Adam Curtis on the New Russia: From Limonov to Surkov

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Surkov created a modern and innovative way of managing the new democratic system - but in a way that his critics say has sidelined the mass of the people and completely diminished real democracy.

To do this Surkov created a constantly shifting political tableau. As well as being one of the architects of Putin's own party, United Russia, Surkov also allegedly helped to set up opposition parties the Kremlin could then use for their own purposes. And he copied Eduard Limonov - he set up a quasi-military nationalist youth group called Nashi.

Nashi claims to be an "anti-oligarchic, anti-fascist movement" but members have reportedly compared themselves to the Hitler Youth. And the Kremlin allegedly uses them to beat up opposition journalists.

At the same time Surkov writes lyrics for a rock group called Agata Kristi and essays on conceptual art.

A TV journalist who worked in Soviet television called Peter Pomerantsev has written a fascinating article about Surkov. You can find it here . In it he argues that Surkov has turned Russian politics into postmodern absurdist theatre. In a way, just like Limonov, Surkov is adapting avant-garde ideas to this new political world.

" The novelist Eduard Limonov describes Surkov himself as having 'turned Russia into a wonderful postmodernist theatre, where he experiments with old and new political models'.

There's something in this. In contemporary Russia the stage is constantly changing: the country is a dictatorship in the morning, a democracy at lunch, an oligarchy by suppertime, while, backstage, oil companies are expropriated, journalists killed, billions siphoned away.

Surkov is at the centre of the show, sponsoring nationalist skinheads one moment, backing human rights groups the next. It's a strategy of power based on keeping any opposition there may be constantly confused, a ceaseless shape-shifting that is unstoppable because it is indefinable."

Eduard Limonov and Vladislav Surkov hate each other.

But in many ways they are very similar because both are convinced that western democracy is a complete sham - and both are trying to create political alternatives to what they see as the second wave of stagnation that took over Russia in the 1990s. This was the result of the corruption caused by the attempt to impose western capitalist and democratic ideas on the country.

Surkov believes that the truth is that the idea of democracy will always be an illusion, that all democracies will always be "managed democracies" whether east or west. So the solution is for a strong state to manipulate people - so that they feel they are free, while they are really being managed.


If you aren't familiar with Curtis' work, he's probably the best documentarian producing work today. The linked article features a lot of interesting video clips which are fascinating in their own right.