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Forward to Putinism

MOSCOW-NIZHNY NOVGOROD-NOVOSIBIRSK: “Forward to Communism!” That slogan defined, and cynically mocked, the do-nothing Brezhnev era of stagnation. Today, Russia is racked by a sense of déjà�vu for those times. Under Yeltsin, despite the chaos of flawed markets and an even more flawed democracy, there was a sense that things were moving forward. Now many Russians have no idea where they are moving forward or backward or, indeed, if they are moving at all.

President Putin’s restoration of the old Soviet national anthem was the first recent hint that Russians are marching back to the future. Although Putin did have the decency to change the words, he retained the Soviet spirit - “great Russia united forever.” Then the Federal Service Bureau, formerly the KGB, celebrated the anniversary of the founding of its foreign service branch - ie, the spies - a reverie attended by a certain former employee named Putin.

This was followed by a shareholders meeting of the RAO UES (United Energy Systems), Russia’s electricity giant, now headed by the reformer turned oligarch, Anatoly Chubais. The meeting was meant as a sign of Russia’s new business friendly climate, but the banner hanging over the hall - “Long Live the 80th Anniversary of Vladimir Lenin’s GOELRO Plan” - mocked that intent.

GOELRO’s (State Organization for the Reconstruction and Development of the Soviet People’s Economy) slogan was “Socialism means Soviet rule plus electrification of the country.” Chubais’s plan is similar to the GOELRO one, but instead of national socialization, it calls for obligatory national marketization. If a region can’t pay for its electricity, people will be cut off and left without heating.