Plots of the week: Strana.ru and the information security doctrine, threats to freedom of speech and Yeltsin"s heritage, Communists and Solzhenitsyn.

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Gleb Pavlovsky”s new Internet project Strana.ru was one of the events which had the most public resonance in recent days. As Pavlovsky, head of the Effective Policy Foundation, stated, the new online publication should become “the leading voice of the official leadership on the Net”.

The newspaper “Kommersant” informed its readers that, for the moment, three editorial branches of Strana.ru have been created: the central, federal, and foreign ones. In the future they are planned to be united in a single holding representing the interests of the state administration. The site is supposed to represent the state-owned media of Russia”s 89 regions, whose news will be immediately published on the site. If this happens, “Kommersant” pointed out, Strana.ru may become very boring.

“Vedomosti” has counted 25 online projects by Pavlovsky since 1997, but Strana.ru may be considered “the main project of his career.” Following the launch of the site, Pavlovsky even expressed a kind information doctrine of his own. In his opinion, viewers deprived of any access to objective information “fill in the void with suspicions and myths supplied for them…” This is why the inevitable information revolution, Pavlovsky states, can begin only on the Internet – where owners of traditional media have had no time yet to establish their vicious “political information regime”. Strana.ru is not supposed to “teach the nation and its leadership” as the existing media do, pursuing the interests of their owners; but simply inform people of facts. “A clear expression of the goal is already half the battle,” “Vedomosti” writes. “The only thing left is to publish a report on the means.” There has been no such report, for the moment: no matter how many times journalists asked Pavlovsky about this, he did not confess who financed such a large-scale project with a staff of 60 journalists. “Kommersant” states that the money was received “not from Western funds, nor in the form of grants or budget money”, but from Rosmediacom which was mentioned as the main backer of Strana.ru. However, “Vedomosti” holds that the source of finance for Pavlovsky”s new site is still unclear: “Since we are being assured that Pavlovsky did not receive money from the state budget, we would like to confirm that the project will be free of PR interests pursued by its sponsors.” (All the more so since the Effective Policy Foundation, as we know, previously specialized in PR – the newspaper reminds the reader of “explosive election sites” against Luzhkov and Primakov). Pavlovsky”s problem, in the opinion of “Vedomosti”, is the fact that “he is not playing an open game. This is why he does not seem to be trustworthy, but discredits true theories about “myth-makers””.

The magazine “Novoye Vremya” raises the curtain on Pavlovsky”s mystery in passing, in an article devoted to secret clauses in the draft 2001 budget which concern “information confrontation”. For these purposes, “Novoye Vremya” points out, over 200 million rubles is allocated. This is quite a sum, even in comparison with the entire 6 billion rubles earmarked by the state to support media: “At any rate, 50 million rubles less is intended for financing regional and town newspapers across the country.” Despite explanations by the Media Ministry that these funds are intended for defense against subversive information activity – which is carried out, for instance, by Movladi Udugov”s Chechen separatist website – another theory has become very popular among journalists. According to it, the major part of these funds is intended for Mr. Pavlovsky for development of “influential media” on the Internet under his aegis. In particular, the project Strana.ru, according to the information of “Novoye Vremya”, is estimated at 150 billion rubles.

In another article fully devoted to Pavlovsky as the Kremlin “power behind the throne”, “Novoye Vremya” compares our times to those of Louis XIII. The king of France “seriously considered the opinion of the head of his administration”, Cardinal Richelieu – who, in turn, listened to the opinion of his confessor, Father Joseph (who actually was the first to be named a “power behind the throne”, or “eminence grise”). Returning to Russia, in translation to the modern official language, “Novoye Vremya” explains, the position of Father Joseph must be called “adviser to the head of the presidential administration”. Having occupied this post, Pavlovsky, the magazine writes, has replaced Boris Berezovsky who actively advised the head of the presidential administration over five years. “No wonder that both of them indulge in critical analysis of each other”s activity.”

