AFTER MAY 6, 2012, there was shock, then the fog of the summer and the Bolotnoye arrests—within a few months, more than two dozen people had been charged (their cases were subdivided and they faced trial in smaller groups). It took about six months for the shock to subside and the fog to settle sufficiently for activists to conduct their own investigation of what had happened.
In December 2012, a group of twenty-six people assembled into an investigating committee. They included actors, scholars, a poet, former dissidents, and several journalists. Each was known to be a person of integrity. Their task was to review thousands of pages of documents, including about six hundred eyewitness interviews collected by activists, media reports, amateur and professional video, and the Bolotnoye case itself.
The committee determined that nearly thirteen thousand troops had been assembled in Moscow that day, more than eight thousand of them in and around Bolotnaya Square. This included over five thousand riot police and about twenty-five hundred interior troops; the rest were traffic police or police academy cadets. There were probably three unarmed protesters, at most, for each armed man in uniform. Troops had been brought in from as far away as the Russian Far East.
Unbeknownst to the protest organizers, police had set up a second row of metal-detector frames at the turnoff from the march route to Bolotnaya Square. A large part of Bolotny Island that had been used during past rallies was cordoned off. Between these two measures, the police had created a bottleneck that first slowed the march down and then brought it to a standstill. Speakers could not physically get to the stage. This was why Udaltsov and then Navalny had called for a sit-in.
It was clear from the video footage reviewed by the committee that Navalny was not the only or even the first person to sit down, as it had seemed to Masha; at least a hundred people were sitting down at one point or another, but their actions were not planned or coordinated. They were separated by groups of people who continued standing, and they themselves kept sitting down and getting up, apparently unsure of what was happening and what should be done.1 But the police had received orders to start arresting people even before the sit-in began—this the committee gathered from one officer’s testimony at the Bolotnoye case trial. In other words, contrary to what Masha and many other protesters had thought, they had not brought it upon themselves: the police had acted first. The question was whether the violence had been planned in advance. Many eyewitnesses reported seeing young men who they thought had infiltrated the protest. Some said that these men had been waved through by the police, bypassing the metal detectors and the searches. These young men seemed to be the ones who had brought in the smoke grenades and breakable bottles that helped spark the violence. The committee concluded that the violence had been planned and instigated by the authorities.2
ON MAY 7, 2012, as riot police continued to hunt down people with white ribbons in central Moscow, Putin was inaugurated. That day he signed twelve decrees, including one in which he directed the foreign ministry to pursue a policy of vigilance in relationship to the United States and NATO; one in which he directed the cabinet to introduce a mandatory Russian-language and history exam for migrant workers; and one in which he ordered the cabinet “to secure a rise of the cumulative fertility rate to 1.753 by the year 2018.”3Then Putin met with International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge. The meeting, held in the Kremlin, was Putin’s first after formally retaking office.
“In spite of what has been happening in our internal politics, I want to reassure you that the presidential administration, the cabinet, and I personally will make preparations for the 2014 Olympic Games our top priority,” said Putin. “We consider this very important. Our work together will continue.”4
Putin had scarcely mentioned the protests in the months since December, but speaking to Rogge he betrayed the fear that to foreigners Russia must appear to have descended into chaos. Putin had personally traveled to Guatemala City back in 2007 to present Russia’s bid for the 2014 Winter Games—in English and French. It had been a bizarre speech—following the standard promises of world-class facilities and an emphatic reminder of how popular winter sports are in Russia, Putin had brought up the losses Russia had suffered in history, if not in sports: “Let me point out that after the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russia has lost all sports venues in the mountains. Would you believe it? Even today our national teams have no mountain venues in Russia for training.”5
Giving the Olympics to Russia, it would follow, was a form of compensation for its losses, a way to restore its physical sports facilities and its national grandeur. The symbolic significance of such a project warranted meeting with the head of the International Olympic Committee before anyone else, as soon as Putin became president again.
