People in power can become obsessed with their most ardent critics. Despite themselves, they start to wonder why it is that this one misguided person cannot see what everyone else does, that they are brave and strong, that they are ideal leaders of men?
Every era in history has cast this narcissistic play. With each new leader comes a new critic, and with each new criticism comes another outraged howl over the unfairness of his or her barbs.
Last month President Vladimir Putin’s staunchest critic Boris Nemtsov was shot to death on a cold, dark street near the Kremlin. He was a very brave and very serious man, and his silence was only achieved by the most cowardly act.
Critics of the Russian justice system have already written that if the state had a role in this assassination, the authorities there will ensure it will never see the light of day. Targeted hits there almost are almost never brought to justice, they say.
I bring this up because in the North, we grew wearily familiar with equally targeted murders that were planned to intimidate and silence a community and nation. We also learned how pointless they would turn out to be.
It remains to be seen who pulled the trigger in the Nemtsov case, but the motives are as long as your arm. Circumstantial evidence is chilling.
A nearby security camera caught some low-resolution footage of the lead up, but at the exact moment of the murder a huge snow plough pulls into view, blocking the camera lens. It was odd because there was no snow on the streets on the night Nemtsov was shot.
Last week before the shooting, CNN broadcast an instructive interview with the motorcycle gang the Night Wolves. Their president is Alexander Zaldostanov, ominously nicknamed “the surgeon.” Zaldostanov looks a lot like Sylvester Stallone in a Rambo movie, but unlike Stallone, he isn’t acting.
He told CNN that his admiration for Putin is religious. “I believe that Vladimir Putin is a gift from God to us,” he says. “After so many years, we have a president we’re not ashamed of. So I certainly believe we need to help him and give him our shoulder.”
Giving Putin his shoulder means that a branch of the Night Wolves did some rough work in the Ukraine, aiding Russian separatists by setting up checkpoints and helping to set the scene for the invasion.
All of this strange devotion should fascinate us. After all, Putin is now one of the richest men in the world as the Russian economy is seriously squeezed by sanctions. The Russian unemployment rate is soaring and the currency drops like a stone.
Wouldn’t you think given that they’d take a second look at him? But, in fact, they look at us.
It’s all a plot by the West to humiliate Russia and its strong leader, the Russian people are told, and many of them accept it. Nemtsov, who was the architect of the Russian embrace of capitalism, did not accept it, and his voice has now been silenced.
We already know that every generation throws up another charismatic leader and an army of true believers who will fight and die to protect him (it’s usually a man). And it’s amazing that we shrug and simply accept this considering the lessons of history, time after time.
Critics claim Putin has 20 palatial residences, 43 jets and four state of the art yachts. They estimate the maintenance of his residences, jets and cars alone costs $2.5 billion a year. He is often seen wearing a series of handmade wristwatches worth about $700,000 -- about six times his official salary.
But where does all the power and money, the palaces, the cars, the boats, the planes, the bling lead in the end? History has an answer for that.
You can’t outrun consequences and you can’t outrun time. Time sits paring its nails as you build your empire.
Men have taken thrones in the hope of securing their legacy and immortalizing their name. Many other men have lent their shoulders to aid them on their way.
But as we learned in the North, the road is only leading in one direction, and even the most distinguished name will be one more among all the headstones in the end.