PUTIN’S CULT OF PERSONALITY- ABSTRACT- Thisresearch question looks at how Putin created propaganda in order to constructhis cult of personality. My hypothesis is that Putin main propaganda tool washistorical reference specifically the Second World War that perpetuated hiscult. This paper will focus on the main theory, which is charismatic authority,which helps to explain how he became a popular figure and analysing how thepropaganda transformed Putin’s image from being a normal leader to being a herolike figure, which the Russian people admired. The research methods adopted inthis paper focuses more on the qualitative rather than quantitative researchmethods, which would involve interviews and online newspapers. Inthis paper I will explore how Putin managed to create his cult of personalityusing propaganda and more importantly what was the main source of propagandathat formed his cult. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1992, it spelled adecade of disaster for Russian citizens, as it was Boris Yeltsin’s government thatprivatised ex-state owned industries such as oil, gas and electricity, whichsaw some individual’s get extremely rich as a result of the privatisation at theexpense of the poor.
The KGB and other secret service personnel became wealthyas they were not only working for the intelligence body but also working asprivate security for mobsters and elite businessmen. There were sorrowinglevels in crime, no food and basic needs in shops and it was anarchic society.Therefore one could argue that the rise of the cult of Vladimir Putin was theresult of the anarchic system of the 1990s as Putin predominantly used thereference of instability of the 1990s as a propaganda tool as to why theRussian people should support him and emphasised that he brought stability toRussia. Moreover the Russian people had a loss of identity after the collapseof the Soviet Union and were yearning for a strong leader after the 1990s. Thereforethis paper will explore in more detail how propaganda tools were designed inorder to form Putin’s cult.
Thereare two competing narratives in the way that Putin constructed his cult ofpersonality. The first narrative is that Putin linked the events of the SecondWorld War to his personal family history in order to make himself appearheroic. However, Putin is not the first world leader to have used such a tacticas a quite prominent example of a leader using such a feature is the Turkmenleader in the 1990s, who related himself to the Turkmen mythical war heroes ofthe 19th century.
A second narrative that is significant feature isthe fact that Putin used the culture of masculinity in order to appeal themasses. Inthis section I will go through the various literature, which explores the wayPutin used and still continues to use Second World War narratives in order toappeal to the wider population. Wood (2011) argues that Putin used the SecondWorld War to directly tie his family’s experience of fighting to his ownbravery while making him part of that victory. However, the problem with Wood’sargument is that there is no reference as to why the Second World War is moreimportant to Russians than to other nations and more importantly, why would aleader’s experience of the historical event in question make him more popularthan the past president’s who’s family also fought in world war two. MoreoverWood completely excludes from her narrative the overarching problem ofnostalgia in Russian society, which is supported by Cassiday and Johnson (2010).They fill in the gap in Wood’s (2010) argument by noting that the reason Putinuses historical symbols such as the Victory Day Parade is due to the fact thatthere is a nostalgia among the Russian people towards the Soviet Union, whichis why such symbolism works incredibly effectively. Sounlike Wood (2011) who simply spells out the symptoms of how Putin crafts hisimage, Cassiday and Johnson (2010) explore the root cause, which is the factthe reason that Putin’s imagery is so appealing is because there is a longingfor the Soviet past and more importantly the feeling of being a great poweragain. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the cold war had a realimpact on Russian pride and prestige as people saw the collapse the USSR as aloss of identity.
(Kagarlitsky, 1995). The identity was revolved around theperception that the Soviet Union was a great power that had influence on theworld stage, which meant that the wider population was part of that influence.Therefore what Cassiday and Johnson (2010) allude to which Wood completelymisses is that the reason for Putin cult of personality is that he successfullymanaged to use Second World War imagery such as the Victory Day Parade and thewider feeling of nostalgia show that Russia was still important in the world asthe Russian nation defeated Nazism and by celebrating this victory day it wasas if Putin restored Russian pride therefore creating an image that Putin isRussia and Russia is Putin. Thesecond competing narrative as to how Putin created his cult of personality isthat he appealed to the masculine culture that Russia is predominantly proneto.