Then Putin played hockey. He had taken up this winter sport just a year and a half earlier, but, playing for a team of amateurs against Russia’s all-star team, he managed to score two goals and bring his team to victory.6
The following day, Putin asked the parliament to confirm Dmitry Medvedev as prime minister. “We did everything openly,” said Putin, referring to having declared the intention to swap offices back in September. “There was nothing about it that could be construed as manipulation.” He did not mention the protests directly, but his reference to their accusations of electoral fraud and general theft was clear: How could something be crooked if it was obvious? After the parliament confirmed Medvedev, Putin stayed and talked business. Business was mostly the economy and demographics. On the economy, Putin reproached parliament members for proposing legislation that showed a lack of understanding of basic economic facts. On demographics, Putin praised himself, Medvedev, and the parliament for having raised the fertility rate. “This is the result of sensible policies,” he said, referring to the cash payments to women for having a second child. He suggested that it might be time to consider paying women in some parts of Russia to have a third child too.7
Next day was Victory Day. The podium from which Putin spoke in Red Square was erected closer to the multicolored St. Basil’s Cathedral—Putin did not stand on the Lenin Mausoleum like the Politburo used to, but otherwise the look and feel of the Soviet-era military parade had been restored. So had the scale and the symbolism: the parade once again served to demonstrate Russia’s might and affirm its right:
We have the great moral right to be principled and insistent in defending our positions, because it was our country that bore the brunt of the fight against Nazism. . . . The young people of today are the heirs of the true freedom fighters. . . . We will always be faithful to their valor, and that means that we have a future.* . . . Glory to Russia!
Fourteen thousand men shouted “Hooray!” three times in perfect unison, and the Russian national anthem—the restored Soviet anthem—began playing.8
The Victory Day Parade had evolved since Yeltsin renewed the practice in 1999 and Putin took the reins in 2000. In his first parade speech, Putin had focused on the importance of the holiday to all Russians. At his second parade, in 2001, he ended the speech with “Glory to Russia!”—a slogan that until then had been the mark of fringe ultranationalist organizations. As the years wore on, the focus of the speech shifted to the present day, to the need to be vigilant. The number of troops grew, from about five thousand in 2003 to eight thousand in 2008 and fourteen thousand in 2012. In 2007, the year of the Munich speech in which Putin accused NATO of betrayal and aggression, he used his parade speech for the first time to make a transparent reference to the United States. He did not name the country, but said that, just as in the times of the Third Reich, there was a country that has “pretensions to global exceptionalism and command.” In 2008, the year of the war in Georgia, a parade of military equipment—a long procession of tanks and rockets—was added to the Red Square pageant for the first time since the Soviet era. This was also the year Medvedev formally became president, so he and Putin now stood together at the podium, microphones distributed to both of them as though both were speaking at the same time. It was Medvedev who gave the speech for the next four years, though. He did not end it with “Glory to Russia,” opting for “Happy Day of the Great Victory” instead. In 2010, the sixty-fifth anniversary of victory, foreign heads of state joined in the celebration in Red Square. That day, an air show was added to the parade, the evening fireworks were extended from ten to fifteen minutes, and for the first time an “all-Russian Victory Day Parade” was declared—full military parades were held in nineteen cities and smaller military marches in fifty-two. The air show was repeated every year after that, and so was the all-Russian parade, in an ever-growing number of cities.9
The day after Victory Day, Putin flew to the Urals to visit UralVagonZavod, a factory that had just received a large new military contract. The factory made armored personnel carriers, tanks, and modified tanks called Terminator, with two guns instead of the usual one plus two grenade launchers, and Terminator-2, with two guns and four rockets on two launchers. Back in December, Putin’s marathon televised hotline—the one that began with his confession that he had mistaken white ribbons for condoms—ended with a video call-in question from the factory floor of UralVagonZavod. In a colorized re-creation of the Soviet industrial aesthetic, about sixty men had stood together, wearing identical black-and-orange uniforms, freshly ironed, and one man standing in the middle spoke for them. He wore a tie under his uniform jacket.
I am Igor Kholmanskikh. I am head of the assembly shop. . . . I have a question that’s causing me heartache. Back when we were having a hard time, Vladimir Vladimirovich, you came to our plant and helped us. Today . . . we treasure our stability and we don’t want to go back in time. I want to say something about those protests. If the police don’t know how to do their jobs, if they can’t do anything about the protests, then my men and I are prepared to come out in defense of our stability.
