Deconstructing the Millennium Manifesto: The Yeltsin-Putin Transition and the Rebirth of Ideology

1. Introduction: The Dearth of Ideology

On the 12th July 1996, following a closely fought election victory, Boris Yeltsin called his advisors to him. ‘In Russia’s history in the 20th century…each epoch had its own ideology. [But] now we don’t have one. And that’s bad,’ he said[1]. The goal was set to have a unifying ‘Russian idea’ developed before the next election in 2000.

That election was won by Vladimir Putin and a radical transition has ensued, resulting in a resurgence of the Russian state within political life. What connection is there between this transition and the question of ideology that Yeltsin was so concerned about?

In any state-building project, the state must project an image of itself as the legitimate representation of the people bounded within its territory. For the state, this is an issue of ideology, understood as the creation of signifiers, determined by power relations, which bring disparate identities together through a process of suture, forming unity and homogeneity within the mass of relations designated by the term ‘society.’ As Bourdieu writes ‘every group is the site of struggle to impose a legitimate principle of group construction.’[2] ‘Nation’ and ‘nationality’ is an obvious example of such a principle that authorises state power.

Vera Tolz has identified various principles of nationality group construction within 1990s Russia.[3] The first of these is Eurasianism. Based on an émigré movement in the 1920s and 30s, it emphasises Russia’s unique place in civilisation and its special geographic position and demands a re-birth of some form of the Soviet Union, claiming that Russian identity is bound up with its expansionist history. Secondly, there are those schools of thought that emphasise Slavophilia. Invariably this either involves the reintegration of Ukraine and Belarus with Russia, or a unification of all Russian speakers (‘rescuing’ those 25 million in the Russian Diaspora), and/or a nation with the Orthodox religion as its organising principle. A third conception, imported from the West in the 1980s is of a civic nation with solidarity based on citizenship. These competing visions had their political advocates as liberal reformers argued for the third option and the Communist and Nationalist opposition took up a mixture of the first two.

During the 1990s, the competition amongst political groupings with various quantities of symbolic capital (i.e. recognition and legitimacy) perpetuated these fractious lines of diametrically opposed political visions and diverging ideals. This led to ‘regime politics’ in which elections determined not simply the government but the entire political system. Elections were ‘plebiscites on the nature of the system,’[4] and each system had its own principles for constructing the nation.

Yeltsin realised that a common political language was urgently needed. The state needed to monopolise a conception of the nation. The problem was, as Batygin states, ‘the historical changes and crises of legitimacy experienced by communist and post-communist regimes in Russia are linked to a positional conflict within the community of discourse,’[5] and that ‘collectively [this conflict] create[s] an intolerable situation…and anticipate[s] some moment at which victors and vanquished in the struggle for state power will be declared along with the acceptance and/or imposition of a singe definition of the Russian nation.’[6]

I suggest here that this declaration has been made. Below I will show that it was declared by Vladimir Putin initially on the 29th of December 1999 when his Millennium Manifesto was placed on the Internet. It was then published in the newspaper Izvestia a day later and has formed the basis of Putin’s ideas in his speeches, interviews and articles. This manifesto ended Yeltsin’s project for a new Russian idea. In it, Putin proclaimed that the economic well-being of the people was ‘an ideological, spiritual and moral problem,’ and attempted to define the core values of Russians. It was significant in playing on the symbolism of the historic moment of the eve of the millennium, coming just before the resignation of Boris Yeltsin and the start of a new era. I show below that in this manifesto Putin, right before becoming interim president, staked out his position as the authorised representative and spokesperson of the Russian people by co-opting other positions and creating his own principles for defining Russian nationality.

This aspect of the Yeltsin-Putin transition is one inextricably linked to the question of Russian perspectives on that transition, which itself amounts to serious questions of self-identity and self-perception. I argue here that through the ideological interpellation and creation of identities, state and society are not separate, distinct entities, but are in a constant symbiotic flux, defining and redefining each other. State and society constitute each other, creating meaning out of a multi-seamed interface. For this paper, this means most basically that societal perspectives on transition are meditated by the state in the same way that the transition itself is influenced by the society in which it occurs. The state creates identities and classifications but these correspond to self-perceptions that already exist amongst the people.

