[Politics] Putin and The Arab Spring

Putin, Putinania, and the Question of a Post-Soviet Cult of Personality is a Journal written by Cassiday, Julia A. and Emily D. Johnson in 2010, exploring the current trend and the underlying reason of Russian President Putin’s cult of personality in contemporary Russia Society. Whereas in Kurt Weyland’s essay The Arab Spring: Why the Surprising Similarities with the Revolutionary Wave of 1848? published in Perspectives on Politics 2012, discusses the likeness of Arab Spring with the Revolutionary Wave in 1848. Both journals have in-depth research and the authors all provide sufficient reasoning to support their claims. This paper aimed to provide a critical analysis on these two pieces of research through compare and contrast.

With little real Putin-content in the overwhelming majority of Putin products, Cassiday and Johnson believed that Putin mania is inherently polysemantic, highly mobile and easily individualized. Foe example, on page 692, the authors argued, “not only does Putin seem to be a Russian everyman, but everyone also has the potential to become a Putin.” Their argument is broken into three parts: History, nostalgia, and consumption. They started by comparing the difference in cults of personality of the past Soviet leaders with that of Putin. Stalin’s image was carefully regulated and it appeared monolithic in structure and in tone. And as time passes, Soviet citizens have more freedom to comment on their leaders. Thus, Putin’s cult of personality is not a result of official coercion by the government and the citizens are allowed to have multiple interpretations regarding Putin. Therefore, the craze is not monolithic: one might incorporate heterogeneous material that deemed satiric. Lastly, there is a large part of creative agency for Putin than earlier Soviet leader cults due to the development of communication and technology. Moreover, Putin phenomenon constitutes part of a larger cultural trend of stylized expressions of nostalgia for the Soviet past since the Soviet Union’s demise. Russians use the familiar forms of the earlier Soviet leader cults to connect themselves back to the Soviet era. Cassiday and Johnson go on saying that the structure is borrowed from earlier personality cults and promotes the formation of individual identity and desire. The polysemy of Putiniana and its ability to articulate individual desire lead to the proliferation of Putin-associated consumer goods from posters, T-shirt, books to dramas.

In The Arab Spring: Why the Surprising Similarities with the Revolutionary Wave of 1848?, Weyland discussed a completely different concept in other parts of the world. Weyland first demonstrates how there are surprising similarities between Arab Sping in 2011 and the revolutions of 1848, specifically “the speed and breadth of horizontal diffusion” and “a low rate of successful advance toward political liberalism and democracy”. Thus, the author, in his essay, tries to disclose the underlying reason for such similarities in these two events although they occurred in different time and space. He starts by rejecting the three existing theories, such as common case theories, foreign influences, and promotion arguments about the transnational activists; then he reveals the loopholes in each theory. For instance, Weyland suggested that Marc Lynch’s perspective of the transformation of the public sphere and use of social media did explain the spread of the protests the but not the starting point. His main explanation for the uprising of Arab Spring is psychological factors: the public faultily overrated the similarities of their countries with Tunisia hence believed that democratization could be easily replicated, leaving risks and possibilities of failure behind. From a cognitive psychology standpoint, people rely more on a mental shortcut, namely availability heuristics, and representativeness heuristic, to interpret the world around them and thus made seemly “rational” decisions based on these mental shortcuts. More specifically, due to availability heuristics, people in the Arab world were all attracted to the storm in Tunisia. And because of representativeness heuristic, people assumed what happened in Tunisia could exactly happen in their home countries. And due to the developed technology and new media involved, information about the revolution in other countries spread at an incredible speed. The absence of numbers of more developed political parties and the weakly organized society also promotes this kind of shortcuts and leading people jumping into conclusions, ignoring the threats and danger involved.