“Come on over,” Putin had said, smiling.10 The men of the factory had gone on to form a committee in defense of Putin, who, they wrote in their manifesto, was under attack from “do-nothings in Moscow.”11 In fact, protests were also under way in Nizhny Tagil, the city of roughly three hundred thousand where UralVagonZavod was located: between a hundred and a hundred fifty people had come out on December 10, the day of the first big Bolotnaya protest in Moscow.12 Sticking to the narrative that protests were staged only by the idle rich of the big cities, the men of UralVagonZavod had planned to mount their tanks and ride to a pro-Putin counter-rally in the nearest large city of Yekaterinburg. They were asked to leave the tanks home,13 but now that Putin was once again president, his first visit outside Moscow was one of gratitude—to UralVagonZavod. The men at the plant wished Putin Happy Victory Day, praised his hockey game, and mentioned the protesters again.
“They are just doing their jobs,” said Putin, meaning that protesters were working for money—state television channels had by this time aired a series of reports claiming that the protests were bankrolled by the U.S. State Department.
“The country needs stability, and you are certainly the only person who can give it to us,” said one of the men.14 A week later Putin appointed Kholmanskikh his plenipotentiary in the Urals—a miraculous career move for the head of the assembly shop. In the past, only trusted senior officials, a majority of them retired military brass, had been appointed to these posts. Kholmanskikh was now in charge of six Russian regions with a total population of over fourteen million, and their six governors.
On May 10, while Putin was at UralVagonZavod, the parliament was asked to pass a set of amendments to the Law on Public Gatherings. They raised the fines for violating rules on public gatherings to as much as the equivalent of $1,500—backbreaking for most Russians—and they changed the definition of “public gathering” to allow the police to classify any group of people as engaging in one. The bill sped through parliament like probably no piece of legislation ever had. It became law on June 9, three days before a protest march planned to commemorate Russia’s 1990 declaration of sovereignty.15
The crackdown proceeded swiftly. After the law on public gatherings came a law that required nongovernmental organizations that received foreign funding to register as “foreign agents,” which, in turn, would subject them to paralyzing financial reporting requirements and would serve as a scarlet letter: such organizations would have to add “foreign agent” to all their public communications, which would presumably range from business cards to op-ed articles. In August, the women of Pussy Riot were sentenced to two years’ imprisonment for “hooliganism,” becoming the first people to receive years in jail for peaceful protest. All along, more people were being arrested in the Bolotnoye case. In September, the Law for the Protection of Children from Information went into effect; by this time, it had been amended to extend to the Internet. In November, laws on espionage and high treason were amended so that their wording reverted to that of the 1930s, when thousands of people were executed on trumped-up charges. Under the new law, working for an international organization whose activities Russia considered to be hostile could open one up to charges of high treason. A month earlier, Russia had ordered the United States Agency for International Development to cease operations in the country—now the new law could conceivably be used against any of the organization’s Russian employees or its numerous Russian associates. The new law also made it possible to apply espionage charges to people who obtained classified information without intent to share it with a foreign state, and those who culled information from open sources.16 In December, ostensibly in response to a new American law introducing sanctions against Russian officials guilty of “gross violations of human rights”—the so-called Magnitsky Act, named for the accountant who was tortured to death in a Moscow jail—Russia passed a law that forbade the adoption of Russian orphans by Americans and also gave the government the right to summarily shut down nongovernmental organizations if they received any funding from American organizations or individuals. The international monitoring organization Human Rights Watch called the developments of 2012 the “worst crackdown since the Soviet era.”17
The new laws were the perfect tools of a crackdown: vague enough to put millions on notice, they could be applied only selectively. But the laws, and the discussions in parliament and on television that accompanied their passage, served as messages. They signaled that the Kremlin was in charge, that strict order was being reconstituted. They also seemed to signal to the people of Russia that it was time for them to become enforcers. In Yekaterinburg, a group of parents formed a committee to demand that a number of books be removed from stores and their publishers prosecuted. The books included Israeli author David Grossman’s young-adult novel Someone to Run With, in which one of the characters is a teenage heroin addict; American authors Lynda and Area Madaras’s “What’s Happening to My Body?” books; and three other books about puberty. A court eventually threw the case out, but by this time one of the publishers had pulped the pressrun and the others had spent fortunes on mounting a defense of their books. Similar cases began popping up around the country. To survive, publishers—especially the publishers of children’s books, who risked running afoul of the new Law for the Protection of Children from Information, had to stop publishing books for which they might get dragged into court. The new law, among other things, forbade any mention of death in books for children under the age of twelve. “Naturalistic” description of the human body was also off-limits. Publishers, who could be destroyed by one big lawsuit or even a few pulped pressruns, were well-advised to exercise an overabundance of caution. With vigilant citizens throwing fits in the stacks in one city after another, bookstores and libraries also had to err on the side of caution.18 Self-censorship was collective hostage-taking in one of its purest forms. It had kicked back in.