Max Weber defined the state as a monopoly of legitimate violence over a given territory. The state is given legitimacy through the rational calculations of a society that requires an organisational principle for the distribution of collective goods, most basically protection on Weber’s definition. For Russia in the 1990s, this leaves a problem: there was (and is) a failure to meet people’s needs, undermining the state’s raison d’etre.[7] The state can fail to keep its monopoly on violence and thus ineffectively distribute protection to its citizens. This is precisely what happened during Yeltsin’s presidency, and continues to some extent today.  So how has Putin ensured the continuing existence of the Russian state?

The disintegrative forces within society and the inability of the state to fulfil the needs of society and to impose its rules require us to look elsewhere in understanding how states strengthen themselves – they require something more transcendental if they are to survive. The Millennium Manifesto can be understood as an initial attempt to set about creating this transcendental aspect – an ideology that sets about building principles of nationality and establishing group identification in a collective person, the president Vladimir Putin.

2. Ideology as Symbolic Power

If we reflect on this latest transition in Russia, from Yeltsin’s ‘pendulum of power’ to Putin’s ‘power vertical,’ this transcendental aspect (which I will term “symbolic power”) of state power has been largely overlooked. Has Putin re-established hegemony of ideas, mobilising consent around the state’s vision of social reality? It is here that we find a struggle for legitimising the order that is imposed by the state against other forces, be they Mafia, regional governors, foreign governments, media moguls, or religious leaders or ideologues.

In the first place, the transcendental aspect of state power is the production of the image of the state as a unified, coherent organisation controlling a territory and representing the people within that territory. The state maintains this image through certain practices. These include organisational techniques of movement in the army and police, surveillance and supervision of the territory, scheduling of professional life, rituals such as inaugurations and national holidays, the separation of public and private space, schooling which passes on history and language, the official discourses of political speeches and, in some cases, academic discourses which create the impression that there is ‘on the one hand individuals and their activities, on the other an inert structure that somehow stands apart[,] …precedes[,] ….contains and gives a framework to [life].’[8] All these practices help to form a master narrative of the state making it appear as naturally arising out of history and as a natural part of social life in the present. As with the fable of the pre-existing community we call a nation, the state is also a mythicized abstraction that authorises authority.

In this way, the state becomes an internalised part of consciousness as much as it corresponds to some objective structure in reality. ‘Where states have tapped into the creation of shared meaning in society, they have become naturalised and the thought of their dissolution or disappearance unimaginable.’[9] An established order is maintained not by rational calculations of state and subject but through a naturalising process where the recognition and prestige endowed in state institutions and figures makes for an imbedded and internalised orthodoxy in the perceiving of the social world; this is essentially symbolic power. A state exists legitimately when, within this internalised orthodoxy, it is naturalised as a transcendent meaning-giving image of a group of people.

Under Yeltsin the state had lost this symbolic power and was unable to impose its vision of society and to produce classifications of right, wrong, legal, and illegal. The image of the country as an indivisible territorial unit was under threat from breakaway regions. In the widespread use of barter after the rouble crash of 1998, the symbolic form (legal tender) of the state’s economic capital was made redundant. The use of private protection agencies instead of the police symbolically stripped the physical capital possessed by the state of its power to legitimatize the state as the owner of the monopoly of violence.

The loss of symbolic power in creating orthodoxy in the Russian people’s perception of the reality around them was a question of ideology. As Yeltsin himself noted, society was beset by a dearth of a dominant ideology through which to understand and classify the chaos around them. It was up to Putin to ensure that he produced a discourse that would resonate within society and coincide with society’s own perceptions.

3. Russian Perspectives

The 1999-2000 transition of power was not simply the transfer of state power to a more authoritarian leader, but also went hand-in-hand with the ideological mobilisation of consent within society to form an orthodox view of Russia’s reality.

What of Russian perspectives then? Anton Steen’s work, funded by the Norwegian Research Council as part of a bigger project on elites and democracy in Russia, involves 980 interviews with members from regional, cultural, political, business and spiritual elites.[10] The statistics on attitudes, including trust and confidence reveal a huge shift in attitudes between 1998 and 2000. Only 28% of the elite overall, and 17% of the regional elite, wanted a greater centralisation of power in 1998,[11] but by 2000 this had almost inexplicably leapt to 54% overall. By 2000, 75% of the elite supported Putin compared to just 33% that had supported Yeltsin[12] who had enjoyed just 13% support amongst Duma deputies. This is shown by the Federation Council’s (FC) attempts to impeach Yeltsin in 1999. In fact, the 1998 Presidential Administration (PA) was given the least confidence by respondents.

