Analysis. Asked after the arrest of Alexei Navalny on January 17 and the incredible diversion of his plane, Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, raised his eyebrows: ” Sorry ? Navalny was arrested… in Germany! ? I am not aware… “ The response, delivered as a stand-up performance, has nothing to do with the spokesperson’s usual stiff denials. The message is clear: the fate of the main Russian opponent, poisoned five months earlier, deserves little more than sarcasm.
At the same time, at Vnukovo airport, where Mr. Navalny was initially expected, his supporters were kept out of the terminal by the police, some arrested. Conversely, “fans” of a reality TV star, some of whom admit that they have been paid, are allowed to demonstrate loudly. The objective is the same: the reception of the opponent cannot be a historic moment, nor even a dignified one, but only a farce.
The sneer and the trolling have long since escaped from social networks to invest in “real life”. The Russian political scene has always had its clowns. And the main weapon, in the face of disputes, remains repression and its corollary, fear.
But it is a question here of something else: of a deliberate strategy of the Russian state to discredit any disturbing speech, of a way of using sneer as an instrument of erasure of facts at least as effective as censorship.
The permanent stuffing
Russia was a forerunner of “post-truth”, a concept that would gain recognition when the White House began to talk about “alternative facts.” In 2014, Peter Pomerantsev, an excellent connoisseur of Putinian Russia, summed up in a clear manner, in the title of his essay, this strategy of erasing reality: Nothing is true everything is possible.
Russian power took the concept a step further, offering the post-truth a new avatar – the permanent farce. The Navalny affair is a case in point: “ Nothing is true, or even important, since everything is a joke ”, one could paraphrase. M. Pomerantsev concluded that the very idea of truth vanishes in the face of confusion. Today, the very idea of truth becomes a joke.
Note the evolution. In 2014, after an airliner – the MH17 – was shot down by a Russian missile over Ukraine, Russian media and officials drowned this disturbing truth under multiple “alternative versions”. Some of them were absurd or contradicted each other. In the Navalny case, the starting point is different: absurdity is a goal in itself. It is no longer a question of drowning the event under inventions, but of discrediting it as a whole, of denying its significance.
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