From the point of view of “Novoye Vremya”, Pavlovsky and Berezovsky are worthy of each other, in some sense. In any case, as the magazine maintains, Pavlovsky is no less archaic than the oligarch (this is how Mr. Pavlovsky once described Mr. Berezovsky). In the opinion of “Novoye Vremya”, former dissident and now a well-known political analyst, Pavlovsky is “an intellectual whose conscience has been maimed by Brezhnev”s stagnation”. It is full of myths and complexes of the era when “the regime was omnipotent and impotent at the same time, public apathy seemed to be permanent, and words and reality existed as parallel lines which never met”. This is where Pavlovsky”s belief in omnipotence of the regime has sprung from, along with his belief in a special power of words whispered to these leaders by an intellectual adviser. In this model, there is room for the regime, for clever advisers to this regime, for media manipulating the electorate, and for the electorate itself. “There is only no room for policy as a game of social powers acting without the permission of the regime.” As “Novoye Vremya” holds, events in Russia today do correspond to this model, which may not be so bad, especially considering that Pavlovsky”s advice on the whole is directed toward modernization of the state. However, the magazine warns, modernization carried out under hypnosis may be easily forgotten once society is awake. “What is more sad than the appearances of state-builders at a loss over the events shaped by them?”

The newspaper “Vesrty” is even more definitive when speaking about Pavlovsky. An article by Prof. Boris Gershunsky is entitled “Prophet” and is actually a commentary on Pavlovsky”s words concerning the current political situation, interrelations between oligarchs and the regime, attempts by the regime to “remove the sting” from sinister non-state media, etc. Pavlovsky”s “interpretations” predicting Russia”s entering a new stage of revolutionary upheavals, the newspaper holds, in fact provoke these upheavals.

For instance, let us take the well-known reasoning by Pavlovsky about the “shadow state”, or “State-2” whose potential is proclaimed to be more powerful than the opportunities of the federal authorities. “Private guard armies, storming security services, gubernatorial and corporate structures, organized journalist groups are am organized high-tech political environment… In a critical situation, State-2 has good chances of capturing state power.” If the federal leadership fails to dismantle this shadow state within the next few months, “in 2001, Russia may receive another president.”

“Versty” writes on this issue: “This is how a mass psychosis is developed which is a necessary prerequisite for despotism.” In the opinion of the newspaper, in the basis of all Pavlovsky”s reasoning lie “some subjective notions of the author which are obviously inadequate to reality”. Still, they may well provoke many unpleasant events well-known in Russia – such as a search for enemies, at home or abroad – for the so-called consolidation of the leadership and society.” A traditional Russian pastime – witch-hunting – will begin which means suppression of dissent, freedom of speech, other human rights and freedoms. “An ideological vacuum will soon be filled with calls for order at any price.”

Alexei Simonov, head of the Glasnost Protection Foundation, expresses an opinion in the weekly “Versia” that there two concepts of information security. One of them is of Soviet pattern “when you know nothing and feel protected by thwis cocoon of information security”. The other one is when a person is well-informed and possesses the freedom of decision-making. This variant involves “maximal reduction of the information stream to clearcut state banks”. Simonov holds that this is the strategy of the current authorities: “Putin wants people to calm down unaware of all state troubles. He wants news to be pleasant.” Putin, Simonov writes, “is guided by an instinct of an employee of security services which packed us all in a cocoon off unawareness: pacify people, let them be content,” – content with what they have. However, the chair of the Foundation to Protect Publicity continues, a question arises, for that matter: “How does he intend to implement reforms which cannot be implemented without this feedback?”

In order to asses people”s view of the possibility of radical reforms, the weekly “Vek” analyses the results of an opinion poll done by the Russian Independent Institute of Social and Ethnic Problems. It turned out that 62.6% of respondents positively assess the possibility of administrative extraction of “unjustly acquired fortunes” from the “new Russians”. Still, in the opinion of “Vek””s experts, this information in no way proves that society is expecting radicalism from authorities. On the contrary, “Vek” remarks, in recent years society has gradually adjusted itself to new living conditions: “It does not consider the established order of life good, but takes it for granted”. People have learned to live in new conditions, wish their gradual improvement, and think negative of a possibility of radical changes.

According to the same poll results, 91% of respondents against transition to paid health care, 84% are against full payment for public utilities… “For society, implementation of these measures will mean a new revolution and it does not want any revolutions.”

