Putin Creates Agency To Restore Russia's National Pride
October 24, 2012
by Claire Bigg
The Kremlin is hoping to restore national pride in Russia with the creation of a new agency in charge of promoting patriotism.
The agency will be part of the presidential administration and, according to the Kremlin's website, will be tasked with strengthening "the spiritual and moral foundations of Russian society" and improving "government policies in the field of patriotic upbringing."
President Vladimir Putin formally ordered the creation of the new structure, the Directorate for Social Projects, on October 20.
The initiative has drawn mixed reactions, with critics dismissing it as a Soviet-style scheme aimed at consolidating the Kremlin's power base and curbing an unprecedented youth-driven protest movement against Putin's 12-year rule.
Nikolai Petrov is a political analyst at the Carnegie Center in Moscow:
"As an antidote to political protests, the Kremlin is using ideology and counting on the quiet, archaic masses who don't want change," says Nikolai Petrov, a political analyst at the Carnegie Center in Moscow. "This is why this newly created body will deal primarily with ideological issues."'
'Spiritual And Moral Values'
The idea behind the Directorate for Social Projects was first formulated by Putin last month during his visit to the southern Russian city of Krasnodar, where he toured a presidential cadet school and held a roundtable discussion on patriotism with top government officials and cultural luminaries.
Putin told the gathering that Russia must do more to combat attempts to influence its youth -- a comment many saw as a sign of Putin's deepening hostility toward foreign-funded nongovernmental organizations, which he has accused of backing opposition protests.
"Cultural identity and spiritual and moral values are the subject of intense competition, at times even of an open information war and well-orchestrated propaganda attacks," he said.
The agency's creation comes as the Kremlin steps up its rhetoric against political dissent.
Recent months have seen the closure of the U.S Agency for International Development (USAID) on the grounds that it was meddling in Russian politics, the prosecution of dozens of antigovernment protesters, and the jailing of members of the all-female Pussy Riot punk collective for staging an anti-Putin performance in a Moscow cathedral.
Critics compare the new agency to the Soviet-era Department for Agitation and Propaganda and say it will put a brake on Russia's modernization efforts.
"When the Kremlin instructs the majority to respect the status quo, it blocks its own path toward reforms and modernization," says Petrov. "It prevents itself from using its own legitimacy to move forward. In this respect, I think this project is doomed to failure."
Filling An Ideological Vaccum
The initiative is nonetheless likely to strike a chord with many Russians nostalgic for their country's lost global clout.
Advocates say the new agency could prove instrumental in both filling the ideological vacuum left by the Soviet collapse and rejuvenating the notion of patriotism, still almost exclusively tied to the Soviet Union's role in World War II.
Some analysts suggest it could play a critical role in unifying Russians, provided it avoids the pitfalls of propaganda.
"Today, there is a huge deficit of ideas that could unite people," says Valeria Kasamara from the Laboratory for Political Research at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow. "Patriotism could be very effective in overcoming the disunity that pervades everything, the estrangement from collective events. Authorities are doing what they should have done a long time ago. But if -- instead of efforts to inspire positive emotions -- we have clumsy propaganda, it will have the reverse effect. So it's all a question of how this will be implemented."
What kind of activities the Directorate for Social Projects will oversee is still unclear.
The agency reportedly plans to introduce patriotic education programs into schools and to contribute to the creation of patriotic films and children's cartoons.
It will also reportedly issue grants and awards to projects or individuals seen as promoting national pride in Russia.
Copyright (c) 2012. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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