Both of the research are qualitative and there is no surveys or quantitative data involved. Cassiday and Johnson employed numerous real-life examples to illustrate their point and they used other researchers’ points of view to support their claim. For example, when demonstrating how each individual has the ability to determine the denotation of the presidential brand, Kolesnikov’s book is represented. He is a journalist who has a strong focus on individuality linking to the president and named two of his book as I Saw Putin! and Putin Saw Me!. The paper even made a detailed comment on the illustration of the cover of the book: the relatively small figure of Putin with the large image of the author suggests that the two of them are closely related or ever act as a form of diminishment of Putin that would never appear in the Soviet period. Therefore, the authors provided a close and detailed account on the how the image of Putin is portrayed and received by the Russian society. On the other hand, rather than discussing only within the nation, Weyland in his paper expand and employ numerous examples around the world to accentuate his argument. For example, when discussing the effects of the social structure have on protests, Weyland indicates that in Europe where social democratic parties are more organized and experienced, their revolutions towards democracy, including Austria, Germany and Sweden has proved to be more effective than that of 1848 and 2011. This is indeed true because as one could observe from the documentary The Square, protests with a loose leadership and vague plan and goals achieve success much harder. However, regarding the structure and the composition of the paper, it is evident that Cassiday and Johnson have a clearer logic than Weyland, developing their argument through in a smoother way. Whereas for Weyland, he constantly repeats himself thus his writing seems more redundant.

Nevertheless, there are drawbacks of both of their papers. In both papers, attitudes and opinions could not be quantified and thus, the arguments become less compelling and reliable. Although Cassiday and Johnson’s paper is focused on the politics in Russia, the authors could also include other countries as a comparison and thus strengthen their argument or to demonstrate the casual or casual relationship of post-Communist compulsive cults of personality and the current situation. For example, it may be interested to compare Russia with China as both Stalin and Mao have delivered similar cults of personality, while in China, citizen’s perception of their current president Xi does not consist this kind of mania. On the other hand, the research is indeed based on the work of other scholars; but they neither include nor challenge any existing contra arguments that might exist and the frequency of relating to previous research is too high to see the original argument of the authors. This would simplify and eventually weaken their point of view. Therefore, their analysis cannot be regarded as conclusive. In contrast, Weyland thoroughly attacks each of the existing explanations regarding Arab Spring in the beginning of his paper and states his own perspective that is vastly different from others. In addition, while Cassiday and Johnson did a comprehensive approach in explaining the reason for the existence of Putin’s cult of personality, they failed to provide a larger implication on the significance of this kind of change in the Russian society. For instance, to what extent does Putin’s cult of personality have an impact on the government’s policies and decisions and its potential effect on the future of politics in Russia or worldwide. For Weyland’s account on Arab Spring, it is indeed true that the understanding of psychology would largely benefit scholars to infer how people make decisions in Arab Spring, however, the author also has similar problems. Weyland himself recognizes some limitation of his research. For example, he states that rigorous hypothesis testing and careful, thorough case studies are required to prove his point of view. Moreover, although Weyland in the beginning of his argument states how the revolutionary wave in 1848 is similar to Arab Spring, he failed to continue to illustrate later in his argument how representative and availability heuristics is transmitted around Europe in 1848.

In conclusion, both journals provide invaluable in-depth research in explaining Putin’s cult of personality and the uprising of the Arab Spring. There is certainly further research required and more data needed; still, Cassiday and Johnson give us a detailed account of how the cult of personality has changed for the leaders in Russia and Weyland employs a novel yet compelling way to explain the underlying reason for the uprising of Arab Spring through cognitive psychology. Overall, Weyland’s discussion on The Arab Spring seems more persuasive while Cassiday and Johnson’s account on Putin’s cult of Personality is better written and well-organized.



  1. Cassiday, Julia A. and Emily D. Johnson. 2010. “Putin, Putinania, and the Question of a Post-Soviet Cult of Personality.” The Slavonic and East European Review 88(4): 681–707.
  2. Weyland, Kurt. 2012. “The Arab Spring: Why the Surprising Similarities with the Revolutionary Wave of 1848?” Perspectives on Politics 10(4): 917–934.
Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Coco Wang’s story.