Steen’s research shows that there has been a deep distrust of institutions across the whole spectrum of elite groups in Russia. The orientations at the elite level are reflected in mass attitudes. In 1998, the Russian people also held the PA and President himself at a very low level of trust, only 9% trusted Yeltsin.[13] As much as 20% of the population was ‘fiercely opposed’ to national government.[14] Again, support for the PA and President jumped by 2000. The first three years of Putin’s reign saw his approval ratings stay between 65-73%, with 60% of Russians believing that Putin puts Russia first and only 28% believing that Putin is more worried about his own image.[15]

How did this change in attitudes occur? How did state legitimacy so suddenly re-emerge after the serious challenge to its monopoly of violence by the Mafia, the politically-minded oligarchs, media moguls, and errant regional governors during the 1990’s? Witness how most Russia-observers have gone so quickly from worrying about the death of the Russian state under Yeltsin to now criticising the consolidation and strength of Putin’s power. The Millennium Manifesto was the beginning of the end of Yeltsin’s search for a new Russian idea and the beginning of the reassertion of the state’s symbolic power in terms of defining the nation and the mobilisation of consent for Putin’s vision for Russia.

4. Deconstructing the Millennium Manifesto

I have made selections from the Manifesto, which I have copied out here, and analysis follows each section. As a brief overview, section 4.1 shows Putin’s reconciliation of the political discursive field; section 4.2 the co-optation of principles of group construction and nation-building that arise from that field; and section 4.3 the micro-processes that create subject positions within this group construction and authorise Putin as spokesperson.

  • 4.1 The Discursive Field

For almost three-fourths of the outgoing century Russia lived under the sign of the implementation of the communist doctrine. It would be a mistake not to see, and even more so, to deny the unquestionable achievements of those times. But it would be an even bigger mistake not to realise the outrageous price our country and its people had to pay for that Bolshevist experiment.

What is more, it would be a mistake not to understand its historic futility. Communism and the power of the Soviets did not make Russia a prosperous country with a dynamically developing society and free people. Communism vividly demonstrated its inaptitude for sound self-development, dooming our country to a steady lag behind economically advanced countries. It was a road to a blind alley, which is far away from the mainstream of civilisation.

Russia has reached its limit for political and socio-economic upheavals, cataclysms and radical reforms. Only fanatics or political forces which are absolutely apathetic and indifferent to Russia and its people can make calls to a new revolution.

Be it under communist, national-patriotic or radical-liberal slogans, our country, our people will not withstand a new radical break up. The nation’s tolerance and ability both to survive and to continue creative endeavour has reached the limit: society will simply collapse economically, politically, psychologically, and morally.[16]

Putin positions himself within the field of political discourse here. Firstly, he frames his narrative with reference to the new millennium and the communist period (1-5). There are three sentences here, the first neutral, second positive, third negative. This is a key feature of Putin’s discourse. He does not frame the opposing ideology of communism as wholly negative. In the 1990s Russia’s political discourse was framed in terms of good and evil.[17] There was little compromise or synthesis. Yeltsin tapped into this, but in so doing used up the discourse of anti-communism, effectively devaluing the Soviet past and making this an ineffective discursive tool to establish hegemony of the field which included participants which valued this past.[18] Instead Putin plays down the negative effects of Communism through the metaphor (4-5) of price paying and the labelling of Communism as an ‘experiment.’ Subsequently, Putin’s ideology has been termed ‘neo-Sovietism.’[19]

Lines 11-12 bear a striking resemblance to Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s description of Communism as ‘a mad dash down a blind alley.’ The metaphor of the road is one that Putin often uses. At another point he talks of the ‘highway that the rest of humanity is travelling on’ and these types of metaphors are becoming equated with him. The United Russia party, with a majority in the Duma and the support of Putin, has a youth movement whose members wear t-shirts bearing Putin’s face and the slogan ‘Everything is on the Way,’ (Vsyo Putyom). It is a clear play on Putin’s name and the word for ‘way’ or ‘path,’ (put’).  The metaphor of a road or a path works to give the impression of smooth change and an end to revolutions. Compare Putin’s use of metaphor with Yeltsin’s, taken from his resignation speech on New Year’s eve 1999: ‘we thought we could jump from the grey, stagnatory, totalitarian past to a light, rich, civilised future in one leap, I believed that myself….but it took more than one jump.’[20] Thus, the path is a break from Yeltsin’s revolutionary jumps and is a key to what Sakwa calls Putin’s ‘politics of normality,’ meaning a forward-looking stable order that emphasises everyday politics domestically and non-confrontation internationally.[21]

Putin refers explicitly to the competing political visions (19) but this is actually a reformulation of lines 15-17. There is a clever use of ‘meta-discourse,’ or semantic engineering here where these ‘indifferent political forces and fanatics’ (15-17) are reworked to be identified according to their ideological creed – communist, nationalist or liberal (19-20). Putin goes on to negate all these through an apocalyptic prognosis. All three ideological stances are equated with a future annihilation (19-23) which is grammatically stated as a real possibility denoted by the modal auxiliary verb ‘will’ (budet’) instead of a hypothetical conditional construction which takes ‘would’ (by).

