“I am the thermometer of the Opposition”

Boris Akunin, Russia’s most successful author of detective novels

and prominent leader of the opposition, thinks the revolution could come any moment.

Profil: You were one of the leaders of the Russian street protests last winter. Isn’t this a strange role for an author of detective novels, whose fictive detective Erast Fandorin is scared of revolution?

Akunin: It’s true, I am afraid of a revolution. In Russia revolutions turn bloody quickly. The Revolution of 1917 was a disaster. It happened because the regime did not cope with their task to balance out inequality. Zar Nicholas II. was the absolute ruler and he didn’t want to share power.

Profil: Can we compare 1917 with today?

Akunin: President Putin does nothing to bridge the gap in the society. Our regime makes this rift deeper and bigger every day. They have this absolutely stupid idea that simple people support Putin. He himself thinks that he is the president of the simple people and that workers and peasants support him. They think we decadent moscovites are a minority. But the middle class in Russia is growing fast. Another factor which is important in this respect: We live in a postimperial state. The capital is very important. When something happens in Russia it always happens in the capital. Every government in Russia is the hostage of the population of the capital and they should never forget it. The middle class of Moscow carries the power for change.

Profil: But last year’s protests did not visibly weaken Putin.

Akunin: I am an author of crime ficition, I have very vivid imagination, believe me. But I can not imagine a situation in which Wladimir Putin would stay on as a life long dictator. It is unimaginable, knowing my country. Putin has become a figure which is being ridiculed. No matter what he does now, people make fun of him. There is no fear of him anymore. During his 2 first terms, he was riding the wave, he was surfing high in the opinion polls, he could do what he wantd, people loved it. You could hate him, but you couldn’t avoid admitting that he was on the winning side. He was also lucky, the oil price was up. But now he has lost touch, he is out of luck and he is out of love. Russia grew up. But Putin still behaves as he behaved in the beginning. Like a teenager he likes to take off his shirt and show his body. Or he goes and flies with the storchs. Don’t forget, the man is 60 today! And he still behaves like an adolescent. He doesn’t understand that his country has outgrown him.

Profil: You are calling for the “Un-Putinization” of Russia – is it enough to amputate the head of the system to change it?

Akunin: This is the central question. Wladimir Putin is becoming the main obstacle to the road to democracy in Russia. This happened because this man has accumulated so much power in his hands that a lot of things depend on his personal ideosyncracies, his likes and dislikes. He has build a pyramide and everyone in it looks up to him for decisions, trying to decode any sign he emits. This whole structure behaves sometimes in a most absurd kind of way. When you watch their actions you have the impression they behave in a most kafkaesk way. You don’t understand their actions, you cannot understand, why they behave in such an absurd way. But they are not stupid, they have a different logic. They don’t care about what the world thinks. They don’t care, what society thinks. They don’t even care if they win in the long run. They are motivated by only one factor: if the leader will like it or not. They know they will be forgiven for mistakes, but they will never be forgiven for a lack of loyalty. I am a historian and I know how these structures collapse. It is a very sure sign of apporaching crisis when the leader surrounds himself by people he chooses solely for their loyalty and the rest is irrelevant.

Profil: But if the system is corrupt, will not the next leader be the same?

Akunin: We have to understand how corruption works and why the russian state is so corrupt. It is so corrupt because there is no law in the country. There is not federal parliament, no regional parliaments, no press influencial enough to frighten a corrupt official and there is no court you can turn to to expose a corrupt official. So those corrupt officials, they would have behaved differently in another system. But now they know, that if they have good relations to their superiors, they can do practically anything. This is the main source of corruption. It irritates me when people say: the society is so corrupt, because Russians are so corrupt. This is bullshit. Any system would become corrupt, if it exists under these circumstances.

Profil: Any other leader?

Akunin: We don’t need another leader, Russia does not need another leader like Putin. The question which they throw at us all the time: Ok, you don’t like Putin, but who do you like? Give us a name! The answer to this question is not “who” but “what”. Democracy. That’s what we want. We are mature enough to be ruled not by a person, but by a system of values. So let Russia have free elections and let politicians compete on the basis of their values and programs for winning elections and establishing a system based on these values. And if a leader wins who is inadequate? Then we will elect another one. That is how it is supposed to be.

Profil: You have to say this, you are the voice of russia’s intelligenzia. But in practical terms: People are used to the “strong man” idea – one of the reasons Alexej Navalny became so popular last year was, because he has the image of a leader who is critical of corruption but also is a serious Russian nationalist. Or Ex-Finance minister Alexej Kudrin - he would be an option as bridge between power and people?

Akunin: They are possible candidates. Even Putin would have been possible for me, if he would have been elected in free elections. I would not have liked him anyway but I would have respected the will of the people. Now he is not the legitimate president, he is just the strong man of Russia.

Profil: But he still puts the women of “Pussy riot” for two years in prison. To me it seems their power lies in the powerlessness.

Akunin: This is the whole point: It makes people so angry to see how the state dealed with “Pussy riot”. Not many people followed what “Pussy riot” was doing. Most people thought it was stupid and indecent to dance in a church like that. But then the state cracked down on them, the repressive machine started to act and eveyone got so angry. In what kind of state are we living, are we reliving the holy inquisition in 2013?

Profil: Why does he turn to the orthodox church?

Akunin: The educated classes are lost to him and he knows this. He has no choice but to go to the dark forces. Like the Russian Orthodox church. we have today either Tele-Russians and Net-Russians. TV is controlled by the presidential administration, its not for iformation, but for propganda purposes. The others use internet daily for infromation and these services I watch closely. It’s not important how many people have access to the internet, but if people read news there. And they do. 2 years ago it was 6 Percent and it grew in January 2013 to 24 Percent. So a quarter of the population does not depend on state propaganda anymore.

Profil: Is this enough for a revolution?

Akunin: Much less is enough for a revolution. It can happen in Moscow any day. I must act naturally, I do not want to pretend that I am angry and indignant , when I am not. I am a very typical member of the middle class emotionally as well. I have discovered that when a lot of people in the middle class are angry, then I am too. It’s the fever that is just waiting to break out. So I have the impression I am the thermometer of the middle class.

Profil: What’s your temperature now?

Akunin: 37,8. When it goes up to 38,5, I will go on the barricades.


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© 2018 Tessa Szyszkowitz