YURI LEVADA HAD THEORIZED that periodic protests did not change the structure of Soviet society. Gudkov had developed this idea further: periodic protests were in fact essential to maintaining the structure of society. No matter how restrictive the Russian regime was in any given period, after a while some tension would accumulate between institutions of authority and society (for lack of a better word—in a country with a nearly absent public sphere Gudkov wished there were a term for “society” that did not immediately call to mind a Western society). This tension represented society’s potential for change. At times like these, argued Levada, society would go from a state of calm to a state of arousal. The regime invariably responded by using force.
Force could be used inside the country, as when people were arrested, institutions shuttered or purged, and laws became more restrictive; or outside the country, when war was waged. The effect was the same either way—society, which had become more complicated, reverted to a radically simplified state: us, them, and our leader, who shoulders all our responsibility and has all our trust. This made society as a whole feel better. Calm was restored. Change was prevented. Troublemakers were stopped. Gudkov started calling the process “abortive modernization.” Crackdowns occurred at regular intervals during the Soviet period, as did wars. Gudkov’s own research career, and Levada’s project of creating a sociology school, were aborted by one such crackdown in the late 1960s—following the protests in Prague and demonstrations of support for them in Moscow. There were only a few arrests then—most people were punished by having to give up or curtail their intellectual work. The rest simply fell into step. This was the way state terror worked after Stalin: it was enough to punish a few to neutralize the many.
The periodic eruptions, followed by use of force that precluded change, continued after the Soviet Union collapsed. Gudkov was now rethinking the history of that collapse. If one viewed the period of perestroika and the first post-Soviet year as a period of societal “arousal,” then the show of force occurred in 1993, when Yeltsin shelled the parliament building. It had the effect one would expect: society felt radically simplified, Yeltsin affirmed his role as leader—though the Russian vozhd’ or even the German Führer was really the word Gudkov had in mind—and, as always happens in times of radical simplification, nationalism flourished. This explained the success of Zhirinovsky’s party in the 1993 election. The war in Georgia, in 2008, served a similar function. Wars were almost as good as crackdowns because they discredited anyone who wanted to complicate things. This was Gudkov’s depressing and, he had to admit, radical idea: the last century could be viewed as a continuity, with periodic bumps of “aborted modernization,” and the society he had been studying his entire adult life had stayed essentially the same. What made this idea radical was that no one wanted to hear it.
IF THE PEOPLE who took to the streets all over Russia in 2011–2012 were protesting, whether they used the word or not, the totalitarian essence of the society in which they found themselves living, then the form and slogans of the protests were not as illogical as they had seemed to Masha. If one of the features of a totalitarian regime is that it politicizes every aspect of life, then protest that strove to be apolitical was an appropriate response. If a feature of a totalitarian regime was that it eliminated all space that belonged to people apart from the state, then holding protests in cordoned-off spaces was not such a strange idea: the very ability to negotiate such a space could be a victory. It stands to reason that the crackdown began with the annulment of that negotiation and the physical destruction of the protest space.
Even the use of the word “stability” by both the protesters and their opponents had a long history in the theory and reality of totalitarianism. Arendt pointed out that both the Nazi and the Soviet regimes conducted periodic purges or crackdowns, which she called “an instrument of permanent instability.” Constant flux was necessary for the system’s survival: “The totalitarian ruler must, at any price, prevent normalization from reaching the point where a new way of life could develop—one which might, after a time, lose its bastard qualities and take its place among the widely differing and profoundly contrasting ways of life of the nations of the earth.” Indeed, she wrote, “The point is that both Hitler and Stalin held out promises of stability in order to hide their intention of creating a state of permanent instability.”19
When protesters were asking for their “stability” back, it was this normalization that they demanded. But when a Putin foot soldier from UralVagonZavod said that the protesters must be crushed because only Putin could guarantee stability, he was reaching for the vision of the leader, literally asking to be mobilized by him then and there.