Soboleva and Lu (2014) support this as they demonstrate that Putin usesmasculinity to appeal to less educated Russian men who greatly valuemasculinity and strong leadership. However, to some extent Soboleva and Luexclude the fact that Putin could not have created a cult without the inclusionof women within it as women make up more than half of Russia’s population 53%,which means for Putin’s cult to have survived and flourished he would have hadto have strong support among women as well. Moreover, Soboleva and Lu completelyexclude any historical reference as to why there is such solid support forstrong leadership among the male population. Thisphenomenon of course stems from the Soviet regime, as it was a totalitarianstyle system.
This is of course supported by Adorno (1950) who contends that itis due to authoritarian personality traits of the citizens within a state thatcreate an authoritarian system. Therefore there was already a culture ofauthoritarianism in Russia so Putin cult of personality simply reaffirmedexisting authoritarian beliefs systems. The most problematic part of Sobolevaand Lu’s argument is that Putin propaganda hugely related to women as well asmen and excluding such a phenomenon render’s their argument unconvincing. White& McAllister help fill in the gaps in the argument of Soboleva and Lu asthey note that Putin was considered a sex symbol with a widespread appeal towomen. This therefore preludes my point that Putin’s propaganda had to includean aspect of feminism in it.
Otherwise he would have had less than half thenation support him, which is the opposite of a personality cult and more like aWestern democracy. The theory that I would use for this paper isone of charismatic authority, which was coined by the sociologist Max Weber inwhich he argues that charismatic authority is: “a certain quality of anindividual personality, by virtue of which he is set apart from ordinary menand treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specificallyexceptional powers or qualities.”(Weber, 1947). This is vital theory when focusing on the cult of Putin becausethe propaganda that was created for Putin made him into exactly what Weberargues is, a superhuman with natural abilities. Charismatic authority does linkto Putin’s cult as in charismatic authority theory it argues that people rallyaround its leader in order to legitimise the leader’s position, which isexactly what Victory Day parade ritual do, as the nation rallies around itshistory and therefore its leader Putin. Using this theory it leads to my hypothesis inthat Putin used the imagery and rituals of the Second World War as a mainsource of propaganda, which directly contributed to the construction of hiscult of personality. Priorto me mentioning the type of research methods I will use in my research design.I will go through the type of analytical framework I will use which is vitalbecause understanding the type of analytical framework a researcher would usedetermines the type of research approach that the academic in questions seeksto use.
So in this research design and overall thesis I would useinterpretative textual analysis. Interpretative Textual Analysis focuses onspecific texts from online media sources and interprets what is the underlyingmeaning behind the text in question and also how the phrases have an effect onthe reader. Such an analytical framework could also incorporate interviews ofacademics as way of backing up the underlying meaning of a certain text.Interviews would help one assert that the text basically means that Putin istrying to portray himself as the heroic leader of the nation through thejournalist using glorifying language towards Putin. Therefore using such ananalytical framework then determines how one approaches research methods andgathering data, which I will specify in the next paragraph. Inmy research design I will use qualitative approaches rather than quantitativebecause within the field of political science all the information collected is quitesubjective, which means that even if one is to use quantitative researchmethods it would not prove nothing, as political science is not a scientificsubject and is subjective.
Had one used quantitative research methods whenstudying Putin cult of personality it would be quite detrimental because howcan one measure a cult using statistics, even if we measure people belief andhis popularity, this would prove nothing as his image is constantly changingand has been changing from 2000 to 2018. Theproblem with using quantitative approaches when exploring Putin cult is that itwould not show how Putin’s cult and propaganda shifted or transformed as A.there is very little data on that subject. B.
even if we collect the data itwould only prove how Putin propaganda and cult worked for that specific yearand not other years as people would answer on their present day opinion onPutin, which is detrimental to our exploration and finally C. is that data isvery much subjective as one cannot be sure that the data gathered is reliableor whether it had some kind of ideological inclination. Most importantly as Imentioned in the first section, the fact that the analytical framework is basedsolely on analysing texts, having quantitative data would go against theanalytical framework of the research paper. Moreover as Smiths quite rightlyargues, the ethical issue within research methods is that everyone is bias andtherefore the researchers are selective when choosing the kind of data theywant to present in order to fit their worldview. Consequently, in such regardquantitative methods can achieve just that, unreliability and rigidness.
