Popular Culture and Putin’s Legitimacy

Rock and brand: Russian [op group Lyube gives a concert in St. Petersburg in 2018, and President Putin welcomes the group’s lead singer, Nikolay Rastorguyev.

Popular culture reflects and shapes political opinion – and leaders harness music, communications and sports to legitimize their programs and shape attitudes. Vladimir Putin has demonstrated “impressive ability to adapt and capture existing symbolic reservoirs” by understanding the “cultural habits and consumption patterns of ordinary citizens,” explains Marlene Laruelle, research professor with the Elliott School of International Affairs of George Washington University. She analyzes the history of a popular Russian rock band in Russia that launched shortly before the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union. Lyube’s music transformed over the years from militaristic, jail world and rebel themes to staunch patriotism. The group’s 61-year-old lead singer has since served as a cultural advisor to the Kremlin and successfully ran for legislative positions. Lyube enjoyed genuine commercial success even without the political ties. “This popular culture does not follow ‘the Kremlin’s orders/ in deciding what is meaningful,” Laruelle concludes. “On the contrary, the presidential administration tries to co-opt popular culture, capture some of its themes, to secure its cultural hegemony.” – YaleGlobal