Leni Riefenstahl, eat your heart out

The son et lumière was missing, and the whole tenor was less operatic than operettic. But it’s the spirit that counts, and Vlad’s second coming before the adulating public did manage to convey the essence of a Nuremberg rally.

Straighten your arm out next time, Vlad

Putin bravely emerged from his faraway crypt into the lay world, driving tens of thousands into mandatory frenzy at Moscow’s Luzhniki stadium. Walking to the microphone, Vlad was noticeably unsteady on his feet, which didn’t at all lower the volume of the uproar.

However, once the initial clamour died out, many enthusiasts began to sneak out. Most of those shirkers were government workers shepherded in willy-nilly, or else students told they could play truant this once. Having ticked the required box, they sneaked out to go about their daily business.

Yet even such national traitors couldn’t subtract anything from either the pomp or the circumstance. Even old Leni would have liked the stage set, though she’d have had a thing or two to say about the lighting (“Vhere are ze torches, mein Russische Führer?”).

There were flags aplenty, and flying banners proudly displayed the letter ‘Z’, the symbol of the ‘special operation’. That made me wonder what happened to the other half of the swastika. The stadium was also decorated with a giant slogan “We don’t give up our own”. That made we wonder who “our own” were.

According to reports I’m unable to verify, Vlad belied his modest salary by wearing a £10,000 jacket and a £2,400 jumper. But the speech he made was priceless, replete as it was with evangelical overtones.

They say generals always fight the last war. Vlad went them one better by backtracking to even earlier battles. He kept putting the word ‘Nazi’ and its derivatives into every other sentence, no doubt expecting to evoke the Red Army’s stand at the gates of Moscow in December, 1941.

For a second there I thought he was applying that designation to Russia herself, where fascistic parties regularly claim at least 20 per cent of the vote. Contextually, however, it became clear Vlad was referring to the Ukraine, where the corresponding number is a mere three per cent. But the event wasn’t about hair-splitting pedantry, was it?

The rally was ostensibly staged to commemorate the eighth anniversary of the Russian democrats’ previous attack on the Ukrainian Nazis. That daring action, according to Vlad, stopped the genocide perpetrated by the latter.

It’s good to see that the Russians are acting in the spirit of their proverb, “It takes a wedge to knock out another wedge.” Only real genocide can stop imaginary genocide, and Vlad is a keen connoisseur of folklore.

A pedant would again argue that, since the Russians aren’t killing Ukrainians simply for their ethnicity, what they are committing should be more appropriately called ‘democide’, not ‘genocide’. I’m glad we’ve sorted this lexical confusion out, but one way or the other Putin’s ‘lads’, as he calls them, are murdering Ukrainians indiscriminately.

The ‘lads’ are being mown down in their thousands, but, according to Vlad, they are happy to die for “the universal values of Russia”. These have been passed down through generations from St John, whom Vlad thereby co-opted to the noble cause of bombing theatres and maternity hospitals.

To support his statement about every conscript going to his death with a smile on his face, Vlad actually quoted the fourth evangelist: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

There Vlad made a dramatic 20-second pause, no doubt expecting a standing ovation. When none came, he repeated the quotation verbatim, and at that point the crowd got its cue and applauded, albeit rather perfunctorily.

Thus encouraged, Putin pressed on: “The best confirmation of this is how our lads are fighting during this operation, shoulder to shoulder, helping each other… We haven’t had such unity in a long time.” Can’t imagine why not. 

To add an historical perspective to the religious one, Vlad then invoked the spirit of the 18th century admiral Fyodor Ushakov, who in 2001 was canonised by the KGB Church… sorry, I meant the Russian Orthodox Church, for having killed an awful lot of Turks.

At that point, many in the crowd began to whistle, the Russian equivalent of booing. The broadcast was instantly interrupted, and some revolting pop music began to be played (disclaimer: all pop music sounds revolting to me).

Leni Riefenstahl must have been looking on with mixed feelings from that great studio in the sky. On the one hand, the production values were a bit hit and miss and, let’s face it, pop can’t compete with Wagner for dramatic effect.

But then it was good to see that Nazism was still alive in Moscow, even if she found it somewhat wanting in style. Next time get your big torch out for the lads, Vlad, she said – and went back whence she had come.

P.S. Malicious rumours to the contrary, the title of Tolstoy’s celebrated novel hasn’t been changed to Special Operation and Peace.

4 thoughts on “Leni Riefenstahl, eat your heart out”

  1. ‘Z’ isn’t part of the Cyrillic alphabet. It’s use by the Russians comes perilously close to cultural appropriation. Much like Al Capone being nicked for tax evasion, this could be Putin’s Downfal (incidently a great film about Hitler )

  2. The U.S. lost approximately 2,500 military personnel in 20 years of fighting in Afghanistan, along with another 21,000 wounded. That “operation” was unpopular here in the States. Reports show 14,000 Russian soldiers killed in just over two weeks. Mothers are the same everywhere. I’m sure there are at least 14,000 extremely unhappy people in Russia. And paying people to cheer a cause is nothing new. It is done here all the time. Of course, our press do not have the journalistic integrity to investigate that.

  3. Sorry, “Triumph of the Will” is much better. I was expecting a much bigger stadium and some synchronised dancing with picks and shovels. If I’d just arrived from outer space, I would have mistaken the dancing bearded guy with the microphone for Putin. The young people seem enthusiastic, but they lack the focussed solemnity seen in 1930’s era Nazi and modern North Korean and Cuban youth.

    I don’t understand this obsession with comparing one’s enemies to Nazis. What made the Nazis uniquely scary wasn’t their evilness so much as their competence.

    1. I agree that incompetent evil is better than the competent kind. And I even agree that, in general, using the Nazis as the stencil of evil is overdone and often misleading. But it seems apt in this case: the Nazis figured in the previous war fought on Ukrainian soil, and their methods were very similar — if differently — directed to Putin’s. And comparing the Luzhniki rally to the one that so inspired old Leni is surely apt.

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