By Paul Goble
Sometimes the real story is the story, the fact that some event has so captured the attention of the media and the public that it has overwhelmed coverage of almost everything else. That is what has happened in Russia in the case of the shaman who promised to exorcize Putin and whom Putin has now arrested and sent back to Sakha.
There have been hundreds if not thousands of articles, videos and commentaries on what this means, on the comparative powers of a shaman and Putin, on whether the Kremlin fears or has good reason to fear the shaman, on the shaman’s impact on Buryatia and Russia, on the utility or stupidity of arresting him.
But all these stories beg the question: why are Russians so interested in this story? And even more, what does that say about the state of Russian society in the time of mature Putinism? That the shaman story is a good one with the kind of twists and turns that no one can turn away from is a necessary but not sufficient explanation.
The real one lies deeper and almost certainly involves two things: On the one hand, Russians have always shown particular deference to those they sometimes describe as “holy fools” and see them as having the power to upend the existing situation – without the Russians themselves having to take action.
And on the other, the regime, including that arch rationalist Vladimir Putin, is worried that this shaman could prove to be part of that tradition and thus a threat. The Sakha shaman’s impact on Buryatia is obvious and disturbing – and so Putin has struck back in the only way he knows, but whether than will extinguish the flame or spread it remains to be seen.
In short, many Russians appear to be waiting for a miracle that will transform things. At the very least, the possibility that could occur guarantees that they will pay attention. And the Kremlin, ever more out of touch with society, clearly fears that such “a miracle” is far from impossible and as so often by its own actions may be making that more not less likely.