SOCIAL SCIENTISTS both inside Russia and outside it scoffed at the word “totalitarian” as applied to post-Soviet Russia. Even “authoritarian” was controversial. Soon after the crackdown began, the phrase “hybrid regime” came into vogue. The original term, coined by journalist Fareed Zakaria in a 1997 essay, was “illiberal democracy.” Zakaria emphasized the distinction between democracy, a way of selecting governments through free and open elections, and liberalism, the political project of safeguarding individual freedoms. The two did not necessarily go together. Political theory had long acknowledged the existence of liberal autocracies, such as the Austro-Hungarian Empire, for example. It was time to recognize that the corollary could also exist. Zakaria cited the examples of Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, and Peru, among others, as countries where democratically elected leaders had consistently violated constitutional limits of power that had been put in place to safeguard individual freedoms. He noted that Russia, too, was at risk:
In 1993 Boris Yeltsin famously (and literally) attacked the Russian parliament, prompted by parliament’s own unconstitutional acts. He then suspended the constitutional court, dismantled the system of local governments, and fired several provincial governors. From the war in Chechnya to his economic programs, Yeltsin has displayed a routine lack of concern for constitutional procedure and limits. He may well be a liberal democrat at heart, but Yeltsin’s actions have created a Russian super-presidency. We can only hope his successor will not abuse it.20
The obvious issue with the idea of “illiberal democracy” was that, once a democratically elected government began curtailing freedoms, it was unlikely to continue having truly free and open elections—even if, technically, elections occurred at regular intervals. After all, even the Soviet Union had elections, which, according to the constitution, were direct and conducted by secret ballot: “No control over the expression of will of the voter is allowed,” said Article 99. And there was never a more literal illustration of Arendt’s thesis that totalitarian regimes rob their subjects of will: every candidate on the Soviet ballot invariably ran unopposed.
In Putin’s Russia, most elections had been eliminated altogether: governors and senators were now appointed and the lower house of parliament was formed by parties, through a largely depersonalized form of voting. The candidate for president also in effect ran unopposed in every election beginning with the year 2000. Still, there were banners, billboards, concerts, and other accoutrements of a campaign, and there were ballots. It looked more like a Western democracy, but felt more like the Soviet Union. After a while, the term “hybrid regime” supplanted “liberal democracy.”
In Russia, the term “hybrid regime” was popularized by Ekaterina Shulman, a young political scientist. She wrote that
a hybrid regime is the authoritarian regime in the new historical moment. We know the difference between authoritarian and totalitarian regimes: the former rewards passivity and the latter rewards mobilization. A totalitarian regime demands participation: if you do not march the march and sing the songs, then you are not a loyal citizen. An authoritarian regime, on the other hand, tries to convince its subjects to stay home. Whoever marches too energetically or sings too loudly is suspect, regardless of the ideological content of the songs and the direction of the march.21
Shulman was reiterating Juan Linz’s definition of the difference between authoritarianism and totalitarianism, but omitting his distinction between the all-political nature of totalitarianism and the nonpolitical nature of authoritarianism. Hybrid regimes were fakers, wrote Shulman, but Western observers tend to focus on only one aspect of the fakery: that of democracy. “It’s easy to notice that the facade of democracy is made of papier-mâché,” she wrote. “But it’s harder to understand that Stalin’s mustache is glued on.” The amount of force applied by the Putin regime, she argued, was negligible by the standards of the twentieth century. A few dozen political prisoners was to totalitarian terror what the quadrennial election of Putin was to functioning democracy. The hybrid regime survived by imitating both democracy and totalitarianism strategically in varied measure, she argued.
Other terms used to describe the Putin regime were “kleptocracy” and “crony capitalism”—variations on Navalny’s theme of the “Party of Crooks and Thieves.” A Hungarian sociologist named Bálint Magyar rejected these terms because, he stressed, both “kleptocracy” and “crony capitalism” implied a sort of voluntary association—as though one could partake in the crony system or choose not to, and proceed with one’s business autonomously, if less profitably. The fate of Khodorkovsky and the exiled oligarchs, as well as of untold thousands of jailed and bankrupted entrepreneurs, demonstrated that this was a fallacy.
