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Monday, September 10, 2012

Putin Likens Protesters to "Weak Birds"

At the conclusion of the 2012 Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Russia, the host president, Vladimir Putin, likened the birds that had not following his motorized glider south to the Russians who did not follow him. “Only the weak ones,” he quipped. “The weak ones didn’t follow me.” Elaborating, he added, “not all of the cranes flew, and the leader, the pilot, has to be blamed because he was too fast in gaining speed and altitude and they were just lagging behind; they couldn’t catch up.” In other words, the Russian protesters had been blaming him for what was in actuality their own weakness—not his. A leader must accept the inevitable misappropriation of blame because being erroneously blamed goes with being a leader.

                                                                     Putin could not have been entirely objective on the protests against him.      Source: Democracy Chronicles
It might be asked, therefore, why doesn’t the pilot (or leader) pull back on the speed so the weak birds can keep up? Why not use the weak as the referent for how much change one demands within a certain period? According to Putin, “during certain circumstances, when there is strong wind and bad weather, the pilot has to lift very speedily—otherwise the vehicle, the flying machine, could overturn and capsize.” In other words, Russia would collapse were he to relax or compromise on his agenda for change.
Is it really the case that a leader’s platform must be followed to the letter or the government, economy or society will collapse? Is stalling truly a risk for a country like Russia? Was there the political, economic or social equivalent of “strong wind and bad weather” facing Russia at the time? It could be argued that Putin was applying “leadership in a crisis” to “leadership in the status quo.” In the midst of a tsunami, for example, there is not time to question or debate the directions from a leader; people must get to higher ground as soon as possible. Absent such a pressing need for safety, it is not clear that societal collapse follows from governmental protests. In fact, the voice of the opposition, whether in government or in the streets, can halt a policy that is actually destructive to the country.
Furthermore, to protest under the threat of being hit or arrested without due process evinces courage, not weakness. It is more likely that the weak are those who are dependent on a leader rather than deciding where they stand on the basis of their internal authority. Strength, it turns out, may lie in making one’s internal authority one’s leader.
In his book, Transformational Leadership, James Burns defines such leadership in terms of developing the capacities of followers, which presumably includes being able to become a leader oneself. Leadership is stronger than followership because followers who develop their inner authority, which can be said to be necessary to becoming a leader, are stronger and are no longer in need of being led by another person. 
The political opposition of a leader such as Putin contends on the basis of leadership by letting go of the comparatively secure passivity of followership. If this is so, then Putin’s efforts to liken his political opponents as weak are actually a reaction to their strength. In other words, his analogy belies or hides his sense of feeling threatened by the strong who exercise leadership by refusing to fly behind his little glider. Such fear does not come out of a self-confident sense of strength. Neither, according to Nietzsche, does a desire to be cruel in order to dominate. The truly strong feel no such need, having a surplus of self-confidence based in strength. So the protesters may actually be stronger than Putin, which could explain why he wants us to believe they are weak.


David Herszenhorn and Steven Lee Myers, “For Putin, a Flight of Fancy at a Summit Meeting’s Close,” The New York Times, September 10, 2012.

On Nietzsche applied to business, see On the Arrogance of False Entitlement: A Nietzschean Critique of Business Ethics and Management (available at Amazon)