Luckily, the decade that ended at that time facilitated this task, allowing the new regime to renounce its own origin, defining its own shadow, cast into the past, as its antipode.Inheritance through negation
The stage props that were given to this negative historical character, as well as the mise-en-scène assigned to it, are well known: double-breasted raspberry-red jackets from the “wild 90s;” Mercedes-Benz “600s” of “bandit Petersburg;” ethnic gangs, which reflected the “feudal fragmentation” of political sovereignty; conspicuous consumption by “new Russians” against the backdrop of mass impoverishment; the irresponsibility of “democrats” with regard to social welfare. Of course, if these props that were given to the 1990s at the beginning of the new millennium had not been recognizable, they would not have worked as a mythological plot, which endowed with stylistic wholeness and historical completeness what in fact continued to exist – just with a different wardrobe and decoration.
Already in the late 1990s, Petersburg was crowned by the Russian media as the criminal capital of Russia. Thus, all the negative energy generated in society by the drop in living standards, redistribution of public property, intense stratification, everyday violence, corruption of officials, etc., had found its own mythological chronotope, its own time and place. The television series Bandit Petersburg
became one of the most successful of the early 2000s, condensing the realities of the 1990s into a holistic face of the era and localizing them in the very place whence the transfer of power had just occurred. The invented image of the “wild 90s” was both psychologically close and aesthetically alienated. After Putin and his St Petersburg team finally established themselves in Moscow, St Petersburg, the “criminal capital of Russia
,” was redefined as the “capital of the criminal 90s
.” The circumstances of the place (“Russia”) were re-described in terms of the perfect tense (“the 90s”) and thus left in the past.
“The 90s” – in the shape they took through spin-doctoring and the mass culture of the 2000s, which was sensitive to the demands of the era – had to be invented so as not to disappear with them. Meanwhile, neither the civil conflict nor war had disappeared: the war with Chechnya was gradually reformatted into a war on terrorism, and then Ramzan Kadyrov’s Chechnya itself became the political bellwether for the rest of Russia, helping the federal government to crush the influence of oppositionist politicians and movements.
The unresolved conflicts were simply paved over with windfalls from oil exports in the early 2000s. Demonstrative abundance and internal tension became the yin and yang (stability based on the monopolization of resources and war for their redistribution) of the Putin regime. Criminality mixed with the merging of power with private capital, which had been born from the privatization of state property, also did not disappear after Yeltsin left. However, his departure, coinciding with the passing of a decade, allowed all these forms of war to be dramaturgically objectified, given memorable names, placed in the right stage context and settled in the past, so as to then ritually say goodbye to the newly created scarecrow. The arrival of the “noughties” – by the very magic of numbers – made it possible to actualize the arrival of a new historical era, overcoming the heavy political and socio-economic legacy of the recent past.
Needless to say, the trick worked. The body of the sovereign was split in two, like in Robert Stevenson’s story about the respectable Dr Jekyll and the monstrous Mr Hyde (Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
). Everything that constituted the dark and unrespectable side of the continuing political regime that kept being reproduced was concentrated in the image of the past decade and sacrificed like a biblical scapegoat.
What was actually the source of and a resource for Putin’s power was designated as what the regime intended to fight (and it actually fought it, only not with what it itself articulated in the notions of the “wild 90s,” but with business that it did not control, grassroots initiatives, budding civil society and real federalism).