Thisis why I will focus on qualitative research methods in a number of ways. FirstlyI will conduct interviews with experts on Putin, Russian propaganda and Soviethistorians because in order to understand Russia one must understand why thereis such support for Putin and how the propaganda cultivates that support.Therefore experts on Putin and Russian propaganda would be more unbiased andcan give us a much more thorough insight as to how Putin cultivates his cultbecause they do not have particular attachment to Russia as they are Westernexperts on Putin and Russia.
The problem of interviewing Russian ambassador’sor its citizens is that ambassador’s have to represent the governmentnarratives, which means most likely they would either deny there is anexistence of a cult or deny that the Russian government were using propagandaand argue that it is not propaganda and that the information they provide isthe pure truth. Moreover, interviewing Russian citizens would also bedetrimental to research as there is a huge restriction to freedom of speech inRussia and as a result many citizens do not want to risk the loss of employmentif their opinions were ever published in some sort of journal article.Therefore the danger of interviewing Russians citizens would be that they wouldmost likely give untruthful answer’s as they would fear the loss of employment,which would mean that the data collected would be false and therefore invalidfor our research and proving our hypothesis.
Forthis reason the most effective form of interviews is questioning Russianexperts about Putin because they will have conducted previous research and aremore knowledgeable on Putin and the propaganda he exhibits than the averageRussian citizens. I also refer back to the Smiths article about ethicalproblems of research which at times is somewhat biased, which in this researchproject will not be the case as I would try to seek out various academics andtake into account a diverse points of view when analysing Putin cult ofpersonality. Moreover in order for my research to be more reliable I would attemptto contact Russian exiles and dissidents of the likes of Kasparov orKhodorkovsky in order to truly comprehend Putin’s cult of personality asfigures such as Khodorkovsky knew Putin personally and would give me more of anunderstanding about the kind of sickie that Putin exhibits within hisgovernment. This would of course coincide with my analytical framework becauseas I am using interpretative textual analysis to analyse Putin’s cult, havingthe academics back certain arguments and points are very beneficial whenanalysing online sources as they would make us understand why certain thingsare written. Moreover it makes us evaluate whether the propaganda in the onlinesources are there on purpose as the academics point out to glorify Putin orthere to stop the criticism of Putin. Interviews could therefore be used inorder to help with the analysis.
Sofollowing from the previous section my second research method and this isfundamental to my research design is to seek out article from various online newssources such as Russia Today, Pravda and Sputnik in order to conduct theinterpretative textual analysis and this as a result is the main researchmethod. This is a case study style research method, in which I would pick out fivearticle and analyse the content and the underlying context of each one. Moreimportantly I would pick five articles. One article that dated to pre-2004 thatwhich means it was before the Russian presidential election and before Putinvictory of a second term. In pre-2004 Putin’s cult of personality was quiterelatively weak. Thesecond article will look at Putin’s cult two years later in the year 2006 inwhich Putin image had flourished into a cult of personality, as it was his secondterm as president.
Then one article will focus on the post presidency phase sothat being in 2010. Finally two articles from Putin’s third term, more specificallyone pre-Ukraine war that being in 2013 and one post-Ukraine conflict between2014-2018. In this sense with such a research method of gathering onlinenewspaper articles is not only crucial to my analytical framework but is alsocrucial at understanding how Putin’s image is transformed over the years. Thismeans that the best way to analyse such a phenomenon is to focus our attentionon the analysis of the online propaganda, as this is the type of material beingused to influence the Russian masses. Without such an approach to research our research design would simplyfails.
Thisconcludes the main theory that I will use will be charismatic authority whenanalysing the propaganda that led to Putin establishing his cult ofpersonality, whilst also using interpretative textual analysis that thereforedetermines that my research will be qualitative rather than quantitative as Iwill predominantly use interviews of academics and therefore online sources inmy analyse in the data collected. This will help test whether my hypothesis isright or wrong.