It turned out that people expect from authorities something contrary to what it intends to give them. In such conditions, popular reasoning about a “social contract” makes no sense at all (this means some kind of agreement concluded by the leadership and society “in regards to the country”s prospective development and the policy which the leadership intends to pursue”). Without public support, the leadership is left without an opportunity to implement the chosen course of liberal social and economic reforms. And society, deceived in its expectations and having lost trust in the authorities, may opt for a tough and aggressive line of behavior. If in early “90s, “Vek” writes, it was enough for Yeltsin to promise people “bright market future” to receive mass support, today society will not agree to blindly follow the leadership.

Poll results demonstrate” citizens will not support unpopular measures in social policies. They hold that restriction of demands is fair not in regards to poor and middle strata of society, but to the rich and “bosses” (37% of respondents openly stated that they consider tax evasion acceptable, 14% believe that this sin is worth condescension; 56% approve resistance to police, 46% do not condemn evasion of army service, 25.4% are ready to give or take bribes). In such conditions, “Vek” writes, the authorities “can hardly count on a united public uprush in the name of high goals.”

At the same time, attempts to consolidate society, also by means of creating a new party of power, as the press maintains, have failed. The notorious Unity, as the weekly “Moskovskye Novosti” put it, “is cheerfully following the steps of Our Home Is Russia and other predecessors.” Something has gone wrong in the “voting machine” which role has been intended for Unity from the very beginning. Only recently absolute obedience and discipline within the party were a cause for many Duma funny stories. However, time passes and gradually Unity deputies, as all other people”s chosen ones, spend more time and energy on their own lobbying projects or on their careers, instead of protection of interests of those who helped them get into the Duma. It is also important that Unity has the lowest indicator of inter-factional interaction – 28.6% (for example, for Regions of Russia it is 85.7%). Experts of “Moskovskye Novosti” hold that this testifies to absolute isolation of the faction within the Duma and even call the Unity faction marginal: it often is left in minority, its suggestions are not supported, etc. these are bad news for the government at the moment when the budget is being discussed.

It is not ruled out that here lies the answer to the question posed by the newspaper “Vremya Novostei” in one of its articles: “Why does Putin need Communists?” The newspaper informs the reader about a meeting between Putin and Gennady Zyuganov which lasted for over four hours and also cites the opinions of experts in regards to this meeting. Yevgeny Suchkov (Institute of Election Technologies) was the most straightforward: “Putin may have got disappointed in Unity as a basis for maintaining state power as a whole. I do not rule out that contacts with the left are an indirect sign that Unity does not cope with its tasks.”

Iosif Diskin from the Institute of Social and Economic Problems draws the readers” attention to the fact that the number of Putin”s supporters in the People”s Patriotic Union has been growing: “This is why it was only logical to meet with them”. All the more so since the PPU leadership has changed its tone and rhetoric in regards to the president”s policy: “If in April and May Zyuganov stated that he is in tough opposition to the state leadership, now we observe a kind of complimentary tone on the part of the left, although they are relatively cautious”. The country, in Diskin”s opinion, needs a national compromise, the only question is whether the president is ready “to move from the his election platform”.

Pavlovsky, already mentioned many times today, stated that since the PPU is a significant part of the country”s political spectrum – “constitutional spectrum, I should stress” – the situation where the president ignored “such organizations” has gone into past. (“It is now the task of president”s supporters to ignore the opinion of opposition,” this is how the head of the project Strana.ru Marina Litvinovich formulated one of the tasks of the project in an interview to the newspaper “Kommersant”). Today the president, as Pavlovsky, confessed, “has enough to discuss with the left”: this is the budget, first and foremost, but also implementation of the military reform and some aspects of the information reform: “In this case the question must be formulated in the following way: why was the left-wing part of the spectrum forced away from communications, including electronic ones. I think this issue also must be reconsidered.”

The newspaper “Segodnya” reports about “the beginning of playing a new personnel patience”. This concerns the predicted change of the head of the Cabinet. To the names of the two previous contenders for this post (Kudrin and Ivanov), another two have been added: Seleznev and Maskyukov, both Communists. “An attempt of creating some kind of coalition government is underway”. As the newspaper states, prime minister Seleznev-Maslyukov may turn out to be more attractive for the presidential administration than head of the Security Council Sergei Ivanov: “from a political standpoint, this “Putin the Second” is not necessary for the government.” On the other hand, it cannot be ruled out either that this tricky personnel step may turn the government into an “economically helpless monster”, all the more so since at present the lineup of the governmental economic bloc is described as “reformatory”.

