This Russian Activist Thinks Vladimir Putin Might Be God
The president’s cult of personality has taken a bizarre turn
Right-wing political and religious activist Dimitry Enteo thinks Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin might be God.
Or rather, he thinks Putin might become God through divine grace. Or he thinks that “emperor” Putin is close to God. His message isn’t entirely clear, but his performance is dramatic.
On Sept. 7, the 25-year-old Enteo—leader of the radical Russian Orthodox sect God’s Will Movement—gave a lecture on the metaphysical aspects of the Russian leader at a Moscow performance space. Enteo advertised the lecture using various social media pages, including his VK account. VK is Russia’s answer to Facebook.
A dramatic popup shows an upshot picture of Putin surrounded by a glowing halo. “Will Putin Become God through Divine Grace?” the advertisement asked.
“Putin realized that his goal in life was God, and the Almighty entered into the body of Vladimir Putin,” Enteo said, according to Vocativ. “Then Vladimir Putin began to do good deeds, like break up opposition meetings.”
It’s easy see Enteo as a political operative drumming up support for his president by comparing him to a religious deity. But really, the opposite is true. Enteo is trying to drum up support for God by comparing him to Putin.
Russia is a country of non-practicing believers. A recent Pew study puts belief in God at about 72 percent in Russia. But fewer than 10 percent regularly attend church services. By contrast, Putin’s approval rating hovers around 87 percent.
In other words, Putin is more popular than God. It’s easy to see why Enteo decided to hitch the church’s wagon to his star. Nor is Enteo a stranger to dramatic publicity stunts.
In November, Enteo and a follower interrupted a performance at the Moscow Chekov Art Theater. The pair shouted at the stage and admonished the audience for not protesting a play Enteo viewed as blasphemous. He’s also organized flash mobs at a science museum, stormed the offices of Russia’s liberal political party and assaulted Russian LGBT activists.
Enteo’s recent lecture opened with a Putin-themed rap video. It’s only one example of a peculiar genre of Putin kitsch.
The Kremlin potentate appears on t-shirts and bumper stickers. He’s the subject of love songs. He’s a judo master who whoops ass. He’s written a book on whooping ass. He tools around the Arctic in an awesome submarine. Shirtless, he rides a horse through the mists. He hunts bears.
In the years leading up to the recent conflict in Crimea and Ukraine, Putin was a pop culture hero. Late-night talk shows and Internet comedy sites produced jokey puff pieces. There was also some jealousy for a leader who appeared—at the least—to get things done.
Now, many in the West see Putin’s pomp and showboating for what it always was—the self-promotion of a Russian strongman and the early steps towards a powerful cult of personality. Western commentators are now less likely to take his theatrics at face value.
In 2012, when Putin ran for president for the third time, city-dwelling Russians protested across the country. When he won, they protested again. Many Russians questioned the validity of the election process, and his popularity dropped.
That’s all changed now. Not only is an approval rating of 87 percent an incredible number, he’s won over many of his former critics.
Sam Greene and Graeme Robertson at The Washington Post argue that Putin’s soaring popularity is due to his decisive actions in Crimea and Ukraine. With many Russians believing their country is subject to a foreign siege, it’s natural to rally around the flag—and by extension the president.
But Putin’s surging approval numbers are evidence of more than just patriotism. They also prove that Moscow’s propaganda machine is ubiquitous, powerful and effective.
Over the past year, Russian newspapers and television shows have spun the Kremlin’s narrative. To hear them tell it, the fighting in Ukraine is the work of fascists. When Russia annexes Crimea or chastises Kiev, it’s an example of the Kremlin opposing fascism and protecting ethnic Russians. Opposition voices in the country are increasingly squelched, regulated or jailed.
It doesn’t matter that the narrative is false, only that many people repeat it loudly and often. A tactic Enteo and other fundamentalist radicals are all too familiar with.