Staunton, November 24 – Putinism is “a pseudo-religious and quasi-political cult” which has arisen over the course of the last year and which has “consolidated society around Putin,” including many who were at the level of political ideas opposed to the Kremlin leader, according to Fedor Krasheninnikov.
The Yekaterinburg political commentator argues in an essay posted online today that Vladimir Putin’s success in uniting Russian society can best be understood if one analyzes what is going on in religious or cultural terms, and he suggests that this cult like all others carries with it risks for its authors as well as its followers.
Putinism, Krasheninnikov says, is a cult rather than a political movement because it is based not on rational calculations but on “pure irrationality,” on categories like “correctness, truth, hope, faith,” and so on which are part of religious discourse but not at the center of political conversations.
Viewed from a theoretical perspective, the analyst says,”Putinism is more a charismatic apocalyptic Protestant cult of the American type,” with the only difference being that Putinism is primarily a cult promoted and organized by television rather than by any more direct participation of its followers.
“As in Protestantism, stress is laid on the personal emotions and experiences of the adepts: each must believe in Putin as an individual” and then “each must become a missionary” on his behalf. Such cults and Putinism is one of them, Krasheninnikov says, are based on the idea of inspiration and have their own well-developed demonology.
Moreover, it and they have their own distinctive eschatology: They talk about a fall from grace, a recovery led by a Messiah and Savior, in this case Putin, and about a final victory over evil, a pattern that gives new meaning to the lives of the followers and causes them to look beyond their immediate problems in the name of this larger narrative.
“For the true adepts of the cult of Putin,” he continues, “they do not need anything because they live according to higher interests and are ready to sacrifice their personal well-being for geopolitical triumphs,” in contrast to “national traitors” who are only concerned with their personal situation and are ready to sell out “the Greatness of the Motherland” for it.
In this new cult, “Orthodoxy as a religion plays a definite role but hardly the one that the hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church would like and not even the one which its opponents have sometimes ascribed to it,” Krasheninnikov says. Today, “real Orthodoxy remains in Russia a quite marginal sect,” affecting in an immediate way only a few percent of the population.
But far more identify as Orthodox and in this there is a link between the ROC and Putinism. On the one hand, he writes, “the apostles of Putinism borrow from the church what they most need: the brand and the link with the supernatural” without which Russia could never exceed the level of the late Brezhnev period.
And on the other, Putinism takes from Orthodoxy “the simplified form of work with the masses,” understanding as does the Patriarchate that millions of people are prepared to identify and believe but few of them are likely to accept the specific precepts of the faith as the basis for action.
In essence, Krasheninnikov says, “all those millions of people who without doing anything but consider themselves Orthodox have received the chance without doing anything or changing their lives to feel themselves also to be model citizens, true patriots, inheritors of tradition, and so on.”
They are in all their actions, “justified by faith,” to take the term of art from Martin Luther.
Obviously, any cult with a savior has to have an apocalyptic doctrine because “a unique, supernatural personality standing at its center cannot simply life and die – the life and death of the savior must be a fateful moment in the life of all humanity, the beginning of a new era (as in Christianity) or the death of gods and chaos (as in paganism).”
Putinism “unfortunately” is no exception. It has an apocalypse which is captured in talk about a nuclear war and the notion that “if there is no Putin, there is no Russia.” The expectation it generates about the approaching end of the world is a key precondition for “giving high meaning to the most senseless life.”
Of course, almost no one wants to “die in the flames of Armageddon in fact.” Indeed, most followers believe that they will escape because evil will be defeated. But the notion of such an end of the world justifies the notion that one must be hot or cold about the savior and not lukewarm, something that works to his advantage.
For such a cult, “any emotions are good, except for indifference,” and that, Krasheninnikov says, “provides a key to understanding the tactics and practices of all apocalyptic and charismatic cults, including Putinism.” They must never leave the audience “without emotions” but rather act to ensure people will remain at an emotional high.
The problem, of course, is that “people cannot live in such a state for long, and the messiah elevated to a pedestal must constantly crate obvious and undoubted miracles or the adepts will be disappointed” and turn on him. Such “a social narcotic is very strong but its effects are not long-lasting.”
Moreover, the history of other cults suggests that “the peak of passionateness always comes in the last months of its existence,” that the very elevation of feelings opens the way for the very greatest of disappointments. In the current situation, that has truly disturbing implications.
According to the Yekaterinburg analyst, if Putin as Messiah does not triumph “over the world evil” in the next few months at least at the level of Ukraine, “the situation will rapidly move in the opposite direction” with disbelief and hatred replacing faith, love and devotion.
In this situation, Putin must either find new tasks abroad or direct his adepts toward “internal enemies by provoking pogroms” and the like and then intervening with force for and against them. But that will be a stage beyond the cult: it will be like Mao’s “cultural revolution,” something that dealt with failures and then renewed the cult before its final destruction.