The rejection of revolution and change shows that Putin is effectively trying to establish a discourse focussed on unity and stability knowing that the binary oppositions of politics during the Yeltsin era had created a situation where the state was unable “to muster a critical mass of leaders who articulate[d] one or another political discourse that resonate[d] in political society.”[22] Putin is establishing autonomy by going beyond the already given political visions in order to address the rifts of political society, to ‘assuage the more liberal communists and traditional nationalists and pre-empt the extremist Red-Brown ideologues….to heal or pacify the whole nation.’[23] Putin wants to establish a national interest and deny ‘the abyss between elite and mass interests and ideologies, the amorality of the new elites and the alienation of urban and rural masses.’[24] Hoffman suggests that the idea of a ‘national interest’ was ‘virtually inoperable’ in 1998, and it is with this in mind that we can understand Putin’s purpose in bringing in a new Russian idea below.

  • 4.2 The Russian Idea

Another foothold for the unity of Russian society is what can be called the traditional values of Russians. These values are clearly seen today.

Patriotism. This term is sometimes used ironically and even derogatively. But for the majority of Russians it has its own and only an original and positive meaning. It is a feeling of pride in one’s country, its history and accomplishments. It is the striving to make one’s country better, richer, stronger and happier. When these sentiments are free from the tints of nationalist conceit and imperial ambitions, there is nothing reprehensible or bigoted about them. Patriotism is the source of the courage, staunchness and strength of our people. If we lose patriotism and national pride and dignity, which are connected with it, we will lose ourselves as a nation capable of great achievements.

Belief in the greatness of Russia. Russia was and will remain a great power. It is preconditioned by the inseparable characteristics of its geopolitical, economic and cultural existence. This determined the mentality of Russians and the policy of the government throughout the history of Russia and this cannot but do so at present.

But Russian mentality should be expanded by new ideas. In the present world the might of a country as a great power is manifested more in its ability to be the leader in creating and using advanced technologies, ensuring a high level of people’s well-being, reliably protecting its security and upholding its national interests in the international arena than military strength.

Statism. It will not happen soon, if it ever happens at all that Russia will become the second edition of say, the US or Britain, in which liberal values have deep historic traditions. Our state and its institutions and structures have always played an exceptionally important role in the life of the country and its people. For Russians a strong state is not an anomaly which should be got rid of. Quite the contrary, they see it as a source and guarantor of order and initiator and main driving force of any change.

Modern Russian society does not identify a strong and elective state with a totalitarian one. We have come to value the benefits of democracy, a law-based state, and personal and political freedom. At the same time, people are alarmed by the obvious weakening of state power. The public looks forward to the restoration of the guiding and regulating role of the state to a degree which is necessary, proceeding from the traditions and present state of the country.

Social solidarity. It is a fact that a striving for cooperative forms of activity has always prevailed over individualism. Paternalistic sentiments have struck deep roots in Russian society. The majority of Russians are used to connecting improvements in their own condition more with the aid and support of the state and society than with their own efforts, initiatives and flair for business. And it will take a long time for this habit to die.[25]

Putin ends this section of the manifesto by saying, ‘the new Russian idea will come about as an amalgamation or an organic unification of universal general humanitarian values with traditional Russian values.’ ‘The Russian idea’ was first coined by Russian philosopher Vladimir Solovyev in 1889. It was a Slavophilic conception emphasising Russian culture as occupying a special place in the history of civilisation and a unique Russian identity that could lead Russia on a separate path to the modern world. It was particularly anti-Western and emphasised ideals and practices that were the antithesis of Europe’s individualistic, formal, modernising project. It has comparisons in other cultures in the world at this time that also felt threatened by the expanding empires emanating from Europe. In the Arab world it was Islamism, in China Confucianism, in Japan kokutai, and in Russia it was the Russian idea to which the famous philosophers, intellectuals and politicians dedicated endless writings.[26] This was the backdrop for the discursive field in the 1990s as Russia sought to find its identity and re-establish its place in the world. That this concept was explicitly invoked by Yeltsin in 1996 shows the position Russia was in at that moment. Its economic reforms had failed – it had tried to follow the West in modernising and democratising but the country was now disintegrating along the fractious lines of diametrically opposed political visions, breakaway territorial boundaries, and diverging ideals.

