Vladimir Putin’s third presidential term began on May 7, 2012, and has been dominated by an increasingly vicious campaign of suppression of civil society and of any public manifestations of political dissent. Human rights and non-governmental advocacy groups are being labeled “foreign agents”—essentially spies for the United States—and now face mass harassment and closure. The combined effort by state law enforcement, the Federal Security Service (FSB) and state-run TV propaganda have been largely successful. According to a survey taken last month by the independent Levada-Center polling organization, the vast majority of Russians (66 percent) agree with the Kremlin that human rights organizations that criticize the authorities must not be allowed to receive grants or any aid from abroad. Whereas, 53 percent concur that such organizations must be sanctioned or closed down. Some 62 percent of Russians believe that foreigners support non-profit and human rights groups in a desire to influence the internal Russian political scene and to undermine Russia’s national interests. According to the Levada-Center, the majority of Russians today, as during Soviet Communist totalitarian rule, believe the nation is surrounded by vicious enemies and all sorts of evil are coming from abroad. The majority believes that activities by non-profit organizations and human rights organizations are ether harmful or senseless, while only some 19 percent believe such activities do Russia any good (Vedomosti, May 17).
Not only human rights activists or political dissidents, but gay and lesbian minorities have become victims of the current vicious hate propaganda campaign run by the Kremlin. At present, the State Duma is preparing legislation that will make any gay advocacy a felony. The bill is expected to become law before the Duma summer recess, beginning in mid-July. According to the Levada-Center, the state assault on gay rights has been highly successful: some 80 percent of Russians believe that homosexuals are ether morally corrupt or insane. Some 73 percent believe the state must suppress any public advocacy of gay rights, while 47 percent believe homosexuals must not be granted equal rights with other citizens. Some 44 percent believe the state must allow aggressive harassment of homosexuals by gay-hate groups, and around 51 percent believe gays and lesbians must be prosecuted or receive medical treatment to change their ways. Gay hatred has been increasing year by year in Russia, according to the Levada-Center, and there is no possibility it will begin to recede anytime soon: “Hatred is a government policy and it may only grow.” In Soviet times under legislation introduced by dictator Joseph Stalin, being gay was a felony, punishable by long sentences in the Gulag (https://www.levada.ru/, May 17).
The Levada-Center is today the only major and truly independent polling organization in Russia. The two other major pollsters—FOM (Fond Obtsestvennogo Mnenya) and VTSIOM—are Kremlin sponsored and controlled and tend to formulate the questions they ask to get the results the Kremlin will like. In a recent poll, FOM announced that if presidential elections were held in Russia now, Putin would receive 62 percent of the vote; while, according to the Levada-Center, Putin would receive 29 percent (Kommersant, May 16). It seems the authorities are fed up with being humiliated by the Levada-Center’s independent polling, and this week they have moved to destroy the organization. The prosecutor’s office has officially issued a warning to the Levada-Center that it is a “foreign agent.” The results of its polls “are forming public opinion about state policies,” which make it a “political organization,” the prosecutors alleged, adding that, in recent years, the Levada-Center received some grants from US-based foundations as well as payments from foreign organizations for performing polls. The prosecutor’s offices demanded that the Levada-Center register as a “foreign agent” or face the consequences: heavy fines and possible prison sentences for its top executives. The director general of the Levada-Center, Lev Gudkov, told journalists: “We will not volunteer to register as ‘foreign agents’ under any circumstances, since we are not spies and have not done anything wrong, but we may be forced to close down.” The Kremlin considers the Levada-Center an “enemy organization” and will continue to harass it together with other state-assigned “foreign agents” (Kommersant, May 21).
Recently Putin has been increasingly using Soviet propaganda clichés to prop up his regime, which is faltering as economic growth has virtually stopped in Russia while inflation is still rampant. The government has announced that by November 15 “a single concept of Russian history for school textbooks must be established.” This “concept” must indoctrinate the students with an officially approved, non-deviant “history” of the ancient formation of the Russian state and recent events: World War II, the demise of the Soviet Union and Putin’s rule. At the same time, legislation will be rushed through the Duma to introduce a mandatory, officially-approved uniform for all school students, male and female, in Russia (Rossiyskaya Gazeta, May 13). Militarized high school uniforms were mandatory in Imperial Russia and were reintroduced by Stalin after World War II when the Soviet Union transformed into an imperial superpower. These school uniforms continued to exist until the collapse of Communist rule.
While a restoration of Soviet-style imperialism in public life and state policies (though without a restoration of Communist ideology) is in full swing in Russia, Putin has hesitated to acknowledge it publicly; but apparently this is changing. This week, meeting in his Sochi summer residence with a delegation of South Federal University students and faculty, Putin spoke about the need of all ethnicities in Russia to support a “strong state,” adding: “Do we need to restore something like the Great Soviet State (Derzhava)? I am not sure, but we are absolutely, surely a great nation!” (Kommersant, May 23).
According to a recent Levada-Center poll, a majority of Russians more or less equally like the last Russian Tsar Nicholas II as well as Soviet rulers Vladimir Lenin, Stalin and Leonid Brezhnev; while reformers Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin are disliked by over 60 percent of the population. Brezhnev was constantly ridiculed by anecdotes within Soviet society during his long rule from 1964 to 1982 (Kommersant, May 22).
Today, indoctrinated by state-run propaganda, Russians do not seem to value freedom or know their own history, while Putin’s regime is doing its best to keep its subjects as ignorant as possible.