Magyar, who was born in 1952, grew up in Hungary, a relatively less repressive Eastern Bloc country. This allowed him to be well educated as a sociologist. But in the late 1970s Magyar became active in underground opposition politics and was duly punished: banned from teaching at the university and banned from traveling to the West. Eastern European societies became his area of specialization. In the late 1980s, as a founding member of the Alliance of Free Democrats—Hungarian Liberal Party, Magyar was part of the democratic transition in his country. In the 2000s, the party gradually lost ground and finally ceased to exist, and Magyar returned to sociology. Under the new regime of Viktor Orbán, he was once again persona non grata at the university, and once again focused on a study of Eastern European societies.
He had an intense dislike for terms like “illiberal,” which focused on traits the regimes did not possess—like free media or fair elections. This he likened to trying to describe an elephant by saying that the elephant cannot fly or cannot swim—it says nothing about what the elephant actually is. Nor did he like the term “hybrid regime,” which to him seemed like an imitation of a definition, since it failed to define what the regime was ostensibly a hybrid of.22
Magyar developed his own concept: the “post-communist mafia state.” Both halves of the designation were significant: “post-communist” because “the conditions preceding the democratic big bang* have a decisive role in the formation of the system. Namely that it came about on the foundations of a communist dictatorship, as a product of the debris left by its decay.”23 The ruling elites of post-communist states most often hail from the old nomenklatura, be it Party or secret service. But to Magyar this was not the countries’ most important common feature: what mattered most was that some of these old groups evolved into structures centered around a single man who led them in wielding power. Consolidating power and resources was relatively simple because these countries had just recently had a Party monopoly on power and a state monopoly on property. This created unique conditions:
In the case of other autocratic systems, either . . . private property is converted to property quasi belonging to the state, or the formal distribution of property is left more-or-less untouched. . . . However, no historical example can be found of an instance where state property is transformed en-masse on the basis of dubious norms—at least so far as their social acceptance is concerned. When the intention is to create a layer of private owners, it seems as if they were intent on producing fish out of fish soup.24
The property and the power these groups were usurping had no other apparent legitimate holders. That made the job particularly easy.
A mafia state, in Magyar’s definition, was different from other states ruled by one person surrounded by a small elite. In a mafia state, the small powerful group was structured just like a family. The center of the family is the patriarch, who does not govern: “he disposes—of positions, wealth, statuses, persons.”25 The system works like a caricature of the Communist distribution economy. The patriarch and his family have only two goals: accumulating wealth and concentrating power. The family-like structure is strictly hierarchical, and membership in it can be obtained only through birth or adoption. In Putin’s case, his inner circle consisted of men with whom he grew up in the streets and judo clubs of Leningrad, the next circle included men with whom he had worked in the KGB/FSB, and the next circle was made up of men who had worked in the St. Petersburg administration with him. Very rarely, he “adopted” someone into the family, as he did with Kholmanskikh, the head of the assembly shop, who was elevated from obscurity to a sort of third-cousin-hood. One cannot leave the family voluntarily: one can only be kicked out, disowned and disinherited. Violence and ideology, the pillars of the totalitarian state, became, in the hands of the mafia state, mere instruments.
THE POST-COMMUNIST MAFIA STATE, in Magyar’s words, is an “ideology-applying regime” (while a totalitarian regime is “ideology-driven”). A crackdown requires both force and ideology. While the instruments of force—the riot police, the interior troops, and even the street-washing machines—were within arm’s reach, ready to be used, ideology was less apparently available. Up until spring 2012, Putin’s ideological repertoire had consisted of the word “stability,” a lament for the loss of the Soviet empire, a steady but barely articulated restoration of the Soviet aesthetic and the myth of the Great Patriotic War, and general statements about the United States and NATO, which had cheated Russia and threatened it now. All these components had been employed during the “preventive counter-revolution,” when the country, and especially its youth, was called upon to battle the American-inspired orange menace, which threatened stability. Putin employed the same set of images when he first responded to the protests in December. But Dugin was now arguing that this was not enough.
