After a Russian editor refused to cover Vladimir Putin's latest goofy stunt and promptly got fired as a result, Putin himself called her to sympathize and pulled strings to get her job back. (She refused, as she recounted in the International Times Herald.) But hey, Putin's gesture proves that he's a down-to-earth guy after all, not the egomaniac his reputation suggests, right? Actually, just the opposite, writes Russian expert Simon Sebag Montefiore in the New York Times.
This same stunt—a Russian leader intervening on a writer's behalf—is the same one that Stalin liked to pull, and czar Nicholas before him, and on and on. Putin was deliberately "channeling" his predecessors. "This tradition flatters the writer in a culture where literature has special prestige," writes Montefiore. "But the surprise also promotes the cult of the unpredictable czar who moves, like God, in mysterious ways." Putin comes off as magnanimous, and the fact that the editor refused the job offer is irrelevant. "The point isn’t the call itself but the myth of the call, spreading like ripples in the pond of the intelligentsia." Read the full column here.