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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Putin Selected as Person of the Year

by Paul E. Richardson
Putin Selected as Person of the Year

Well, Boris was wrong.

In a previous post and VPR commentary, I related how my friend Boris in Moscow speculated that, after the December Duma election, Russia would hold a national referendum and appoint Putin Tsar.

Apparently TIME magazine beat Russia to the punch.

Today it was announced that the magazine awarded Putin ("intense and brooding KGB agent") its coveted "Person of the Year" title:

When this intense and brooding KGB agent took over as President of Russia in 2000, he found a country on the verge of becoming a failed state. With dauntless persistence, a sharp vision of what Russia should become and a sense that he embodied the spirit of Mother Russia, Putin has put his country back on the map. And he intends to redraw it himself. Though he will step down as Russia's President in March, he will continue to lead his country as its Prime Minister and attempt to transform it into a new kind of nation, beholden to neither East nor West.

You can read the full article here.

Clearly, the POY nod is not any kind of endorsement or kudo for Putin. But it does hopefully focus more public attention on Russia, which the magazine rightly says "is central to our worldâ??and the new world that is being born."

As to the referendum, the vote is still out. Actually, it happens in March.

p.s. In a not unrelated development: TIME may have decided Putin was the most important person on the planet in 2007, yet apparently the Baltimore Sun, the second paper after the NY Times to set up a full time bureau in Moscow, has shuttered it. Read the final dispatch by Erika Niedowski here. The best bit:

There is a saying: The more time you spend in Russia, the less you understand it. I still marvel at the contradictions: how Russians are at once sticklers for rules and adept flaunters of them. They will uncomplainingly stand in three separate lines to select, pay for and pick up an ice cream, yet they drive on the sidewalks and embrace a casual recklessness with such vigor that it's actually driving life expectancy down.

They admire strength and a strong hand -- witness Putin's popularity -- but believe that their own fate is beyond their control. They love things vast and colossal, but speak in a language filled with dimunitives. They can seem dismissive and cold on the surface, but are generous and warm to the core. In 2005, I interviewed a mother in the North Caucasus after her son was wounded by police who had accused him of taking part in a violent anti-government raid. At the end, she handed me -- a complete stranger 30 minutes earlier -- an entire watermelon, as a sign of thanks and respect.

Russia has taught me that Americans are uptight and overanxious, that I roll my eyes too often, that patience really is a virtue. Despite opposition talk of mass protests against Putin and an increasingly centralized state, I can't envision a revolution here; the unwavering hardiness and endurance that have seen Russians through centuries of turmoil and unspeakable suffering are the very qualities that all but ensure they will not rise up.