Is Putin a world-class bully who was bullied as a kid?
This post first appeared on Russia Insider
Russian viewers may not recognize him. But that's Vladimir Putin in a rare state of rage. I don't know what's got him so angry. Perhaps it's the American coup in the Ukraine since the photo is dated April, 2014. But one thing is certain. Those in the West will see this photo again and again because Putin looks so scary there.
The photo below...
Not so much.
So is he a bully or not?
Not according to his friends and family. And not from what we know of his tireless devotion to anti-bullying programs, such as the popular YouTube video for kids: "Let's Learn Judo with Vladimir Putin"--where he teaches kids that Judo is both a self-protective sport and "a way of life." A "gentle" way of life--one might almost say a Christian way of life--for "gentle" ladies and "gentle" men in the chivalric sense of "gentle." As the term, "Judo," itself denotes. In Japanese, "Ju" + "do" means "the gentle way."
As Putin goes on to explain in his 2000 autobiography, First Person: An Astonishingly Frank Self-Portrait by Russia's President (page 19):
[Judo means] "respect for your elders and for your opponent... Everything in Judo has an instructive aspect. You come out onto the mat, you bow to one another, you follow ritual. It could be done differently, you know. Instead of bowing to your opponent, you could jab him in the forehead."
In Let's Learn Judo with Vladimir Putin, he goes further, saying:
In my childhood I was lucky enough to get into the world of Judo. A world of courage, sincerity and generosity. A world where human qualities are valued more than physical force. A world of mutual assistance and cooperation. Self-confidence, vigor, purposefulness, respect for elders, teammates and opponents are highly valued there.
Judo isn't for bullies. And it isn't for thugs. Though Obama calls Putin a "thug." If Putin ever was a thug [which I personally doubt], he isn't any longer. Putin always calls Obama "our American partner." That's a respectful man.
Putin's also an honest man. Honest to a fault at times. As when he goes to propose to his future wife, Lyudmila [FP, pp. 60-1]. He begins by telling her at great, great length all the things that are wrong with him and why she certainly wouldn't want to live with him [which he's telling the reader too!]--before abruptly announcing that he loves her and wants to marry her. She's floored! And I dare say the reader is too!
First Person bills itself as "An Astonishingly Frank Self-Portrait by Russia's President." And it is. Especially when you think that Putin was then the Acting President after Yeltsin's resignation. And this so-called "autobiography," consisting of transcribed interviews with Putin himself and others who knew him, was designed to be one of those get-to-know-the-candidate "autobiographies" for his first election campaign for a full term of office. And this is what he tells the voter? How he listed all his faults before proposing to his wife? But that's Putin--showing us all how awkwardly honest he can be.
There is nothing to compare his autobiography to in the West. When candidates for the US Presidency write their campaign "autobiographies," they fill them with flattering stories and testimonials about themselves. Not Putin. Instead of selling himself to us, he tells us of all of his failings and shortcomings, just as he told Lyudmila before proposing. In this book, his admirable moral intent is to let the voters know exactly who they are voting for if they choose to vote for him. It is an act of exceptional [I think, Orthodox] courage. As where he tells us of how he holds himself responsible for a friend's death, saying:
"There was another match I'll remember for the rest of my life, although it wasn't one I took part in. I had a friend in university whom I had talked into joining the gym. First he took judo, and he did quite well. Once there was a competition and he was fighting. He took a jump forward and landed headfirst on the mat. His vertebrae were dislocated and he was paralyzed. He died 10 days later in the hospital. He was a good guy. And to this day I regret talking him into taking judo. . . ." [Pages 33-34.]
Those words are written in a sincere attempt to warn the voter that the guidance he gives to others may have tragic consequences at times. Can one imagine an American politician running for the US Presidency saying such a thing?
Putin is a propagandist's dream. These painful things that he confides in a devoutly confessional manner to the whole Russian people so that they may fully know him before deciding whether to vote for him can so easily be used to attack, nay, crucify him! Like with his harsh self-judgment on page 18 of FP that between the age of 5 and 11:
"I was a hooligan."
"Are you serious?" the questioner asks. At which Putin snaps back:
"You insult me! I really was a thug." [Which a Russian friend in Moscow tells me is the best English translation for the Russian word that Putin uses, "шпана."]
But how much of a "thug" could Putin have been between the ages of 5 and 11? What had he done? Chased rats around the inner courtyard? Gone beyond the courtyard to the street 2 times in 6 years without asking his mother's permission? Those are his only recorded "crimes" in his autobiography.