The central concepts of the Russian idea build Putin’s narrative for achieving social accord. These concepts are firstly samobytnost’ – the idea of Russia’s originality and independence (e.g. 5-6, 15-19) which is central to Russian patriotism. This is a concept that holds Russia ‘as a civilisation… [representing] a world in itself, a microcosm that follows its own destiny and develops its own rules.’[27] Samobytnost’ is an idea that has been around since the nineteenth century. As Tim McDaniel puts it, ‘no matter how complex and plural the cultural and political undercurrents of Tsarist Russia and the Soviet Union, until Gorbachev the victory was always to those who advocated a special Russian path.’[28] As mentioned, Putin often invokes the metaphor of the path as if very aware of McDaniel’s observation but blends it with liberal, Western ideas (21-25). Putin is also borrowing from the 1980s and the glasnost ‘New Thinking’ era which was based on an ‘ideology of renewal.’[29] Putin cites the latter word throughout. Lines 21-25 are revealing in this respect; Putin is manipulating and transforming the concept of statehood and ‘great power’ within the structure and circumstances of the present day, it is a re-working to fit within the framework of a discourse of human rights and universal values. Compare the lines 21-25 with these from a speech by ‘New Thinking’ Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze on 26th of April 1990:

The belief that we are a great country and that we should be respected for this is deeply ingrained in me as in everyone. But great in what? Territory? Population? Quality of arms? Or the people’s troubles? The individual’s lack of rights? In what do we….take pride?[30]

The second pillar of the Russian idea is ‘gosudarstvennost,’ which means literally ‘statehood’ but with an emotional sense of Russia’s spiritual collective interests (29-31). ‘Gosudarstvennost’ is a socio-psychological phenomenon – collective and individual characterisations of Russia’s physical and spiritual essence and assessments of its accomplishments and potentials.’[31] Statism as a Russian value is given an important role in the codification of reality (30, 38-40) and as a meaning-giving factor. Thus the renaissance of legitimacy for the state in Russia suggests that Putin has renewed the symbolic capital of the state by promoting it as a structure that acts as an underlying principle for group construction. The remnants of the great state (Derzhava) of the Soviet Union as a fixed centre of meaning are still being invoked here. This is the essence of Putin’s neo-Sovietism.

This aspect of gosudarstvennost’ that rejects the notion of the minimal, liberal state and the responsibilities of the individual (30-34) ties in with the third aspect of the Russian idea, sobornost’ (42-47) – collectivity, or more expressively, a ‘symphonic unity among individual, family and society in which all elements [contribute] to the development of each other.’[32] Here Putin most explicitly rejects individualism and the complete withdrawal of the state using the handy metaphor of paternalism’s deep roots (43-44).

Yet it is not correct to say that Putin rejects liberal ideas. Here, gosudarstvennost’ finds itself in a strange embrace with a liberal discourse of laws and freedoms (36-37). This feature is prominent in most of Putin’s speeches and articles throughout 2000.

This mixing of Western and Russian ideas is only a part of a blend of inter-discursive features adopted by Putin. It is in his co-optation of different discourses and ideas that Putin attempts to suture rifts in identity and win the war of position within discourse. It is, as some have said, a ‘third way.’ The contradictions opened up by the ideological fights over establishing a hegemonic idea of Russian society has left Putin with the discursive task of suturing these rifts within Russia. Putin thus agrees with Baranovsky that, ‘combining in a unique way a traditionalist mentality and an openness to innovative thinking – Russia may represent an ideal laboratory for developing a viable alternative to…values associated respectively with the West and East.’[33]

Thus it is crucial to note here that all the concepts of the Russian idea were referred to by players across the discursive and ideological field in justifying their principles of constructing the Russian nation. As discussed in the introduction, the Communist discourse defines Russian identity in Eurasian and Slavophilic terms, appropriated the Russian idea in its entirety. The nationalists also emphasise samobytnost’ while the liberal-democratic rhetoric consciously leaves the Russian idea alone and prefers the concept of a civic nation as a principle of group construction. Putin blends these various principles of constructing the Russian group. In this way, it seems that Putin is establishing hegemony through a co-optation of the competing ideological visions of the Russian nation, whilst leaving the style and rhetoric of the producers of these discourses well alone.

