Staunton, October 18 – Polls show that a higher percentage of Russians believe in Vladimir Putin than believe in God, but those figures are less about political support than the desire to find a savior – and, if the experience of other countries including the United States is any guide, almost certainly will dissipate quickly, according to Maksim Trudolyubov.
Writing in Vedomosti October 18, the Moscow commentator points out that the 86 percent of Russians who say they believe in Putin is higher than the 78 percent who say they believe in God and then speculates on what this means and how long it can last.
What is striking, Trudolyubov says is that one is unlikely to see the share of Russians who say they believe in God rise to the level of those who make the same declaration about Putin and that this “extremely high level of support of a political leader testifies to the special situation of [Russian] society.”
Whatever else, he suggests, “86 percent is not ‘a political’ but rather a religious statistic. It speaks to the hope for ‘a savior’ and not about a rational choice in favor of this or that politician.”
Such things happen “not only in Russia,” the Vedomosti commentator points out. When people feel that their country is threatened or when they feel a sense of euphoria as a result of its victory in some conflict, their faith in a political leader can exceed that of their faith in God. That happened in the United States with George W. Bush in 2001.
“When they feel a danger, society for a short time becomes a flock of sheep,” he continues. “Citizens put to the side social disagreements, political convictions and personal feelings and declare their support for the leader. They become a virtual army ready for battle with evil.”
“But this feeling passes: convictions and disagreements return, the army falls apart, and the flock of sheep again becomes a political nation,” Trudolyubov argues.
Every politician hopes to achieve this kind of support and thinks about what kind of “’a secret weapon’” he can deploy to get it. But there is no magic way to keep support at that level for very long: there aren’t any special medications that can be employed, and there are great risks involved in trying to keep emotions at a fever pitch.
There is no clear answer about the meaning of the “Russian 86 percent” now, he concludes. But he suggests that it has less to do with politics than with the fact that “in the hearts of people” there lives a desire to believe that “salvation can come from the leader of the state” rather than from God.
Alternatively, Trudolyubov suggests, it may be that people want to be a flock of sheep, but if so, that is only because “they do not understand that the best place for a flock is a church. Or it could be that they want to be an army.”