The passionate new style of the new regime

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Gleb Pavlovsky, head of the Effective Policy Foundation, has reported the launch of a new attack from opponents of Putin’s reforms on the president’s policies. He published this on his website, at Strana.ru.

This time, the “old and disintegrated team of Berezovsky and Gusinsky” has been ousted by a new team led by regional leaders, such as Gennady Igumnov, Mikhail Prusak, and the “more cautious” Konstantin Titov.

The essence of the new opposition’s strategy is that they do not reject the presidential program altogether, unlike the previous opposition. On the contrary, they announce, “The first stage of the reforms has been successful, but now it is time to move further. Now you should dissolve your old team, destroy Unity with your own hands, and then revise the Constitution.” In the opinion of Pavlovsky, the current opposition is not capable of an open attack and is prone to undercover intrigues. The immediate targets of the new opposition are the Unity leader Sergei Shoigu and Presidential Administration Director Alexander Voloshin.

Gleb Pavlovsky is not sure about who supports the new opposition, but he is sure that this opposition is funded by some lobbyists.

This article elicited a great deal of media indignation, since Pavlovsky has accused the media of promoting the conspiracy.

Editor-in-Chief of Nezavisimaya Gazeta Vitaly Tretyakov tells the Kremlin ideologist that “Russia is suffering from the complete absence of an opposition today.” Tretyakov considered it necessary to explain in detail why no opposition can exist in modern Russia. He has proposed four reasons for this fact. First, there is no mass dissatisfaction with the current regime: Putin’s ratings are still high. As the magazine Novoe Vremya states, referring to the Regional Political Research Agency, 20% of Russians have confidence in Putin. This is a very high rating, considering that only 5% have confidence in the media, 7% in the Church, 4% in the Cabinet, and 3% in political parties or law enforcement agencies. Only 1-2% of people said they trust local governments, the Duma, or the Federation Council.

The second reason why an opposition cannot exist is the lack of strong political parties. The only strong party in Russia is the Communist Party (CPRF), but it can hardly be called Putin’s opposition. Tretyakov considers that there are no other strong parties, since “Fatherland-All Russia have has lost its importance, Unity is losing it, and Yabloko is experiencing an ideological crisis, since its two main targets, Yeltsin and the CPRF, have been ousted from the political arena.” As for the Union of Right Forces, Tretyakov thinks that it cannot oppose the president, since its leaders Chubais and Kirienko are state officials; and calling the Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR) an opposition party would be just too ridiculous.

The third reason for the disappearance of the opposition is the situation in regional and Moscow elites. Opposition from regional leaders is out of the question, since their ambitions were recently curbed by the formation of the State Council. Opposition from tycoons is also ruled out, since, as Tretyakov says, “their time is over and forgotten.”

However, opinion polls done by the VP-T agency, recently published in Nezavisimaya Gazeta, show that tycoons still have some influence. This is because the government has kept its old rules of the game, or does not want to change them radically.

The fourth reason for the absence of an opposition is absence of an alternative ideology. The editor-in-chief of Nezavisimaya Gazeta said in this connection, “Putin has absorbed all opposition ideas like a vacuum-cleaner, and those he has not absorbed were discredited back in Yeltsin’s time.”

The only thing that pleases Tretyakov is the fact that the current lack of an opposition “is caused by the government’s sensible actions, and no one wants to set up any opposition artificially.”

Oddly enough, Moskovsky Komsomolets is of the same opinion about the opposition in modern Russia as Nezavisimaya Gazeta, although these two periodicals have always been opponents. Moskovsky Komsomolets asks, “Where has the opposition gone? Why do the Communists and the right keep silent? Why has Yabloko stopped criticizing the government? Even the newspaper Zavtra doesn’t say a word against Putin, and only dares criticize his economic advisers.”

Moskovsky Komsomolets thinks the Communists have a right to claim to be the systemic opposition. The CPRF still considers the current regime “coming into conflict with people’s interests.” However, the government tries to maintain conflict with its left opposition, since otherwise it may become “a certain political sect with inadequate reactions.” The Communists appreciate the Kremlin’s new attitude toward them. Chairman of the CPRF Ideological Commission Alexander Kravets has noted that “Yeltsin’s primordial anti-communism has been replaced by Putin’s liberal anti-communism.” The government is displaying its readiness for a dialogue with the Communists, and the Communists reciprocate its feelings, being polite people. Kravets has announced in this connection, “Unfortunately, many people believe that the Communists have conformed to the government’s policy.” Therefore, the left has to announce its opposition from time to time.

As for Yabloko, it also appreciates its new relations with the government. According to Moskovsky Komsomolets, “Yavlinsky’s supporters not only want to say the right things, but also to do them. Now that the president does not reject Yabloko’s proposals, it would be imprudent not to take advantage of this situation. The newspaper says that “this is good progress for Yabloko, compared to its usual state of chronic ostracism.” Yabloko’s constant criticism of the government has begun to irritate people, and besides, it is generally believed now that Russia no longer needs any opposition. “People are tired of political scandals after a decade of bustling political activity under Yeltsin. People are glad to have Putin, since he does not drink, nor does he talk nonsense, and people do not feel ashamed when he meets with foreign guests.”

Meanwhile, the “exiled tycoon” Boris Berezovsky has made another attempt to set up a “constructive opposition.”

