Beware wolves in populist clothing


Nationalists versus globalists. Traditionalists versus multiculturalists. The “left behind” versus the elites. If the world’s populists are to be believed, these binary battle lines — ideological boundaries as clear as those of the Cold War — are what divide the world today, notes analyst Peter Pomerantsev. It’s a temptingly simple framework. But it’s also a narrative trap that chiefly strengthens those who push it — and it’s one that leaves the “left behind,” well … even further behind, he writes for Politico:

Putin is an absurd hero for leaders who claim to stand behind the “worker” and the “left behind.” Russia has one of the world’s highest percentages of GDP controlled by wealthy individuals — most of whom are wealthy thanks to their relationship with the Kremlin. Globally, the Putin elite revel in the advantages of offshore money laundering and unregulated financial flows.

“The antidote lies in empowering people to find the solutions to their problems themselves,” adds Pomerantsev, a senior visiting fellow at the LSE Institute for Global Affairs. “For the media this could mean focusing on what some are calling ‘constructive’ or ‘solutions-based news,’ [right] a kind of journalism that, while remaining true to evidence-based research and reporting, is also informed by positive psychology and dedicated to proposing real, practical counter-measures.”

One big change in Russia’s dialogue with the West is that nobody lectures Putin on the promotion of democracy anymore, but this does not mean he won that argument, notes analyst Pavel Baev:

In the West, Russia is widely recognized for what it is — a deeply entrenched corrupt autocracy — and this means that, in the company of Western peers, Putin cannot be treated as “an equal.” Ten years ago, he still saw the benefit of maintaining the façade of democratic institutions, and so he orchestrated the transfer of presidential authority to Dmitry Medvedev, who took up the slogan of “modernization.” It was never developed into a coherent program but still helped to reset and re-energize relations with the West, which were badly damaged by Russia’s August 2008 war with Georgia. The negative impact from the on-going war with Ukraine is much greater, and even those politicians in the West who entertain ideas about befriending Putin are fully aware that he is steering Russia along the track of de-modernization (RBC, February 3).

“This descending trajectory manifests itself in aggravated pressure on every potential source of political dissent,” Baev notes, “from the European University in St. Petersburg to opposition leader Alexei Navalny. And this is perceived in Europe as Russia’s new normal (, February 9).”

How democracy died

Grigory Chkhartishvili is one of Russia’s most popular novelists. Published under the pen name Boris Akunin, his books—many of which trace the adventures of a 19th-century sleuth— have sold over 30 million copies worldwide, Quartz reports:

But Chkhartishvili is also a scholar and historian, having authored the multi-volume History of the Russian State. And in recent years, he has emerged as one of the leading members of the opposition to Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

As a 2012 New Yorker profile reports, Chkhartishvili became a driving force in the Bolotnaya protests in Moscow in 2011 and 2012, in which tens of thousands turned out to demonstrate against allegedly rigged election results that had returned Putin to power. In 2014, the deteriorating political climate in Russia prompted Chkhartishvili to move to the UK.

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