How is it possible, can the "mind" of a whole country in the 21st century be closed by one man?

Well, President Putin of Russia is trying do so. Although his targeting of U.S. and domestic civil-society groups is probably first of all a tactic of his own survival strategy, stemming from his conviction that other ideas, often from the liberal Western countries and not part of his own ideological make-up, (that of a KGB officer in the former Soviet Union), should not be allowed to breathe the air of present day Russia.

Putin well understands that if liberal democratic thought were allowed free expression his own reactionary ideas recalling the thinking, at least the little there was of it, of the USSR, would not survive. And Putin, as has been clear from that moment when George Bush looked him in the eye, would before anything else survive, that being his first priority, although he says that it’s the values of an older Russia that is being threatened by the West that he has most in mind.

To that end, the protection of “old Rus,” Putin has also commissioned a 24-meter statue of Vladimir the Great, the prince who Christianized the state of Kievan Rus in the late 10th century. The leader is depicted standing up with his sword at his side and bearing a large cross. This may be how Putin sees himself.

There is currently great difference of opinion over where to put the statue. Originally, Prince Vladimir was to be placed on an observation deck in the Sparrow Hills overlooking Moscow, but now city officials (pushed by Putin?) want to erect it in Lubyanka Square, in front of the headquarters of the now Federal Security Service, or what used to be the KGB, that is, where Putin once worked and where a statue of the widely feared KGB head, Felix Dzerzhinsky once stood.

Anyway, here’s the notice from today’s newspaper that got me thinking about this:


The Closing of the Russian Mind

The Kremlin targets U.S. and domestic civil-society groups.

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin  SAVOSTYANOV SERGEI/TASS VIA ZUMA PRESS

Russia’s Federation Council, the upper chamber of President Vladimir Putin’s rubber-stamp Parliament, on Wednesday directed the government to investigate 12 foreign civil-society organizations to determine whether they should be added to the country’s “patriotic stop list.” Call this the latest chapter in the closing of the Russian mind.

The Kremlin created the stop list in May under a new law banning foreign organizations deemed “undesirable.” The first set of allegedly undesirable foreign groups includes several American organizations, including Freedom House, the National Endowment for Democracy, the MacArthur Foundation, the Open Society Foundations, the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs.

All of this may seem like an outburst of anti-Americanism, but the real target is dissent at home. Domestic activists who receive funding from undesirable groups could face $10,000 fines and up to six years in prison. Two domestic civil-society organizations—the Dynasty Foundation, which funds Russian scientists, and the Committee to Prevent Torture—closed their doors this week after the Kremlin accused them of acting as “foreign agents” under a separate provision.

As for the popularity of these moves, honest views can be hard to come by in an increasingly repressive environment. But migration data suggest Russians are voting with their feet. From January to August 2014, some 204,000 Russians emigrated, according to official figures, up 40% from the same period in 2013. Meantime, capital outflows of $151 billion hit a record in 2014, three times higher than the previous year.

These columns have been warning about Mr. Putin’s authoritarian habits for as long as he’s been in power, and it’s nice to see some of our liberal friends belatedly coming around to our view. But the instinct to appease Moscow remains powerful, particularly in Europe where Russian money, energy and propaganda talk. The latest assault on Russian civil liberties won’t be the last one, but it is a fresh reminder of Mr. Putin’s authoritarian threat to democratic world order.

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