At the end of December, Dugin published an article in which he predicted the fall of Putin if he continued to ignore the importance of ideas and history.26 That is, in Dugin’s view, Putin’s treatment of ideas and history had been so sporadic and inconsistent as to indicate that he thought them unimportant. In February, Dugin was invited to speak at the Anti-Orange Rally, a Kremlin event organized to coincide with a large protest demonstration in Moscow. This was Dugin’s most mainstream appearance ever: from a stage mounted at Poklonnaya Mountain, Moscow’s repository of monuments to its victories over invaders from Napoleon to Hitler, he addressed tens of thousands of people, at least some of whom had been bused there from other cities and towns:27
Dear Russian people! The global American empire strives to bring all countries of the world under its control. They intervene where they want, asking no one’s permission. They come in through the fifth column, which they think will allow them to take over natural resources and rule over countries, people, and continents. They have invaded Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya. Syria and Iran are on the agenda. But their goal is Russia. We are the last obstacle on their way to building a global evil empire. Their agents at Bolotnaya Square and within the government are doing everything to weaken Russia and allow them to bring us under total external control. To resist this most serious threat, we must be united and mobilized! We must remember that we are Russian! That for thousands of years we protected our freedom and independence. We have spilled seas of blood, our own and other people’s, to make Russia great. And Russia will be great! Otherwise it will not exist at all. Russia is everything! All else is nothing!
This chant was picked up by other men on the stage. They pumped their right fists in the air.
Russia is everything! All else is nothing! Glory to Russia!28
It was well below zero in Moscow that day. The protesters at Bolotnaya Square still came out, and the “anti-orange” demonstrators were bused in, but the speeches had to be kept short. Still, Dugin’s two-minute statement hit the main points of the ideology he was proposing: Russia is great and it is all that stands between the world as we know it and the Global States of America. It contained the “worshipping of the past” that Fromm had believed to be key to fascist ideology. By calling the imagined American empire “evil” (casually reversing Ronald Reagan’s usage), the speech hinted at Russia’s unique goodness. This idea was expressed more clearly in a document Dugin cosigned a few days later with a dozen other high-profile men, called the “Anti-Orange Pact.” It began:
We are united in our understanding of the need to resist the attack of the Orange, who are targeting our common fundamental values.29
The word “values” was new, and it was key. The fledgling ideology now had all its components: the nation, the past, traditional values, an external threat, and a fifth column.
DUGIN’S PROPOSED FRAME fit the crackdown, uniting the arrests, the “foreign agents” law, and the new, communally enforced censorship. It was all in the name of rooting out the fifth column and protecting Russian values. It stood to reason that Pussy Riot, who embodied both the fifth column and an apparent disrespect for traditional Russian values, were the first people sentenced to imprisonment in the crackdown. They had been arrested for protest but tried, in effect, for blasphemy. Court testimony centered on whether they had crossed themselves properly and how much skin they had exposed in church. There was some discussion of whether they were possessed.
Here the state described by Magyar met the society described by Gudkov. When the state used force and ideology as mere tools, society responded as it had over the course of previous generations to both force and ideology: by mobilizing. Russia had a mafia state ruling over a totalitarian society.
“Abortive modernization” continued as more and more people were arrested in the Bolotnoye case. These arrests served the same purpose as selective arrests had in the Soviet Union: they issued a warning. Bolotnoye inmates seemed chosen almost at random. None was a protest leader, and most, in fact, were less known, even in protest circles, than Masha. This communicated the message that protest was risky for the rank and file. As always happens in cases of apparently random arrests, people tried to discern their logic. A common belief took hold that people who had been detained during other protests, and those who had been captured on video from the Bolotnaya riots, were the ones targeted. A number of young activists fled the country, seeking haven in Ukraine, the Baltic states, and countries like Sweden and Finland. Still, there were hundreds of people with records of police detentions, and hundreds who had been captured on Bolotnaya video, and most of them were not arrested. That is how terror works: the threat must be credible yet unpredictable.
Protest leaders also needed to be neutralized. Here the Kremlin was cautious, perhaps weary of causing more protest by pushing too hard. Udaltsov was placed under house arrest. The terms of his confinement prevented him from communicating with anyone other than his household members, and from using the Internet. Yet, unlike several dozen lesser-known activists, he had the luxury of sleeping on sheets, sharing a bed with his wife. Few people could be roused to protest the treatment of Udaltsov. After more than a year, when Udaltsov had reliably faded from public view, he was convicted of organizing a riot and sentenced to four and a half years behind bars.30 Kasparov was pressured to emigrate—or face persecution; he moved to New York City. Nemtsov received a barrage of death threats. Navalny became a defendant in a bizarre embezzlement case.
