In the West, the perception of Vladimir Putin consistently straddles the line between malicious dictator whose political actions echo the brutality of the KGB and a cartoonish oligarch, riding around on a horse with his shirt off. But what do people in the motherland actually think of their leader? The iron curtain fell almost 30 years ago, yet our understanding of Russian patriotism at home is still largely limited to flashbacks in select episodes of The Americans. Seventeen years into his rule, is there still actually love for Putin?
A new short film from The Guardian’s Shaun Walker explains that the answer is largely yes. Despite the fact that issues surrounding the economy, infrastructure, and corruption in Russia remain largely the same, the general public not only supports Putin, but thinks he’s doing everything right.
Walker visited the city of Irkutsk in the far eastern region of Siberia, where economic hardship is more prevalent than in Putin’s Moscow. Still, the residents of Irkutsk, from schoolchildren to grassroots politicians, believe Putin is a good leader and the only person who can get things done. Patriotism is taught as its own subject in the school Walker visits, and it’s reiterated every night on the state-run news networks. Blind support of the man in charge seems to be part and parcel of that patriotic attitude.
When asked why things haven’t improved in their community specifically, the people of Irkutsk pushed the blame onto a vague specter of bureaucratic red tape. “Putin says everything right. It’s just that nothing gets done,” one woman says. In the quickly changing political landscape of America, that sentiment is all too familiar. One can easily imagine Trump supporters who haven’t seen measurable improvement since he took office saying, “The president is doing a great job. It’s these damn bureaucrats in Washington.” Clearly, if we were meant to learn any lessons from this, there would be some easy-to-remember saying about history and whether or not to repeat it.