By Vitaliy Portnikov
Translated and edited by Voices of Ukraine
There is something startlingly symbolic in the fact that Gabriel Garcia Marquez passed away all but during Vladimir Putin’s live TV broadcast. The creator of a virtually optimal dictator model departed this world, leaving behind that model in action.
Many had tried describing a Latin American dictator, but the dictators described by Mario Vargas Llosa, Graham Greene, and Carlos Fuentes were too human; you could just see Trujillo’s sticky palms and Balaguer’s shifty eyes. That was why these people died, maneuvered, let some punches through. Vargas Llosa’s dictator is [Viktor] Yanukovych. It wasn’t for nothing that Tymoshenko presented her opponent [Yanukovych] with a copy of The Feast of the Goat, after his victory in the presidential elections. To Putin, she could have given The Autumn of the Patriarch.
Because Putin – even though he is trying to look alive to us, and recalls his ex-wife and current friends to this end – has eradicated everything about himself that would remind us of his own personal qualities. Today, it is difficult to recall Putin in the days of his heart-to-heart talks with Nataliya Gevorkyan and Andrey Kolesnikov. This is not about his values at the time – it is doubtful that they were different from his values today. This has to do with the fact that he used to search for answers, to tack with the wind, to win the sympathies of his conversation partners. Not anymore. Today’s Putin knows the answers to all possible questions of the universe, both those asked today and those to be asked tomorrow. Any latest information communicated by him becomes true, regardless of what he had said the day before. Nor is he interested in his conversation partners and their sympathies – now they should worry about impressing him.
Putin is not a president, not a dictator, and not even a Russian Emperor. He is the Deus Ex Machina [“god from the machine”] described by Marquez, endless and immortal, as is the Russian government. Today’s Putin is the Whites, who never accepted that Russians and Ukrainians were different peoples, and the Reds who built a powerful state and won the Great Patriotic War [1941-1945]. He is the heir of Nicholas II, Stalin and Yeltsin, all at the same time. The only one he is not an heir of would be Gorbachev who, as we know, ruined a great country. Because Putin is the gatherer and the punisher, those being the main missions of the Russian machine god, while Gorbachev did not gather anything and was not too swift to punish.
This Putin is the symbol of hopelessness, of going around in endless circles, of making the solution of one problem the raison d’être of the whole nation. Peter the Great fought with [Hetman Ivan] Mazepa and was looking for a loyal Hetman. Empress Elizabeth put Hetman Razumovsky into her palace, to keep an eye on him. Catherine II resettled the [Ukrainian] Cossacks anywhere away from the liquidated Sich. Lenin ordered that the Communist (Bolshevik) Party of Ukraine be created in the Rostov Oblast (where else?), to use it as a simple smoke screen for forming self-defense squads and overthrowing the government of the Ukrainian People’s Republic.
Centuries pass, and we see the same things all over again. A cell of new liquidators in the Rostov Oblast, self-defense squads, search for a loyal hetman, the annexation of Crimea. From Moscow, it may seem that Russian history is advancing at a breakneck rate, like the racing troika [three-horse carriage] described by [Nikolay] Gogol. But looking from the side, one can see that everything is frozen in the same point of pressure. It is as if Russia has been cursed – for centuries now, it is revolving around Ukraine, which does not want anything to revolve around it, gives birth to another gatherer and punisher, plunges into turmoil, falls to pieces, births another gatherer, sends him on a quest, and plunges into turmoil again…
Marquez was the first to understand the ahistoric nature of this process, and started describing his characters as mythical monsters in human shape. That was the only way to show that they were also humans beset by passions, and not simply functions of a pointless cycle. Vladimir Putin was born to bring this tale to life – and he’s succeeded at that.