This year on Boxing Day it will have been 22 years since the dissolution of the Soviet Union; it seems like a lot has changed.
In the East, the Swedes have successfully invaded Russia by building blue and yellow boxes selling flat pack furniture. In the West, an Afro-American has successfully invaded the White House. All around the world Ronald McDonald’s face has successfully invaded children’s dreams and is now terrorising minors on a global scale.
However, in all the confusion that accompanied the fall of the Iron Wall, one general idea seems to have remained intact: Russia is still stigmatised as the antihero in the Cold War; the common opinion about Russia being ‘the bad guy’ in international politics is far from being forgotten. Nowadays one name is recurring when it comes to blaming someone for Russia’s sorry situation: Vladimir Vladimirovič Putin.
Vladimir Putin is arguably one of the most charismatic and controversial heads of states and he is notorious for going against majority decisions in the grand scheme of modern day politics. Some call him a hero, others a dictator. He certainly portrays himself as the latter and occasionally stages whole media campaigns to promote his patriarchal image. According to the Russian media, he goes fishing bare-chested, poses with allegedly wild animals and practices extreme sports. Being newly single, he was even crowned “the most eligible bachelor in the country” by the women’s magazine “Secret of the Stars”.
All this self-staging seemed to have paid off when Putin was put forward for the Nobel Peace Prize by the International Academy of Spiritual Unity and Cooperation of Peoples of the World. The Pro-Russian advocacy group justified the nomination by stating Putin’s efforts to prevent US-led military action against Syria. Russian singer and deputy of the Russian State Duma, Iosif Kobzon, even argued that Putin was more deserving of the Nobel Peace Prize than Barack Obama, who won the prestigious title in 2009, explaining: “[Putin], who tries to stop the bloodshed and who tries to help the conflict situation with political dialogue is, in my view, more worthy of this high title”.
It finally seemed like Putin got the international recognition that he had failed to acquire in the past. Maybe we had all misunderstood him and he was now rightly celebrated as the man who singlehandedly stopped a catastrophic war from happening?
In reality the situation seems slightly different. Putin might have convinced Bashar al-Assad to hand over Syria’s chemical weapons but sadly this is only part of the story. As soon as one starts to dig deeper into who supplied Bashar al-Assad with arms between 2006 and 2012, Russia’s credibility is severely undermined. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Russia was Syria’s main weapon supplier during that period. It is very important therefore to note that Russia never really stopped a war in Syria. Putin merely warned that a military action against Syria would “increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism”. The conflict is on-going and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights released a report in September stating that the death toll had risen to over 110 000 – a number that is far from stagnating. Yet, it is not only his implication in the Syria conflict that makes Putin’s eligibility for the Nobel Peace Prize questionable.
Russia’s position on LGBT rights stirs up controversy. Although Putin declares that “people of non-traditional sexual orientation are not discriminated against” in Russia, he is in fact president of a country, where according to law “the propagandising of non-traditional sexual relations among minors” is illegal; meaning that people under 18 will not be given any information about homosexuality. The term “propagandising” is very broad which gives authorities in Russia the power to ban, as of 2012, “gay prides” and other gatherings of the LGBT community.
Additionally, Putin seems to have double standards when it comes to settling conflicts peacefully without the use of weapons. In 2008, he backed Russian military action against Georgia during a five-day war between the two countries. Triggered by conflicts in the Georgian breakaway region of South Ossetia, the Russian-Georgian war was severely critiqued by numerous organisations including Human Rights Watch. Their European and Central Asian director said:
“All sides must remember that attacks on civilians, or acts intended to terrorise civilians, clearly violate international humanitarian law, and may constitute war crimes”.
The Nobel Peace Prize is a prestigious title awarded to an individual or group that has “done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses”. This year the Norwegian Nobel Committee rewarded the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons for their “extensive efforts to eliminate chemical weapons”.
As for Vladimir Putin, his nomination was handed in too late to be considered for this year’s Nobel Prize. He will, however, be put forward for the award in 2014, giving him at least another year to wow the jury with stunning self-portraits and to finally achieve his life goal: being cooler than an American.