Our extracts so far show a co-optation of political doctrines (Section 4.1) and the principles of group construction in nation-building that emerge from these political doctrines (Section 4.2). Through this, Putin authorises himself to establish the legitimate vision of the nation and state. In the final extract I analyse the micro-processes at work in Putin’s discourse, his representation of participants and agents which disclose Putin himself as official spokesperson of the Russian people.

  • 4.3 The Russian People: Group Construction

Russians want stability, confidence in the future and the possibility to plan it for themselves and for their children not for a month but for years and even decades to come. They want to work in a situation of peace, security and a sound law-based order. They wish to use the opportunities and prospects opened by the diversity of the forms of ownership, free enterprise and market relations.

It is on this basis that our people have begun to perceive and accept supra-national values which are above social, group or ethnic interests. Our people have accepted such values as freedom of expression, freedom to travel abroad and other fundamental political rights and human liberties. People value the fact that they can have property, be engaged in free enterprise, and build up their own wealth and so on and so forth.[34]

This extract is significant for its further emphasis of liberal values, but more important than this are the processes on the micro-level through which these values get attributed to actors, creating the impression that the author, Putin, is the legitimate spokesperson for a distinct group. The sentence construction shows processes emanating from this group in the position of the subject. Putin constructs this group abstractly and impersonally as ‘Russians’ (1), ‘people,’ and ‘they’ (3-4). At times the collective pronoun ‘we’ or the possessive ‘our’ is used which appears to close the distance between the speaker and the audience (6-7). However this is not necessarily the case; there is no usage of the word ‘you’ which in Russian has a universal form (vy as opposed to ty). Also missing from this extract is a ‘deictic centre;’ at no point is the self, I (ya) used. ‘The more a speaker avoids the first-person singular in favour of other pronouns, the more distancing the speaker becomes.’[35] The dialogue is constructed amongst an abstract collectivity (‘we’) who at times is presented as absent (‘they’) (3-4). These are clear examples of indirect representation where what this collectivity wants, says, or thinks is attributed to them by Putin (1, 3, 4, 7-10).

Through this technique the true producer of the ideas and beliefs becomes blurred.[36] The relationship of producer and consumer goes through what Bourdieu called ‘transubstantiation,’ where the spokesperson of the group becomes the group he is addressing.[37] This does not mean that the group in turn shares an identity with the speaker. The lack of an ‘I-Thou’ relation in favour of the abstract ‘We’ is an example of iconic distancing where the consumption of the text and the identity established by the consumers is at issue. Putin maintains a separate identity for himself as the spokesperson for the group by speaking through the group instead of through himself. It is possible that Putin is trying to preserve two distinct identities that of the ruler and the ruled, as opposed to one shared identity. This is common in despotic discourse.[38] It is likely that people are able to internalise such subject positioning. Mass survey data shows that mass behaviour in Russia is very much influenced by elite behaviour, showing that a clear line between rulers and ruled is a social feature in Russia.[39] The Russian citizenry take both informational meaning about the social world from this text and also relational meaning. This text is thus important in setting up subject positions for people and naturalising power relations.[40]

There is a definite reification and essentialisation of a group which is then given a role to be played out according to its qualities. This was recognised by Bourdieu as the diagnostic functioning of official discourse, where all things are named, thereby identifying them and recognising them as objectively existing groups. Directives are then given as to what this group should do given what they are. To give such directives the social world must be constructed according to specific principles that people will recognise and respond to.[41]

As we have seen, Putin has chosen to promote his “own brand of supra-ethnic, statist nationalism,”[42] showing a choice of a principle of group construction and a rejection of others, such as ethnicity or on the basis of communist/non-communist.

5. Conclusion

Putin’s manifesto is rich in inter-discursivity, appropriating elements from competing ideologies and rejecting binary oppositions in order to win the war of position within the discursive field thus creating ‘an all-national spiritual reference point that will help to consolidate society, thereby strengthening the state.’[43] This reference point, a new Russian idea, helps construct an image of the state as a nation of people represented by a spokesperson, the president. Any state-building project must construct principles of identity for the people of the nation and this is a major aspect of Putin’s manifesto. Putin overcomes the legacy of the previous principles of division contained within the Russian past, the scars of previous suturing of society.

