It is not uncommon in countries throughout the world, such as the United States, to never see a selection of literary classics on the shelves of school libraries. Words truly are powerful, especially to the mind of a child that is unquestionably influenced by what book ends up in his or her hands. Thus, it comes to no surprise that throughout history, certain groups or government agencies have sought to ensure that the “most appropriate” books are chosen to “guide” the future generation in the right direction. Local school boards, like one in Virginia, have voted to ban books like Anne Frank’s diary in Virginia for “sexually explicit” and “homosexual” themes. Another book, Ray Bradbury’s classic Fahrenheit 451, was banned by a local Mississippi school board after parents complained about the phrase “God damn” and its suggestive support of going against authority. Keep in mind, other countries have also banned books throughout history; the Soviet Union banned the Koran and the Bible, seen as threats against its atheist principles, derived from Marxist/Leninist ideology.
All of these banned books have one trait in common: the decision to ban was decided by a collective group of people, for instance, boards of education in the United States or the USSR’s Politburo. However, there is one instance that challenges this trend. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, unilaterally, is seeking to influence the minds of Russia’s youth through a selection and rejection of books and creation of a mandatory list of Russian texts, attempting to preserve the “dominance of Russian culture”. True, what Prime Minister Putin is proposing indeed is not an outright “banning” of certain books, but he is proposing to influence single-handedly the minds of millions of Russian youth through a selection of readings best tailored to his personal vision of the Russian state. Well-known Russian journalist Alexander Nazaryan aptly describes Putin’s arrogant ambition as “social engineering through state mandated literature: Nothing else that Putin has done has been quite so nakedly Soviet in its desire to manipulate the human intellect into docility”. This recently announced policy by the former President, who is again seeking the presidency after a maximum consecutive two-term limit, demonstrates the degradation of Russian democracy.
Many can accurately argue that Putin was an ideal figure tasked with leading Russia through the post-Yelstin period, a tumultuous era that demanded political and economic unity during a complex transition to democracy from its communist past. What Putin brought during the 2000s was not a true representative democracy, but strong and firm leadership, designed to steer the country back to international prominence. Looking at the broader results, Putin, through an iron fist, did accomplish putting Russia back on the map. Under his presidency, Putin railed against the enormous power of the select “oligarchs” and called for strongly regulated free markets. The suspicious arrest of former Yukos executive Mikhail Khodorkovsky in 2003 demonstrates Putin’s ambition to control Russia’s economy. Putin received overwhelming support in the 2004 election, garnering 73% of the popular vote. During his presidency, Russia has seen an average annual growth of 7% GDP – going from 22nd to 10th in the world – largely helped by his push to export energy resources (oil & natural gas) and their increasing prices on the world market.
However, after a tightly controlled two-term presidency and Putin’s appointment to Prime Minister by President Mededev in 2008, the Russian people are looking for change. No matter how popular a politician, there is always a sort of “popular fatigue” that sets in among the electorate. Franklin Roosevelt served an unprecedented four terms as President of the United States, undoubtedly a popular leader, yet that did not stop Republicans from ratifying the 22nd Amendment in 1951 to curtail presidential power. When Putin announced his campaign for a third term to Russia’s presidency, no matter the benefit he brought in the past, Russians are simply fed up with the same faces at the highest echelons of political power. No doubt, Putin must have been surprised when the largest protests since the Yelstin era broke out against his candidacy, and his United Russia Party lost its “super majority” in the recent legislative election. Surely, he is not the only qualified man in Russia who can ensure stability. A desire to craft the minds of Russia’s youth, through such a primitive and childish policy as a mandatory reading list, serves to show the true extent of Putin’s desperation to cling to power.