True, he hadn't made it into the Pioneers by the time Vera Gurevich (who agreed to be interviewed for FP) became his teacher in 5th Grade. But that was because his 4th Grade teacher had found Volodya (as Putin was called as a child) too "sneaky and disorganized" [FP, p. 19] without giving any details. Whereas Vera felt from watching him in the German class he took with her for extra credit in 4th Grade already [!] that he simply "hadn't proven himself" yet; but that "he had [great] potential, energy, and character," along with "a very good memory," "a quick mind," and "a great interest in language." To her he was just a bit of a "cutup," "jumping from the roofs of garages and sheds" with the Kovshov brothers. That's the worst behavior she saw from him. That she reported in FP anyway.
So is that all there is to Putin's prepubescent hooliganism?
Not knowing Russian, I asked that same Russian friend who helped me before whether "hooligan" was a good translation of the Russian word that Putin used to describe himself at age 11.
A child who upsets his parents with his disruptive behavior.
As opposed to the more legalistic meaning of "hooligan," which is:
A young member of a street gang who engages in violent criminal behavior, such as thefts, holdups, vandalism, knife fights, and rowdy behavior. There is no evidence from any source that Putin engaged in any of these activities, save perhaps for rowdy behavior.
Putin also makes clear in FP that he wasn't a bully. As he says [p. 16]:
I didn't try to command anyone. It was more important to preserve my independence.
Though small for his age, he was fast, compact, and strong--with a superstrong will to win any fight he was in. Thus "independence" meant for him that he bothered no one and no one bothered him.
Putin continues from there:
"I got into sports when I was about 10 or 11. As soon as it became clear that my pugnacious nature was not going to keep me king of the courtyard or school grounds, I decided to go into boxing. But I didn't last long there. I quickly got my nose broken. The pain was terrible. I couldn't even touch the tip of my nose. But even though everyone was telling me I needed an operation, I didn't go to the doctor. Why? I knew it would heal by itself. And it did. But I lost my boxing bug after that. Then I decided to go in for sambo, a Soviet combination of judo and wrestling. Martial arts were popular at the time. I went to a class near my house and began to work out. It was a very plain gym that belonged to the Trud athletic club." [FP, p.19]
From this passage we learn several things. First, that he was "king" of the courtyard and school grounds for a time. He was that good a fighter. But without formal training in a martial art, he knew his "independence" wouldn't last that long. He therefore decides on his own to take up boxing. Only to get his nose broken. But he rejects the advice of his parents to have an operation. [I assume because he believed it would only cause him needless pain.] And he makes his refusal stick. No one is able to budge him. And his confidence in his body is rewarded by his nose healing on its own. At which point he decides to learn sambo and finds a gym near his house, where it's taught by a tough old trainer named, Anatoly Rakhlin.
A more adolescent account is provided by a Russian sambo site which states:
"In the fall of 1965, two friends, Putin and Borisenko, decided to find a work-out class. What kind they didn't know. (Actually, it made no difference to them.) Getting a list of all sport facilities in Leningrad, they started calling around at random. By the end of the day the result was zero. Everywhere was full. The last item on the list was "Sambo." When they called, they heard the familiar response: “Recruitment's over." But they went all out to convince the coach on the phone that they were the most promising athletes in the world. The coach's name was Anatoly Rakhlin. Swayed by the boys' chutzpah and self-confidence, Rakhlin invited the 2 talented boys to come to him the next day."
This sounds like something 2 teenage boys on their own would do. And it still puts Putin in a positive light in that it shows us that Putin and his friend had the chutzpah and self-confidence" to convince Rakhlin to take a chance on them. And a Russian Judo champ is born. That's impressive!
Too impressive for some.
By the end of Putin's second Presidential term, the US had had quite enough of Putin and his "chutzpah" in demanding that Russia be treated as an equal partner in the pursuit of world peace.
An Equal Partner? With The Us?
Just 2 weeks before Russian voters were to go to the polls to decide whether Putin should be elected to a 3rd term as President, the West showed the world what it thought of Putin and Orthodox Russia by sending the notorious punk band, Pussy Riot, to desecrate the Sanctuary of Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow with the sacrilegious song: "Punk Prayer--Mother of God, Chase Putin Away!"
The war was on. And Putin's personal biography would soon be one of the battlefields. Even his parentage would be questioned.
"Is that really Putin? With his biological mother and grandmother? Sure don't look it!" American pundits would snicker.
It saddens and shames me to say this. But in America there is nothing still sacred.
End of Part 1
Coming soon :Part II Putin, the U.S.S.R.,&The Sovietization of American Psychiatry
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