Radical communists have their own view of cooperation with the leadership. Alexander Prokhanov, editor-in-chief of the newspaper “Zavtra”, holds that there is an invincible contradiction in Putin”s philosophy: “He is a supporter of Russia”s statehood and a Western-like liberal, a traditionalist patriot and a radical market supporter, a security service officer and Sobchak”s aide, enemy of the anti-Russian NTV and friend of Abramovich, etc.” The communists are sure that the experience of the past when people believed the words of the leadership and followed it on the path to the “bright tomorrow” is no longer viable and must be rejected.

The magazine “Expert” holds that although the Doctrine of the Information Security is a “weak and obscure document”, the state “poses no threat to free development of media from the political standpoint”. In any case, if interests of the Russian middle class are considered. As “Expert” states, citizens observing recent conflicts on the media market have fallen victim to a well-organized fraud – “identification of immunity of freedom of speech and the right of citizens to obtain information with the business immunity of media convenient for media tycoons”. The so-called “social broadcasting package” (this is how the part of airtime for information broadcasts and broadcasts “to certain extent serving real political and cultural processes” is called among television journalists) account for only 10-20% of the airtime. The largest media projects, for the most part, are “linked with advertising and PR, lobbying techniques, entertainment industry infrastructure, etc.” This is why when proclaiming a threat to freedom of speech in case of default of this or that medium, their owners are not fair: the state must protect and support, in the opinion of “Expert”, “not channels and magazines, but a correspondent as a person and the infrastructure of news dissemination.” As long as there is no prohibition for professions, bankruptcy of any media business does not threaten freedom of information dissemination.

As for a scandal around NTV and other media of the Media Most holding, the problem, from the point of view of “Expert”, is that holding have an inadequate notion of the interests of their viewers. NTV, “Expert” writes, “tried to position itself as a television for the middle class, seeing Yabloko electorate as its focus audience.” Research conducted by the magazine has shown that the Russian middle class is much more interested in such problems as “ecology, taxes, education, unemployment” than in “big-time politics, sexual minorities, relations between the Orthodox church and Muslims, the Jewish question.” Media Most failed to impress the middle class with its ideological direction. This part of society also did not choose its channels and publications as adequate to its position: “Consequently, the holding”s media business was stalemated due to the fact that freedom of speech exists and works well as a market factor.”

After a meeting between Putin and Gorbachev, “the conflict between the leadership and Media Most has been finished,” the newspaper “Vremya MN” holds. The further development will be not of political, but of legal character which will make Gusinsky incur great losses. “The president will be above the fighting.” Still, the newspaper holds that all Putin”s latest meetings – not only with representatives of the “irreconcilable and constructive opposition”, but also with the “patriarch of the Russian literature”, Alexander Solzhnitsyn, whose patriotic views are very well known – are aimed at demonstrating that the current head of state ” is not tied by obligations to its predecessor and, consequently, is quite independent.”

The issue of Putin”s aspiration to independence from the “Family” and even to revision of Yeltsin”s “heritage” has been long discussed by the press. “There are elementary political and psychological strategies possessing a surprising power,” “Obshchaya Gazeta” writes. They include, in particular, “the strategy to blame the predecessor of all mortal sins and maximal smearing of his rule.” Putin is following this rule: “Yeltsin”s irresponsibility, disorder, and, no matter how funny it may sound in regards to Yeltsin, liberalism are opposed with the cult of state, tough stance, effectiveness.” It is also important that some points are not condemned: “The market reform as it is is not condemned, the authoritarianism covered by a market facade, liquidation of power division, pseudo-elections and pseudo-referendums are not condemned either.” Under Putin, authoritarianism becomes a social norm. “Obshchaya Gazeta” also points out that under Yeltsin corruption was widespread, but ministers and prosecutors acted as private persons. At present, officials violate laws not to their own advantage, but “for the sake of state interests”. Thus, the state functions not as an organism penetrated by various mafias, but as the largest mafia which wishes to destroy minor ones and “establish order”. The “mafia chaos” of Yeltsin”s times is overcome by “mafia discipline” of the new era.

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