhat weary to be sure, but not at all the "madman" acting out of "desperation" he is made out to be by the incessant and relentless anti-Putin/anti-Russia propaganda machine. No wonder he is regarded so highly by Russians themselves, and no wonder he seems to have earned the respect of Western European leaders, though some still wish to rail against him and Russia (Cameron, Hague, eg).

This is not meant to express any love for Putin or his ways and means. Rather, I'm trying to inject some reality into the consideration of the Ukrainian situation and its relationship to today's Russia -- instead of focusing on some image of the Soviet Union and Stalin-Hitler which seems to be dominating the media in the US and elsewhere.

Even Bob Gates on Charlie Rose was saying in essence, "Chill the fuck out." What we may think is going on is probably not what's going on, and Russia has valid national interests in Ukraine and Crimea and all along its borders. To assert otherwise, as some in the American and European power elites have attempted to do, is what's "crazy," not Putin. Figure out what Russia's real national interests are. Don't just dismiss them as if this were some bad movie replay of the Cold War.

Of course the Ukrainian People are caught in the middle, benefiting not at all from any of it. When will someone think of their welfare? Or are they simply disposable?

If only the Tsar knew....!

(Money quote: As always, the Tsar has known, and approved, all along...)

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