He was accused of having used his position as an unpaid consultant to the liberal governor of the Kirov region to arrange to steal huge quantities of timber from the region’s state-run forestry company, causing half a million dollars in losses.* The charges were similar to those lodged against Khodorkovsky when he went up for trial the second time—he was convicted of stealing crude oil from his own company. Navalny was also accused of doing something both impossible and absurd. The state could not even produce evidence that the money ever went missing. But on July 18, 2013, he was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison.
The social networks filled with expressions of outrage and, above all, disbelief—even though the case, the conviction, and the sentence conformed to the overall logic of the crackdown. Seryozha had read that people planned to meet at Manezhnaya Square, just outside Red Square, the night of the sentencing. That was what everyone had been calling it: “a people’s meeting,” like a town meeting. Whoever scheduled it had, of course, anticipated that the court’s decision would be unfair. But when news of the actual sentence came, it was shocking. Strange how that worked: something could be unsurprising and shocking at the same time.
Seryozha went to Manezhnaya around six in the evening. He was among the first couple of thousand to arrive. Police sealed off some of the early arrivals on a portion of sidewalk and shut off the nearest Metro exit, but people kept coming from other streets, joining a crowd that was divided into three or four large segments. There were about ten thousand people in all. There was no permit for this “meeting.” Everyone there was risking detention and a crushing fine. Seryozha had never seen people act like this. The last time this happened—the last time Muscovites took to the streets, at great potential peril, because they could not stay home and let things happen—had been in August 1991, when Seryozha was nine.
Seryozha had spent so much time thinking about people and protests. After the crackdown began, he took stock. He realized that he had stopped working entirely. He had been cutting white ribbons full-time. That might have been an exaggeration—he also did things like design posters and banners and help out with other projects, and attend the Protest Workshop. He was lucky that he could afford to: he had an apartment he had inherited, and a lucrative-enough profession that had allowed him to save up.
Then the rules changed and protest had become an almost impossibly high-stakes game. Seryozha still believed in protest. Or, he still believed that all a citizen can do, when the right to vote has been perverted and the courts have been usurped—all a citizen can do, and must do, is go out into the streets. But he also felt that he had no moral right to say this. He searched for this right, he dug into his soul for the source of his authority to call on people to take the risk and protest, and he did not find it. For a person to tell other people to risk their freedom, to risk Russian jail, he had to be beyond reproach. Seryozha was not beyond reproach.
But now all these people had come without asking anyone’s permission and stayed without asking anyone’s direction. It looked like the beginning of a new era. People stood. At first they stood with their arms linked, in a staring contest with a row of riot police in front of them. Then, after an hour or two or three, the protesters relaxed. Some sang songs, including great rousing Russian war songs—one called on people to rise up, which seemed appropriate. One woman took a book out of her bag and stood there, reading. Periodically, chants would start up. “Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!” or “Putin is a thief!” or “We are not afraid!” At one point, news spread that the prosecutor’s office had asked the judge to suspend Navalny’s sentence, but no one believed it—at least, Seryozha did not believe it—and everyone stayed. They plastered the facade of the parliament building with round red “Navalny” stickers. People climbed onto the ledge of the elevated first floor of the parliament building and stood there, unafraid of the police, or of the fines, or of falling. This protest felt like nothing had ever felt before. This one was not about making jokes or talking to like-minded people or staking out an apolitical space: this one was about fighting. This one was beyond reproach.
Around eleven in the evening the police seemed to get their orders. They began charging the crowd, grabbing people, throwing them to the ground, and dragging them into prisoner transports. They shouted at the rest to disband. Some people walked away. Seryozha was with a group, maybe a hundred people altogether, wedged between lines of police. They resisted happily at first. The riot police pushed them down the street—their batons were painful against one’s back—but these people, most of whom Seryozha did not know, laughed and walked, pretending to be out on a summer night’s stroll, then doubled back and took up their protest again. But the group kept thinning, and the number of people in the square kept dwindling. A little after midnight Seryozha was the last man standing. But was he beyond reproach?
He went home. The next morning he learned that about two hundred people had been detained and that Navalny was going to be released. What had happened was legally impossible: there was nothing in the law that enabled the prosecutor to ask for a sentence to be suspended after the sentence had been announced, in the absence of an appeal from the defense. On the face of it, the protesters had won. But it did not feel like it. It felt horrible that morning, like there was no future.31