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Editorial: The Russian strong man

It’s sad to see the path Russia has been taking after the fall of the Soviet Union — a path away from true democracy and back toward a Stalin-like cult of personality and a reliance on government oppression.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is, of course, the focus of this movement, but it’s too easy to blame everything on him — even if he is an ex-KGB thug.

The fact is that Russians — and we have to keep in mind that the label applies to an incredibly diverse group of people — have absolutely no real history or tradition of democracy.

Instead, most Russians look back to centuries of cruel, totalitarian rule by a succession of either insane or obsessive rulers. From Ivan the Terrible to Peter the Great to Catherine the Great to Lenin to Stalin, Russian leaders have ranged from “benevolent despots” to crazed psychopaths.

Most ethnic groups in the enormous country have their roots in tribal cultures — and in fact many still live in those societies — but none are really comfortable with Western-style democracy.

It is, after all, a frightening prospect to those who have learned to be comfortable with some sort of strong man at the top — especially one who promises a stable, if stifling, status quo.

And Putin is the guy for that. He’s perfected the art of using the courts to attack his political opponents and his police are free with their nightsticks when they’re not busy stuffing bribes in their pockets.

Last week, he defended his anti-gay policies in a state-of-the-union speech, pledging to defend traditional family values, which he said were the foundation of Russia’s greatness and a bulwark against “so-called tolerance — genderless and infertile.”

Quoting early 20th-century Russian philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev, the president said conservatism does not stop society from progressing but “prevents it from falling backward into chaotic darkness and the state of primitive man.”

And, like the Czars before him, he has embraced the Russian Orthodox Church, and has found it as willing to support him as it did them.

The result of his speech will be a green light to gay bashing and a continuing flow of refugees fleeing religious persecution, to the West.

Too bad.

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