The Man with Charisma: Can Pavel Durov Become a Political Leader

For the entrepreneur Durov, society is a tool to protect his own assets. He is solving a problem, not writing his own biography – he is not Khodorkovsky or even Navalny by his type.

Regardless of how the participants or presidential administration functionaries might assess the results of the rally in support of Telegram, the key point of this event is clear: Pavel Durov #3 was the first Russian businessman in recent years to independently pursue a non-systemic agenda in the public space. And since his own entrepreneurial agenda outside of corporate plots does not meet the Russian standard in principle, Durov is becoming a unique figure in Russian business, despite his geographical remoteness from it.

The second peculiarity of the wave raised is its focus on protecting a product that is commercial in its foundation, giving Telegram a heightened symbolic significance. This is also a unique experience for Russia, if we make some reservations about Yukos; but in the case of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, it was not so much about protecting the oil company as such, but rather about the figure of its owner and the rather abstract architecture of liberal values. In the case of Durov, the protest is closer to the product itself. And this suggests that Russian business has begun to create brands that are appropriated by the collective consciousness as markers of its identity, leading to segregation “for or against”, “with us or with them” and clear personalization – the idealized Durov, the demonized Zharov (in fact, they are just a tool in this game).

A logical question arises from these features: does the creator of Telegram have a serious chance of becoming the leader of the new social wave, using the crisis and aging of the former elites and the technological and social demands of the new generations. An almost unanimous prediction in a poll of at least ten media experts is that there are such chances, but Durov is unlikely to play this game. He has no personal motivation for it. “He has absolutely no need to return from the world ocean to the Russian aquarium, moreover, with poisoned water and ecosystem,” says one of the interviewed respondents. – And he, to all appearances, is not only a smart businessman, but also a narcissistic person, unless he has a childish Don Quixote complex.

His distance and latent narcissism do not make him a player on the internal Russian scene outside of specific business interests. As a new wave businessman he is not connected to the “old world” mentally and value-wise. Society can load him with elevated expectations, but this role is not his cup of tea. While previous generations of leaders still retain social recognition in the form of conditional self-value, or at least do not seek its rigid pragmatism, for the entrepreneur Durov the society is a tool to protect his assets, which he does not hide – and this honesty only adds to his points. He is solving a problem, not writing his own biography; in other words, he is not Khodorkovsky or even Navalny by type.

A characteristic situation arises: there is an initially high-quality texture, for which it is possible to project interesting political solutions, but the character himself is on a different plane. Durov has collected a number of image trump cards inherent in the new class of charismatics, but there is no desire to convert them into a long-term strategy (however, “long-term strategy” is also becoming an obsolete concept). The first is technological: no superfluous entities, a rational mind, while being ready to break away, to get into emotional resonance with the audience, to take risks, but one that is itself an element of calculation. It is perceived by its supporters through the ability to act within game theory, the modern quantum mechanics of society, which involves a high degree of uncertainty.

The second argument is the novelty of the individual himself in a situation of mental nausea from previous social figures. The third is the presence of an autonomous network resource, the ability to form a stable core of its adherents. Finally, the advantage in the minds of young people – youth and concrete performance, synthesized with globality – is a serious indicator of success.

Interestingly, the younger generations perceive Durov as more of a political figure than the older generation. For the 20-25 age group, he is already associated with a bid for leadership: the action with the airplanes is perceived here as a search for his own opportunities and the system’s pain points. In the words of a slightly exalted respondent, “there is no one who can explain to him that he is like Lenin in 1917. Durov’s foreign “residency” is perceived contradictorily here: on the one hand, it gives him more mobility, while on the other, as one of the participants in the expert survey put it, “we are all in the same boat, while he is standing at a comfortable distance.

But businessmen very rarely become effective politicians unless they outlive their previous role. It would seem that in the absence of ambition of the key actor, the political system can maintain a balance, ideally agreeing with Durov on understandable rules of the game and compromises. But there are risks involved. Even if the creator of Telegram does not stay in the opposition sector, he will create a prototype of digital leadership, which can be implemented by someone else. In other words, he is “selling” to society the situation itself. After that, the direction of the political transformation of the environment becomes clearer and, most importantly, possible. And digital technology will always throw up new solutions and new figures.

Of course, in the current image modulation, Durov will not have a stable and electoral base. Even for the protest strata, he does not fit into the ideal scenario; a man who throws wads of bills from a St. Petersburg balcony is unlikely to end up on a digitized armored car. However, for the “digital resistance” (a term that emerged during the resource blockades), the electorate is not an operational concept; support is based not on numbers, but on traffic. In the new political reality, the physical electorate is gradually shifting to the role of a statistician or hardcore for wave mutations. Of course, the most logical thing for a political system in such a situation is not to get carried away with excessive rigidity, to demonstrate the possibility of its own changes, reducing the tension between the poles. But this is the case where it is easy and pleasant to be a consultant, but almost impossible to be a driver of real transformation without radical consequences for yourself.

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