As Laclau and Mouffe put it, the goal of discourse is to create the transcendental, a higher centre of meaning outside the plurality of visions and interpretations, ‘to arrest the flow of differences, to construct a centre.’[44] Thus, ‘at the base of Putin’s policies and what we shall describe as his “third way” lies the idea of a grand transcendence of so many of the conflicts that had both shaped and torn Russia in the modern era.’[45]

My claim here is not that this one text was a turning point that determined societal perspectives and changed attitudes to the state. But it fits within a trend of the Russian state trying to co-opt competing principles for constructing the nation in order to establish hegemony in representing the national interest and the people of Russia through a new ‘Russian idea’ with the state itself at its base. Related to this is Putin’s control of the production of ideas and their distribution and consumption through state control of the media. We must not forget that ‘Product Putin’ is a carefully crafted abstraction, produced by think-tanks, image-makers and ideologues, and projected into a tightly controlled media space for consumption. Indeed, the Millennium Manifesto was created by German Gref who at the time headed the Strategic Development Centre that provided Putin with his main economic ideas, advocating something of a ‘third way’ between statist order and liberal economics. With the help of ideologues, Putin established control over the discursive space and was able to reassert the state as the centre of meaning in people’s lives. Putin used this technique throughout 2000 in various speeches and acts, including the proclamation of a ‘dictatorship of law,’ the use of the Soviet past and state symbols to establish a master narrative and permanence for the post-communist regime, and discourse of crime and Chechnya to establish the state as sole generator of law.

[1] Boris Yeltsin quoted in Urban, M. 1998, Remythologising the Russian State, in Euro-Asia Studies 50/6p. 969

[2] Bourdieu, P. Language and Symbolic Power (Polity Press: 1991) p. 130

[3] Tolz, V. ‘Forging the Nation: National Identity and Nation-Building in Post-Communist Russia’ in Europe-Asia Studies 50/6 Sept. 1998, (Uni. Of Glasgow) Ibid. p. 995-1005

[4] Sakwa, R. 2004, Putin: Russia’s Choice (Routledge: 2004)p. 23

[5] Batygin, G.S., ‘The Transfer of Allegiances of the Intellectual Elite’in Studies in East European Thought 53 (2001)

[6] Urban, M. 1998, p. 969

[7] Migdal, J. State-in-Society, Chap. 5 ‘Why Do States Stay Intact?’ (Cambridge Uni. Press: 2001)

[8] Mitchell T. ‘The Limits of the State.’ American Political Science Review March 1991. Ibid, p. 94

[9] Migdal, J. 2001, p. 167-168

[10] Steen A., ‘The Post-Communist Transformation: Elite Orientations and the Emerging Russian State.’ in Perspectives on European Politics and Society 3/1 (Koninklijke Bril: 2002)

_______, ‘The Question of Legitimacy: Elites and Political Support in Russia’ in Europe-Asia Studies 53/5 (2001)

[11] Steen, 2002, p. 112

[12] Ibid. p. 119

[13] Hoffman, E.P., ‘Re-conceptualising State-Society Relations in Russia’ in Smith G. (ed) State-Building in Russia: The Yeltsin Legacy (1998) p. 147

[14] Ibid.

[15] Sakwa, 2004, p. 70

[16] Putin, V.V., ‘Millennium Manifesto,’ in Vital Speeches of the Day 66/8 (2000) (City News Publishing Co.)

[17] For example, Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, during the 1996 election campaign, told a stadium-full of supporters how the devil was trying to destroy Russia. He had sent two beasts of hell, anti-Christs, who wear the mark of the devil. He suggested that it was prophesised that one would come bearing the mark on his head followed by another, more destructive, wearing the mark on his hand. This was referring of course to Gorbachev’s prominent birthmark and Yeltsin’s mutilated little finger!

[18] Urban, M. 1998, p. 982

[19] See Fish, M.S., ‘Putin’s Path’ in Journal of Democracy 12/4 (2001) & Sakwa, R. 2004

[20] Yeltsin, B. resignation speech 31/12/99, quoted in Sakwa, R. 2004, p. 23

[21] Sakwa, R. 2004, p. 57

[22] Ibid., p. 981

[23] Hoffman, E.P., 1998, p. 134

[24] Hoffman, E.P., 1998, p. 138

[25] Putin, V.V., ‘Millennium Manifesto,’ in Vital Speeches of the Day 66/8 (2000) (City News Publishing Co.)

