Making sense of Putin’s elections during the past decade is as important for getting his regime right as is making sense of the show trials in the 1930s for getting Stalin’s regime right. A major task of Stalin’s spin doctors seventy-five years ago was to use the trials’ pre-decided verdicts to showcase Stalin’s power – a demonstration that was all the more effective the more painfully innocent those were who, in a choreographed mise-en-scène, falsely confessed their betrayal of the Great Leader and were speedily executed for their compliance. Similarly, though much less cruelly, the show elections between 2000 and 2008 demonstrated the Putin government’s puppeteer power. The Kremlin not only manipulated those elections, it also insisted (contrary to what one might expect) that everyone be made vividly aware that it was directing the movements of every single player in the electoral charade and orchestrating every apparent crisis in the run-up to an election. The Kremlin did not play the czar, it played God. Until recently, the paradox of Putin’s Russia has been that elections, though blatantly unfree and unfair, have been at the very heart of both the regime’s popular appeal and its authoritarian credentials. Just as Stalin’s claim to power was based on his constant purging of the Party of never-ending internal enemies, Putin’s claim to power has been based on his ability to organize elections that, although obviously rigged, have excited almost no open protest.
more from Stephen Holmes and Ivan Krastev at Eurozine here.