Russia after the World Cup: a new image, but also a new critical conscience
by Vladimir Rozanskij

For Putin the football championships have debunked many stereotypes, presenting "a welcoming country". For Vitalij Portnikov the "crimeana" phase is over and the internal division of Russia between liberals and patriots. But here and there appear criticisms of the "narcotic" use of the World Cup. The belligerant promises of Aleksandr Navalny.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - Russia is "a welcoming country, well disposed towards all those who visit it, affirmed President Putin with satisfaction as he welcomed soccer legends like Van Basten, Forlan, Rio Ferdinand and Peter Schmeichel to the Kremlin last July 6, observing that the world championships in progress have allowed many stereotypes about Russia to be debunked.

According to Putin, the so-called popular journalists who work in isolation through social networks contributed to the fall of the stereotypes. They would be the ones who spread a far more positive image of Russia than what is usually read in the official press around the world.

The Russian fans, for their part, ensured that the atmosphere of the world became a celebration of friendship, allowing guests to feel at home and allowing them to learn of the traditions and culture of Russia (especially , reports of colossal collective drinking). Not only that, but the Russians have managed "to put foreigners in contact with the customs of the different peoples of which this great country is composed", thanks to the fact that the matches have taken place in cities and regions that are so different throughout Russia.

Some authoritative observers, such as Vitalij Portnikov on the website, define the atmosphere that was established in Russia during this month as the overcoming of the "crimea phase" of national politics, meaning the excess of nationalism following the annexation of Crimea in 2014.

In fact, the common passion with which all the Russians followed the advancement  of the national team, until its elimination by Croatia on July 7, helped many forget the hatred and the polemics between the "liberals" and the "patriots" that had divided the country, and the same Russian families, over the last few years.

In reality, the first victories were followed by comments on social media that seemed to repropose the prejudices of those who did not intend to cheer for the "national Putin" and accusations of treason for a lack of national pride, but these were gradually overcome by a general enthusiasm.

Portnikov notes that even in Ukraine, following the 2012 European Championships, the country seemed to have overcome internal divisions only to see them resurface one year later; and many are wondering if the euphoria in Russia will  also give way to a phase of new awareness, and perhaps of new tensions.

So far, sporting achievements have served as a narcotic to calm popular protests against the new law on pensions, or the ongoing polemics about the corruption of the powerful and the oppression of civil liberties. Perhaps the "overcoming of stereotypes" claimed by Putin will finally turn out to be an awakening from torpor, after 20 years of undisputed power.

Two examples: yesterday, July 9, in Samara, one of the cities of the "World cup" matches, an unauthorized demonstration against raising of the retirement age took place. A small group, only a few dozen people, rallied under the leadership of a local activist of the Russian Communist Party, with the significant name of Damir Stalin, founder of the anti-government movement "Civil Initiative". The brave few who took to the streets, according to the leader of the group, wanted to denounce the abuses of the authorities: "During the football championships they frightened people" - said Stalin - "threatening to send all the agitators to forced labor, or fine them with millions of rubles. We want to help people overcome their fear ". Even the main "public" opponent, Aleksandr Naval'nyj, while uniting with praise for the national team, expressed belligerent intentions against the regime.