[26] McDaniel, T, 1996, The Agony of the Russian Idea, (Princeton: 1996)

[27] Baranovsky, V. ‘Russia: a part of Europe or apart from Europe?’ in International Affairs76/3 (2000) p. 444

[28] McDaniel, T, 1996, p. 30

[29] Ibid. p. 129

[30] Shevardnadze, E. quoted in Herman, R. G. Identity, Norms and National Security. The Soviet Foreign Policy Revolution and the End of the Cold War in Katzenstein, ed. The Culture of National Security (NY: Columbia Uni. Press: 1996) p. 320

[31] Hoffman, E.P., 1998, p. 139

[32] McDaniel, T. 1996, p. 41

[33] Baranovsky, V. p. 444-445

[34] Putin, V.V., ‘Millennium Manifesto,’ in Vital Speeches of the Day 66/8 (2000) (City News Publishing Co.)

[35] Anderson Jr., R, ‘The Discursive Origins of Russian Democracy’, in Post-Communism and the Theory of Democracy (Princeton Uni. Press: 2001) p. 116

[36] Fairclough notes that such techniques are common in newspaper reporting where words are indirectly attributed to some agent thus concealing the voice and position of the actual author. See Fairclough, N. Discourse and Social Change (Polity Press: 1992)

[37] Bourdieu, P. 1991, p. 249

[38] Anderson Jr. R. 2001, p. 101

[39] Levada, Y., 2001, of the Russian Centre for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM), ‘Russian Double-Think’ in Brown A. (ed) Contemporary Russian Politics – A Reader p. 319

[40] Fairclough, N, 1992, p. 79

[41] Bourdieu, P. 1991, p. 111-112

[42] Fish, M. S., 2001, p. 73

[43] Hoffman, E.P. 1998, p. 135

[44] Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, quoted in Barrett M. The Politics of Truth, (Polity Press: 1991), p. 61

[45] Sakwa, R. 2004, p. 46


Anderson Jr., R, ‘The Discursive Origins of Russian Democracy’, in Post-Communism and the Theory of Democracy (Princeton Uni. Press: 2001)

Bourdieu, P. Language and Symbolic Power (Polity Press: 1991)

Baranovsky, V. ‘Russia: a part of Europe or apart from Europe?’ in International Affairs 76/3 (2000)

Batygin, G.S., ‘The Transfer of Allegiances of the Intellectual Elite’in Studies in East European Thought 53 (2001)

Fairclough, N. Discourse and Social Change (Polity Press: 1992)

Fish, M.S., ‘Putin’s Path’ in Journal of Democracy 12/4 (2001)

Hoffman, E.P., ‘Re-conceptualising State-Society Relations in Russia’ in Smith G. (ed) State-Building in Russia: The Yeltsin Legacy (1998)

Levada, Y., 2001, of the Russian Centre for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM), ‘Russian Double-Think’ in Brown A. (ed) Contemporary Russian Politics – A Reader

Migdal, J. State-in-Society, (Cambridge Uni. Press: 2001)

Mitchell T. ‘The Limits of the State.’ American Political Science Review March 1991.

McDaniel, T, 1996, The Agony of the Russian Idea, (Princeton: 1996)

Putin, V.V., ‘Millennium Manifesto,’ in Vital Speeches of the Day 66/8 (2000) (City News Publishing Co.)

Sakwa, R. 2004, Putin: Russia’s Choice (Routledge: 2004)

Steen A., ‘The Post-Communist Transformation: Elite Orientations and the Emerging Russian State.’ in Perspectives on European Politics and Society 3/1 (Koninklijke Bril: 2002)

_______, ‘The Question of Legitimacy: Elites and Political Support in Russia’ in Europe-Asia Studies 53/5 (2001)

Tolz, V. ‘Forging the Nation: National Identity and Nation-Building in Post-Communist Russia’ Europe-Asia Studies 50/6 Sept. 1998, (Uni. Of Glasgow)

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About the Author

Gavin Slade

Gavin Slade holds a Masters in Political Science from Central European University, Budapest, Hungary. He is currently residing in Moscow studying Russian.

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Andrei Nesterov

Andrei Nesterov leads SRAS' Research Services, performing remote archive research and consultations for researchers around the globe. Andrei graduated from Ural State University (journalism) and Irkutsk State Linguistic University (English). He also studied public policy and journalism at Duke University on a Muskie Fellowship and taught Russian at West Virginia University. As a journalist, he has reported in both Russian and English language outlets and has years of archival research experience. He has travelled Russia extensively and penned many stories on the “real Russia” which lies beyond the capital and major cities. Andrei also contributes news, feature stories, and language resources to the SRAS Family of Sites.

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