The September 26 edition of The Current with Anna Maria Tremonti was featuring a story of the creation of a new documentary as well as a multimedia art exhibit entitled Anthropocene. Canadian artists were traveling across the globe to find materials for their project. It so happened that one of the sites they had visited was the city of Norilsk, Russia. The point of interest for the group there was a coloured metal mine and heavy metals smelting complex. According to the cinematographer Nicolas de Pencier, during their three-week stay in the city, they were detained by local security forces “on a regular basis,” despite the fact that they had valid Russian visas. Further details sound almost surrealistic, with them having been accused of “fake passports” and entering the country “under false pretenses.” Basically, judging by what the Canadian group was talking about, it seemed like an attempt to make them confess that their true task was investigative journalism. And the methods used by the Russian authorities were outrageous. For example, the filmmaker Jennifer Baichwal stated that they were even given a prepared paper to sign, confirming that they “had lied.”
As much as this description looks absurd and far from how welcoming Russia appeared at the World Cup, in fact, for the majority of Russian political and human rights activists and their supporters, free journalists, independent artists and some other people connected with politics in a variety of ways, it fully represents their reality. And this matter is well-known in the Western World, of course. In general, Russian citizens are predominantly affected by this policy. The authorities in the country are interested in loyal voters and a “patriotic” population. The sense of patriotism in this system is defined by the Kremlin and their confidants. Simply speaking, patriotism in the existing Russian context is equated to the unconditional belief in President Putin himself. Such a phenomenon doesn’t fall into a standard political model where politicians have their programs and try to convince electors in their willingness and power to fulfill what they promise. Vladimir Putin has never been in need of something of this sort. Moreover, I guess from his point of view, it was considered a sign of weakness to condescend to a political program during his previous re-elections, so he has never bothered. And Russian people were taught to accept and admire him without questioning, with most of them following this course referring to a positive economic change in the country in comparison with the 1990s.
The concept of Mr. Putin as the national leader adopted by the Russian state after his two first terms bears fruit. He is cherished like a father of the nation or like an old-style tsar who was once historically perceived as “a deputy of God on Earth.” He is beyond politics. Everything he does or says is portrayed as right. In this regard, the Russian parliament, government or any other official bodies are not at all associated with him. They all can make mistakes, but he is immune. He acts like a punisher of other officials and a saviour of the people. This is the actual level of political reality and a state of political development in Russia in the 21stcentury.
Is there any room left for free journalism in such a system? An obvious answer would be “no.” Investigative journalists, political and human rights activists, independent artists working on issues even slightly touching politics are simply seen as a threat to the existing political regime in Russia. Any piece of information contradicting the mainstream line is claimed unpatriotic or fake, intentionally created to weaken the country. The law enforcement agencies, together with courts, unofficially launched a campaign to bring random people to trial for reposts, retweets and likes of a social media content classified as extremist. The definition of extremism for these purposes coincides with calls for a change. The soviet practice of denunciations is flourishing again in modern Russia. A crackdown is visible and still picks up speed which is, frankly, terrifying.
For some reason, Russian people, for the most part, cannot realize that opposing views and constructive political debates are healthy for the society and for the state. This idea that they bring fresh thoughts which lead to better policies is completely ignored by the authorities and by the people. This artificial set-up of a so-called “system opposition” in Russia is an obstacle to the country’s development in the long run. A division between people promoted by the authorities on the basis of the regime support is poisonous for the nation. And there is still no light at the end of the tunnel, as Jennifer Baichwal accurately framed it as something that has to be accepted as a part of being in Russia. The opposite side of this is a risk to vocalize any discontent which can lead to a number of unpleasant and even dangerous consequences. Free journalism is not allowed, while the questioning is prohibited. Thus, locals and foreigners are welcome to praise Russia but never to criticize. After all, Russian bombs in Syria kill only terrorists and never injure civilians…