It was only a matter of time before ousted Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov became re-cast as the victim of “the dark forces that govern Russia” (as one person put it to me in an e-mail, preferring not to be quoted by name). It truly is terrifying – to be left with nothing but your wife’s $3 billion fortune, I suppose.
Luzhkov’s firing is plainly indicative of the way most Russian politics work – there were no big surprises there. And Luzhkov is no more a monster than any of your other regular corrupt politicians. And furthermore – the mayor’s legacy is very complicated; there were highs and there were lows and much talk of his pet bees, and a whole lot of terrifyingly ugly sculptures by his friend, Zurab Tsetereli, and also the general sense that Moscow developed significantly under his leadership. What’s really interesting to me is the rush to make Luzhkov out to be some sort of opposition figure.
Before Luzhkov was fired after months of a steadily growing media and political campaign against him, journalist Yevgenia Albats made the point that his billionaire wife, Yelena Baturina, was being equally vilified because she is a woman. Albats was obviously on to something – it is common knowledge that many “poor” Russian politicians just “happen” to have extremely wealthy wives, but Baturina was a cunning businesswoman in her own right, and was therefore made out to be a wicked witch much like Martha Stewart was stateside.
Yet when Albats said this in an interview on Ekho Moskvy, I also immediately began to wonder how long it would take before Luzhkov’s rift with the Kremlin would be exploited in the media as a means to go “bah! Look at those barbaric Russians! Can’t even have a proper political scandal!” It would be too convenient for it not to happen.
A few days ago, protesters in Moscow made their point – we need free mayoral elections again. And tomorrow, the city will actually have a sanctioned protest by gay rights activists – an impossibility under Luzhkov. “Murky deeds” or not, Russian society is developing in a variety of directions – some very positive, some distressing – the one constant that remains is that ordinary people don’t really have a whole lot of sympathy for the likes Luzhkov and Baturina. I certainly haven’t met anyone in Moscow who seriously considers Luzhkov’s firing to be anything like a violent Stalinist purge – Jay-sus.
Luzhkov’s firing is certainly the end of an era. But just as Khodorkovsky’s jailing didn’t make the oligarch a saint (no matter how hard some have tried to stick that label on him), the end of the mayor’s career – while probably very painful for him on a personal level – does not mean that the man was martyred.
No matter how you spin it, Luzhkov did do a lot for Moscow. Surviving a chaotic winter under the so-called governance ofLeonid Chernovetsky in Kyiv last year, I suddenly very keenly appreciated Luzhkov’s general desire for order, at the very least.
History will be Luzhkov’s final judge, as it always is. But when he shrugs off the mortal coil, the word “opposition” won’t be branded on his tombstone.
Well, at least I hope not. Geez.