[Прочитать статью на русском языке здесь.]
“Bashed over the head with a truncheon.” “A clubbing on their skulls.” “Beaten around the head with truncheons.” “A whack on the bonce.” “A club on your noggin.” “Hit in the head by a bludgeon.” “A whack on the nut.” These are just some of the ways that English language media perevodchiki have decided to translate Putin’s now infamous remarks about how Russian police respond to opposition protests. There are two phrases of particular interest: “Получите по башке дубиной” and “Получи, тебя отоварили.” The operative words here are башка (bashka), which is slang for the thing that sits atop your neck, and отоварить (otovarit’), which is a verb that basically means “to receive something, having paid for it.”
The other big thing Western journalists have highlighted as an important takeaway from Putin’s interview with Kommersant (see here for the original Russian and here for a complete English translation) is the notion that he’s preparing the way for a return to the presidency: “Putin gives strongest indication he will serve third term as president“; “Putin goes on the road – and plots his route back to power“; “Putin Hits the Road to Buff ‘Action Man’ Image With Eye on 2012 Election“; and “Putin Shows Russia He Is at the Wheel“.
“I only have two choices,” he told the daily Kommersant newspaper. “Either to watch from the bank how the waters are flowing away and how something is collapsing or falling away or to get involved,” he said. “I prefer to be involved.”
Of course, as prime minister of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin is involved in the government now. There is also the fact that Putin goes on to explain that the process in which he’s so interested in “being involved” is one that could take anywhere from decades to ‘forever.’ For Mr. Osborn, this is the “strongest indication” yet that Vladimir Vladimirovich intends to serve a third presidential term. Though Osborn doesn’t acknowledge it, Putin’s statement might also mean that he would like to maintain some kind of government role for as long as he’s able, rather than fade into oblivion like Boris Yeltsin. (Drinking himself into a gurgling blob isn’t really Putin’s style, after all.)
Western observers were quick to note the prime minister’s rhetorical flourish — namely his use of macho slang. This is, of course, nothing new, though it never ceases to gain the attention of reporters eager for notable quotables. (The Economist even dedicated a blog post exclusively to “toilet talk,” replete with best-of hits from Putin’s many years of one-liners.) While his talk of toilets, smacking people upside the head, and refusal to acknowledge any specific mistakes in office were a big hit in the reports and op-eds today, I’ve yet to see anyone note how eerily similar Putin’s style is to the former American President, George W. Bush. Whether it was “smoke them out of their holes,” “watch this drive,” “I’m the decider,” or Bush’s own — well, exactly the same — refusal to list any mistakes as president, the media appears to be an irony-free zone today when it comes to the idiosyncrasies of Mr. Putin.
Regarding the opposition, Putin expands rather vaguely on a position that’s been clear for years now (most recently reiterated at an unscheduled public showdown with musician Yuri Shevchuk). The gist is this: Putin claims to not be personally involved in either the permit-granting of major Russian cities or the municipal decisions to break up unsanctioned demonstrations. He repeated his rather hyperbolic, though perhaps not entirely inaccurate, depiction of the people who attend these rallies: namely, individuals who break the law on purpose in order to gain the attention of the media and stir up outrage against the government, to the point of civil instability. Hence, according to Putin, the protesters are covering themselves in fake blood, making grand speeches in the vicinity of their own shit, and flying the cartoon pirate flag.
As a distillation of how Putin views the opposition, the following passage is extremely useful:
If [the rallies'] purpose is a provocation, they’ll be successful every time. But if the goal is to blow the whistle on something to the public, Russia’s or the world’s, then there’s no point in provoking or in breaking the law. [...] If the purpose is that the authorities make concessions, and say the authorities agree to some, then [the opposition] would just find another means of provocation. That’s the whole point. And this would continue endlessly.
Political analysts Gleb Pavlovsky and Marat Gel’man were on Ekho Mosvky earlier today to share their observations about Putin’s speech. Gel’man, assumedly responding to the statement quoted above, said that the most interesting idea to come out of the exchange was the notion that Strategy 31, the liberal protest movement obsessed over by journalists and bloggers alike (guilty as charged), has moved outside the bounds of legal behavior. “The philosophy of [Strategy] 31 was originally for legality. And today they declare that they’re breaking the law for the law,” Gel’man mused, adding, “I’d already forgotten that [Strategy] 31 was for the law.”
Pavlovsky complained that the interview was a failure, but for this he blamed Kolesnikov, not Putin, saying that the reporter allowed the prime minister to partake in exactly the sort of exchange in which Putin is most comfortable. (This is ironic, given that Kolesnikov’s author page at Snob.ru states outright that his aim as an interviewer is to get his subjects outside their comfort zones.) Pavlovsky also criticizes Kolesnikov for failing to ask serious questions. He missed a chance to bring up the MVD draft legislation when Putin mentioned beating people’s heads (something the zakonoproekt explicitly bans in Section 6, Clause 22, Paragraph 1, Subsection 1). Pavlovsky also emphasizes Putin’s lighthearted tone, calling the conversation a “game” of sorts, which Kolesnikov unfortunately did not resist. “Putin could have made this interview a strong portrait, or a political [statement],” the analyst said, “but what we got was neither political nor a portrait. So Kolesnikov just didn’t ask him a single important political question.”
Such is the difference of depth between Russian and American politilogists. The Western media runs stories about the umpteenth Putin photo op and calls it his third presidential campaign. They treat his offhand (off color?) remarks about a Leningrad rock musician and a small but vocal group of demonstrators as if it was the smoking gun proving his intimate involvement in the clubbing of protesters. Yes, Putin’s claim to have only recently learned of Khodorkovsky’s second trial — and probably also the statement that he’d never heard of Yuri Shevchuk — amounts to baloney. And, yes, the whole interview is basically just that: болтовня (boltovnia), or “idle talk” — a word Putin himself used to describe the idea that he, not Dmitri Medvedev, is in actual control of the country.
Whether or not that’s true (there’s no sure way to know), Pavlovsky is right: Putin didn’t answer any hard questions because he wasn’t asked any. Does he think only he can lead the country? No, but he likes to be involved. Why did they close Triumfal’naia? Putin doesn’t know. Not his job. Same for Khodorkovsky. And so on. The issues here are big, but the questions, to the degree that they exist, are vague and anchored to the usual suspects: Shevchuk, Khodorkovsky, the несогласные. Putin does his part to cut off followup questions, but the transcript indicates more of a giggling joyride than a serious discussion. Kolesnikov’s narration suggests he was laughing as he wrote it. He even pauses at one point to quip that Putin reminded him of a cabbie shooting the breeze to pass the time.
Vladimir Putin the Taxi Driver. Now there’s a headline.