Monday, December 3, 2007

Putin Says He's Got a Mandate; Chavez Says "Mellow Out, Dudes"

Two questionable elections Dec. 2 reached opposite conclusions. Vladimir Putin claimed to no great surprise that a rigged electoral process had given him a "mandate" to do whatever the hell he wanted. Meanwhile, after losing a narrow squeaker on changing the constitution, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela did not blame the CIA and cancel the results, but accepted them with dignity. For now at least.

Is it fair to even lump these two events together? Yes, because of the process of mobilizing the grass roots. Putin's Russia remains capitalist, but he's been convinced for some time that the Russian people have a soft spot for authoritarianism and the personality cult - witness Stalin's continued popularity. Why waste time with messy democracy when Putin gets adorned on T-shirts whenever he cracks heads? The results say as much about Russian people not being very appreciative of democracy or multiculturalism (witness the crackdown on gays and foreigners) as it does about Putin's siloviki friends from the KGB and FSB.

Chavez knows he can mobilize similar forces, since the urban poor he relies on would rather be whipped up into violence than follow the nonviolent land-seizure methods of Bolivia and other Latin American countries. (It was funny to see some left-bloggers who were so anxious to see a Chavez victory, they gave us some "Dewey Defeats Truman" headlines Sunday night.) My gripe with Hugo all along has not been his Bolivarian economic models, but his demagogic tendencies and his intention to whip up violence. Maybe his response to his electoral loss indicates he's realizing the price he pays for being a provocative loudmouth. The first test will be to see if he can restrain Chavistas seeking revenge. The second test will be whether he avoids the temptation to slowly adopt centralized socialist models through what Matyas Rakosi of Hungary used to call "salami tactics" during the Cold War. Venezuela would do a lot better following the Evo Morales model of radical alternative economics.


Greeley's Ghost said...

They're both jerks. But it's nice to see that good, old-fashioned dictators are back in style on the world stage (even if they're berobed in "populist" politics).
Kind of gives you the warm fuzzies for Stalin.

Christy said...

I love the Strawberry Song, too. Thanks for the comment! You have a nice site, yourself!

Ruth said...

Rant on. Yes.

Garrett said...

Valid points. Except for your generalizations of Russians, predicated on sensational news, which points to a radical faction of an otherwise tolerant, warm people. I'm talking about the people, not the politics--I hope foreigners would do the same for us, as Bush wages a war against immigrants, who are family-oriented, with strong work-ethics, and who support the agriculture industry, without which that industry would come to a screeching halt.

Loring Wirbel said...

You're right, Garrett, though perceived stereotypes Americans have of Russian people aren't nearly as important as myths Russian leaders like Putin hold about their own citizens. I've visited Russia several times and have found people of all types, but I'll always remember a Georgian teacher of Russian language I had at University of Arizona who would always talk about the number of Russian people who harbor a longing for authoritarianism because they're afraid of their own wonderfully anarchic souls. Sure, it's a stereotype, but it makes for a good story.