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Who Wants to Be a Foreign Agent?
After Pugacheva's actions, perhaps many more
Parodist and satirist Maxim Galkin many years ago became known to the general public as the host of the Russian version of the popular program “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” Now, it seems that, thanks to him, we have a new contest - “Who wants to become a foreign agent?” True, this show is no longer be shown on TV, but we can still watch it in real time in the political and media space.
While abroad, Galkin spoke out sharply about the hostilities in Ukraine, and was summarily declared a foreign agent by the Ministry of Justice. Alla Pugacheva stepped forward, insisting that, out of solidarity with her husband, she also be enrolled in the ranks of foreign agents by the Ministry of Justice.
In the late-Soviet period, Pugacheva was perhaps the most popular person in the country. There was even a well-known joke that, in the encyclopedia of the future (no one could know about Wikipedia at that time), it would be written of Leonid Brezhnev that he was "a minor politician of the era of Alla Pugacheva." Books have been written about the Pugacheva phenomenon, her records have sold millions of copies, her songs were heard from TV screens and in the halls of restaurants, they have been quoted, parodied, lines from them turned into proverbs. As the years passed, Pugacheva indeed outlived Brezhnev and other rulers as well, including Yeltsin and now Gorbachev. She also survived the peak of her own popularity - new eras gave birth to new idols. But she certainly remains a living legend, securing a place in the mass consciousness of not only the older Russians but also of their descendents.
After the outbreak of the armed conflict in Ukraine, the singer left the country with her husband, only to recently return, causing a surge of jubilation in the official media. Kremlin propagandists gloated. By their telling, Pugacheva gave up and crawled back almost on her knees, and would certainly soon beg forgiveness from the authorities for the unauthorized departure. But even then, it seemed to me that she had likely returned with very different goals in mind. This is now confirmed.
Now Pugacheva’s message has forced its way into public consciousness, and must be mentioned even by pro-government publications and channels - which will emphasize, however, that the singer has done this merely out of solidarity with Galkin. At the same time, the Kremlin-subordinate media has diligently avoided quoting the second half of the short post, in which Pugacheva calls Galkin “an incorruptible patriot of Russia, wishing the Motherland prosperity, peaceful life, freedom of speech, and for an end to the slaughter of our boys for illusory goals that will make our country an outcast and make life difficult for our citizens.”
State propaganda, to minimize the damage caused to the authorities by this sentiment, hopes to reduce the matter to family solidarity and personal resentment. However, this is not likely to work. We must admire the singer’s cleverness: the text of the short message is written in such a way that it can be freely quoted without the risk of falling under administrative or criminal prosecution. Avoiding any of the forbidden words or phrases, she was able to clearly and intelligibly express her thoughts. And precisely in such a form that will receive support from many of our citizens who are not sympathetic to any opposition, liberal or leftist.
Curiously, Pugacheva’s message also roused public opinion in Ukraine, undermining those who argue that all Russians are the same and that nothing good can come from Muscovy. For the millions of Ukrainians who lived during the Soviet era, she remains too important and too relevant to be ignored.
The paradoxical nature of the Russian public consciousness is such that the conflict with the Galkin and Pugacheva families can cause even more damage to the reputation of the authorities than has the armed conflict in Ukraine, since the layman does not understand what is happening in the neighboring country as something that concerns him personally. But what happens to his pop idols he understands vividly and directly. If they, for the sake of some cause, risked a direct conflict with the Kremlin, then that cause must be worth it.
The authorities and propagandists made the first gross mistake when they began to rejoice and scoff at the return of Pugacheva to Russia. The officials made a second and even bigger mistake by declaring Galkin a foreign agent. It is clear that hatred for him has been accumulating for a long time. Recall his famous video depicting Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin and President Putin discussing a plan to control the movement of Muscovites around the city during COVID. The whole country then laughed, seeing the mayor and the president, very plausibly played by Galkin, seriously consider completely crazy initiatives, including a discussion of where a Muscovite walking in the park can hang himself. The mass distribution of this video on the internet actually thwarted the government's plans, making the mayor's office and the Kremlin a universal laughingstock. If now they wanted to take revenge, their efforts were doomed. Galkin and Pugacheva not only got a reason to strike back, but they did it at the very moment when the Kremlin's position is weakening before our eyes.
The title of “foreign agent,” coined by the Kremlin's stooges to isolate dissidents and force them into exile, finally becomes a kind of mark of distinction for those to whom it is assigned. I won’t be surprised if the strategy of Pugacheva, who demanded that she be awarded this title, provokes a real flash mob: others will also file requests to be entered into the ranks of foreign agents. Moreover, the law is indeed specifically designed in such a way that it can be applied in general to any person who can read and write. As an amendment to the law, the deputies inserted a clarification that a proper foreign agent is one who has fallen directly under foreign influence. For example, one who has read and fallen in love with some book by an English or American writer. But they didn't stop there either. Now the Duma is discussing a new version of the law, which will meet out punishment for the mere “intention” to do something that does not quite suit the authorities (despite the fact that there is no clear description of specific actions or deeds subject to punishment in the law). By publishing this pseudo-legal gibberish, the deputies hope to get their hands on a justification for absolute political impunity, it turns out that this has backfired.
Power wants to be scary, but it turns out to be funny. Galkin and Pugacheva have scuttled the Kremlin's “foreign agent” ploy. The question is, will it be limited to just that?