The Opening of the North Korean Mind
Pyongyang Versus the Digital Underground
Advice for Young Muslims
How to Survive in an Age of Extremism and Islamophobia
The Jacksonian Revolt
American Populism and the Liberal Order
How America Lost Faith in Expertise
And Why That's a Giant Problem
Asia's Other Revisionist Power
Why U.S. Grand Strategy Unnerves China
A Vision of Trump at War
How the President Could Stumble Into Conflict
Intelligence and the Presidency
How to Get It Right
Where to Go From Here
Rebooting American Foreign Policy
The Korean Missile Crisis
Why Deterrence Is Still the Best Option
When Stalin Faced Hitler
Who Fooled Whom?
How to Counter Fake News
Technology Can Help Distinguish Fact From Fiction
Trump Takes Aim at the European Union
Why the EU Won't Unify In Response
Good Foreign Policy Is Invisible
Why Boring Is Better
The Coming Islamic Culture War
What the Middle East's Internet Boom Means for Gay Rights, and More
The Women Who Escaped ISIS
From Abused to Accused
Who Is Narendra Modi?
The Two Sides of India's Prime Minister
Democracy Is Not Dying
Seeing Through the Doom and Gloom
How a Nazi Massacre Came to Be Remembered as Its Opposite
Is Putin Losing Control of Russia's Conservative Nationalists?
What the Matilda Controversy Reveals About His Rule
China's Return to Strongman Rule
The Meaning of Xi Jinping's Power Grab
Last month, Russian Orthodox extremists attempted two acts of terror. In the first, they crashed a car loaded with gas canisters into a movie theater in Yekaterinburg on September 4. Then, on September 11, they burned cars near the Moscow office of Konstantin Dobrynin, a liberal former senator. The attacks were motivated by the religious extremists’ opposition to Matilda, an upcoming movie by director Alexei Uchitel (who retains Dobrynin as his lawyer) that the protestors have deemed blasphemous. The film tells the story of Czar Nicholas II’s premarital love affair with ballerina Matilda Kschessinska. Scheduled for release in October, it has already enraged religious conservatives because the last czar and his family are saints in the Russian Orthodox Church. On August 31, religious extremists even threw Molotov cocktails at the director’s studio in St. Petersburg.
President Vladimir Putin could have easily cracked down on this campaign and reprimanded Natalya Poklonskaya, the parliamentarian from Crimea who instigated it through various media appearances and speeches in the Duma. The fact that he hasn’t done so exposes a gaping paradox at the heart of his authoritarian rule.
In recent years, Putin has been happy to inculcate a conservative, nationalist ideology in Russia, which much of the Russian Orthodox Church has supported. And he has encouraged protestors, worshippers, and ordinary Russians to propagate this creed to demonstrate that this is a grassroots movement, not something imposed from the top down by the Kremlin.
By doing so, however, Putin has undermined his own authority. In threatening the makers of an innocuous movie with violence and intimidating members of Russia’s cultural elite, the conservative nationalist movement has demonstrated its ugly side, and Putin seems unable to stop it. Doing so would enrage the so-called patriotic part of the political establishment he has emboldened over the last few years.
Up until now, the Kremlin’s standard domestic political model has been to lay out a general goal and allow lower levels of society to lead the way
Loading, please wait...