President Putin’s decree
on celebrating the centenary of Alexander Zinoviev (1922-2006), signed on October 1, 2021, passed unnoticed. However, his mention
of Zinoviev in his Valdai speech on October 27, 2022, raised eyebrows in the expert community: is Zinoviev President Putin’s new favorite philosopher, having removed Ivan Ilyin from this supposed pedestal?
Veterans of Russia studies and some Soviet-era intellectuals remember Zinoviev’s finest moment, when he published an idiosyncratic social satire novel called The Yawning Heights
(1976), was expelled from the country in 1978 and received the Prix de Tocqueville for political literature in 1982. The rest of his life in emigration passed in relative obscurity. When he returned to Russia in 1999 and joined the ranks of the left-wing revanchists and nationalists from the Russian Communist Party and Sergei Baburin’s Russian All-People’s Union, this did not create much furor.Zinoviev comes to the fore
Things began to change many years after his death in 2006: after the annexation of Crimea and the war in Donbas in 2014, initiatives to commemorate and propagate his ideas were supported by RIA Novosti
and the international news agency Rossiia Segodnia
(with Dmitri Kiselev CEO and Margarita Simonyan editor in chief, both doyens of Kremlin propaganda). They launched the Zinoviev Club, which hosted such prominent theorists of Putinism like TV anchor Dmitri Kulikov, Director of the Institute of the Eurasian Economic Union Vladimir Lepekhin and spin-doctor Timofei Sergeitsev. The latter caught the public’s attention in April this year with his radical proposal
to de-Ukrainize Ukraine, which verged on a call for the genocidal destruction of the country’s culture.
Today, a whole infrastructure exists to spread Zinoviev’s ideas, including the abovementioned Club, as well as the Zinoviev Center, Zinoviev Foundation, Zinoviev Biographical Institute, Zinoviev Academy, information portal Zinoviev.info
and half a dozen other institutions. They produce a glossy portrait of the thinker, who is routinely called a “genius
” and “rejected Prometeus
,” being elevated to the position of the ultimate philosopher of “Russian civilization.”
On the occasion of Zinoviev’s centenary, his admirers proposed building a multimedia center to be called Zinoteka on the campus of Moscow State University that would sit on 147 hectares. According to the plan, the central architectural detail of the Zinoteka
would be a styled letter “Z” – intentionally designed to remind of the unofficial symbol of the “special military operation” in Ukraine, as a sign “of purification of the world from Nazism in the 21st century, and Russia’s genuine decolonization
Much to the chagrin of Zinovievites, the project was put down by the city and university administrators, though celebrations were nevertheless staged at the highest levels, including a Philosophy Congress
, an exhibition
in the Duma and public hearings
in the Civic Chamber (featuring a welcoming speech by the Minister of Culture Olga Lyubimova).
Zinoviev is indeed a more suitable philosophical icon in the pantheon of Putinism than Ivan Ilyin, who earned undeserved fame among foreign observers as President Putin’s “favorite philosopher