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All the Czar's Horses:
The Politics of Putting the Past Together Again


All the King's horses and all the king's men, couldn't put Humpty Dumpty back together again. Can Putin bring back the glory of Russia? 

History has been a great influence on Putin, and he has made it his personal mission to resurrect Russia's superpower status and pride. A few critical events shaped his views.


1) He was a KGB officer when the Berlin Wall collapsed. When men stormed the KGB office in Berlin, he lied that they had heavily armed soldiers, when all he had was silence from Moscow. “I had the feeling that the country was no more,” he recalled later in a series of interviews published in 2000. “It had disappeared.” 

2) In the 1990s, he worked for President Yeltsin’s Kremlin. He witnessed how ineffective Russia was at dealing with America, specifically when United States called about air strikes in Serbia. Yeltsin was furious, screaming at Clinton that this was unacceptable and then hung up. The bombing raids went ahead anyway. That experienced made Putin was more determined than ever to not let it happen during his reign.


3) Putin leveraged his KGB training in diplomacy. Clinton's aid Talbott was impressed, “ability to convey self-control and confidence in a low-key, soft-spoken manner.”


4) When Putin became president, he warned, “For the first time in the past 200 to 300 years, Russia faces the real danger that it could be relegated to the second, or even the third tier of global powers."

5) He rebuilt Russia's pride in its history by focusing on the victory of WWII. During his first victory day event, he said, "Through you, we got used to being winners” 

More personally, he became an icon of Russia strength with many stories and photos of him being macho and tough. He developed a superhero kind of image. (Yes, a bit cheesy but very popular.)  His circle of advisors also shrank to those with KGB background, for loyalty was absolutely important. Even his former wife remarked on being tested all the time.  

Do you think Putin's succeeded in bringing glory back to Russia? Has the war in Ukraine alienated Russia from the world? Are young Russians into TikTok, celebrities, McDonald's and technology like their American counterparts? 

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Many famous leaders tried to rebuild their country out of its ancient ashes of glory. Benito Mussolini was an Italian dictator who founded the National Fascist Party of Italy and Prime Minister of Italy from 1932 until 1943. He sided with Hitler during World War II. As a journalist, he knew Italian history and used it to get himself to the top and charm the crowds with a vision of a mythical Rome.  

In fact, young Mussolini idolized ancient Rome. He proclaimed Rome’s ‘birthday’ as a national holiday, and revival of the Roman empire, when they invaded Ethiopia. Negative things were given a positive, historic twist that benefited himself.  More and more, qualities of a Roman emperor were used to describe Mussolini. As people nicknamed him "sawdust Caesar", he took it seriously with photos of himself in famous Roman places, riding on a horse like a hero to keeping a bust of Caesar, his idol, in his office. He went further to even posing like Roman statues to give himself the imperial feeling. Ancient Rome provided a perfect cover for his political, architectural, archeological, and military ambitions. After his disposition, people mocked his exaggerated Roman ways, "Voleva essere Cesare, morì Vespasiano" (He wanted to be Caesar, but died Vespasian - an ugly unpopular emperor).

Remembering the good old days is something many nationalistic people feel. In the United States today, many conservative folks long for what they perceive as periods of lost American greatness: the 1950s, the 1980s, November 2016.  Is all this looking back at history a healthy way to move forward? This guys on the right, seems to think so, but is he right?


Nostalgia is a fond remembrance of the past, a yearning to go back to the past. “What I want to do is to caution against nostalgia, the most useless of emotions,” author David Frum said. Instead, he suggests people to “abandon the idea that it can somehow be remade in the image of the society that waged World War II" because the world is not the same anymore. Post WWII created an idealistic but not lasting society in the 1950s “a time of consensus and stability and respect for authority.” Marriage rates were high, divorce rates were low, and a man with only a high-school diploma could support a wife and family.  - The American Dream!

What created this utopia? From 1898 with the Spanish American War to the 1970s with the end of Vietnam War, America was constantly at war and when it was not, it was getting ready and prepared. People trusted their leaders because they were war heroes. Political parties differed on many topics, but they had a "we are all in on this together" spirit when it came to war and peace. Therefore, the author urges us to look ahead and embrace new virtues and face new challenges, as "conservative wisdom is wrong: human nature is not fixed and immutable. It changes all the time. And it will continue to change.” 


The article by Political Violence at a Glance askes us "Does nostalgia boost populism?" Political leaders have been using that strategy for a long time:

1) Donald Trump - Make America Great Again

2) Chavistas refer to Simon Bolivar as El Libertador

3) Turkey is promoting Ottoman nostalgia

4) UK before Brexit - “Let’s Take Back Control”

Political leaders use nostalgia because it represents homecoming, finding protection and standing together from dangerous enemies.  The concept of nostalgia is very strong, and it strengthens identity and unites people to believe others are immoral. This is happening all around the world, and ignorant people easily believe in those speeches. Unfortunately, remembrance of the past is twisted into unrealistic interpretations of our modern society. We are facing real contemporary issues that are more diverse and complex than our "simple, positive" memories. 

First of all, a luddite is someone who is against technology, and this term has been used since the early 19th century labor movement against industrialization. The early luddites were skilled craftsmen, weavers and textile workers, who protested against machines taking over their jobs. These angry workers that got their jobs replaces by machines called themselves luddites after Ned Ludd, a young apprentice who was rumored to have wrecked a textile apparatus in 1779.  To read more about Luddites see this article


(Are we going to have people protesting and breaking into server centers because ChatGPT took over their jobs?) Well, I guess my imagination was not too far off. Some extreme modern luddites are actually very skilled in technology; creating cyber hacks, computer viruses to destroy technology. The attack on the London Stock Exchange and a nuclear center in Iran. Of course, those are extreme cases. Most modern day, self-proclaimed (jokingly) luddites are people that don't want technology to control their lives. They don't want to be "mechanical in the head and the heart." 

Lane was 11 when she got her first smart phone and then the pandemic hit and she became a screen addict. But, unlike other kids that remain glued to their screen, she deleted all her social accounts and joined the Luddite Club for teens who want to get away from the seduction of technology. (Wow! Incredible!) 


Today's teenagers called Generation Z have grown up surrounded by technology and spends up to 8 hours online, connected to classmates and friends over social media. Lane and her friends at the Luddite 

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Club have said goodbye to tech and living a more conscious and healthier lifestyle. What do they do? They read, journal, paint, sew, play the guitar and hang out. Some members still have their phones, but they use the club time as an escape from technology. “The best part about being a Luddite is my self-awareness. I have time to reflect about my day and my life.” 


Photographer Jake Michaels' work reveals a group of unique people that are living at the fringe of society on purpose. In the tiny Central American country of Belize, there are around 12,000 of the world's most conservative Mennonites. They are a sect of Christians that live in a closed community and reject modern technology, sometimes even electricity. This sect started in the 16th century in Europe and have spread across the world looking for remote farmland where they can stay away from persecution. This group pictured left with healthy looking boys and girls in old fashion dresses migrated from Canada in the 1950s and were welcome by the Belize government, which supported their beliefs. Now, the Belize Mennonites are a main contributor to the poultry and dairy market, even though they are only 4% of the population. 

Photographer Jake Michaels spent time with them and remarked how they were friendly and nice and spending time with them made him slow down and reflect more. However, he does not want to create a positive and biased report, for the children in the community have lower literacy rates too. Lives were centered around religion, family and also labor, as most depended on agriculture.  "There are good aspects to life, and there are hard aspects to life," the photographer added. "At the end of the day, people are still making a living ... people still have jobs. So, I think it was important to show the whole spectrum of life." 

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