The famous human rights advocate Yelena Bonner has told the media that Berezovsky has donated $3 million for maintenance of the Andrei Sakharov Museum. The newspaper Kommersant says that “Bonner was aware of the fact that Berezovsky would want something in exchange.” Indeed, the tycoon asked the authorities of the Sakharov Foundation “only” for a press conference. Yelena Bonner said later that she had responded to Berezovsky as follows, “This will happen only after the money appears in our bank account!”

Everything was fine in the end: the foundation received $3 million and Berezovsky got a press conference by human rights advocates.

The newspaper Izvestia bitterly commented on this event, “We have seen once again that the very idea of a political opposition has been discredited.”

Of course, Berezovsky couldn’t have done such a deal with Andrei Sakharov himself, but he easily managed to do it with the foundation named after him. Although the foundation will not have to work for this bounty, Berezovsky will get all the political dividends himself, without any other forces.

The tycoon’s bargaining with the government involving his fight for public opinion support, is underway. Alexander Arkhangelsky, an Izvestia correspondent, says it’s not at all normal for Yelena Bonner, having taken Berezovsky’s money and fulfilled his conditions, to convened a press conference “to announce her independence from the donor and lecture him on good manners. The old intelligentsia is showing it lags behind the general situation in the world.”

Thus, Berezovsky is trying to use the intelligentsia as a buffer able to prevent the government’s strike against his business interests.

Maxim Sokolov writes in the magazine Ogonyok that the time of the “great and terrible tycoons conducting large-scale media wars and setting the tone in Russian politics” is over and done. He also notes that oddly enough, their withdrawal from the political arena has not caused a sensation.

Maxim Sokolov considers that the banality of this event can be explained by some traits of the political style of the new government. Tycoons used to be “geniuses at various maneuvers and fitted Yeltsin’s strategy of checks and balances. However, the journalists notes that only a few great chess players have been great strategists. From the point of view of long-term strategy, the so-called “playing refrigerator style” proves to be more effective. The essence of this style is that first you should paralyze the enemy’s initiative and then sequentially defeat him. “Chess matches in this style work like a boa constrictor. They cannot compete with the masterpieces of Paul Murphy or Mikhail Tal from the aesthetic point of view, but they are much more effective. The brilliant players Berezovsky and Gusinsky have confronted Putin with the refrigerator gambit, which predetermined the outcome of the match.”

All oligarchs’ threats to discredit the government have failed. Most likely, tycoons do have some compromising materials against members of the current government, but there is no public demand for it. Sokolov stresses, “If there a public demand for compromising materials on the government, any gibberish may work. And if there is no public demand, even large newspaper articles with photos of compromising documents do not work.” Sokolov writes that the style of such materials, involving a lot of figures and accounts, is no longer interesting for ordinary people. “As for specialists, they know a lot of curious facts even without Minkin and Khinshtein.” Therefore, Sokolov considers that it is impossible to harm the current government with financial disclosures: “Tycoons overused them in the era of media wars.”

In that era, tycoons used much more heartrending materials. “All the progressive media used to hint in a most unambiguous way that in autumn 1999, apartment blocks in Moscow, Buinaksk, and Volgodonsk were bombed on Putin’s orders. What can be worse that the callous murder of hundreds of peacefully sleeping citizens?” However, even this topic does not impress the public any longer.

Of course, new political thrillers are not ruled out in Russia. However, if they take place, they will have other participants. Maxim Sokolov’s article is called “Soundless Departure.”

The weekly Vek has published an interview with Professor Oksana Gaman-Golutvina of the Russian Presidential State Service Academy. The subject of her research is the Russian political elite. Gaman-Golutvina considers that since modernization in Russia has always been accompanied by great pressure on the elite (let alone ordinary people), it is not noted for loyalty to the government. She says that Putin may count on the support of only a small part of the political elite. Society’s attitude toward Putin’s policy is not unanimous. For instance, one influential tycoon said, “I wouldn’t give a coin to the great state.” Meanwhile, as Professor Tatiana Zaslavskaya points out, about 1.5% of the population owns 50% of all assets. It is these people who assert that they will not spend a single coin on the “great state.”

Gaman-Golutvina says, “Russian people have been asked for too long what they could give to the motherland. Now they have started to wonder what the motherland can give them. New appeals to tighten their belts will not work any longer. Only a policy that takes individual interests into account will work.” However, people do not see eye to eye with each other either. “Some people believe that building a great state may open up new resources for economic prosperity. Others may view such slogans as an appeal to share their money.” Hwever, as the weekly Vek stresses, a politician’s personality is revealed in the process of handling such difficult problems. Izvestia states that the government does not pay much attention to the strategy of national development as long as there is a fight between two government teams: remnants of Yeltsin’s team and the “St. Petersburg state security officers” brought to the Kremlin and the Russian White House by Vladimir Putin. The former insist on keeping to the current line of gradual changes, whereas the latter are supporters of radical reforms in national development strategy and in principles of organization of the government.

However, Izvestia believes that the president has to make a definite choice, since perpetual suspense gradually ruins the political situation. Izvestia asserts that the president now seems to be trying to make this choice. This will be the end of the suspense and a new stage in Russian politics.

Meanwhile, Semyon Novoprudsky, a Vedomosti correspondent, says that neither a one-party system nor a multi-party system has been formed in Russia. Partly, this is because the first president of the Russian Federation did not want to depend on any party – and the second president wants to be supported by “the entire people.” Novoprudsky considers this position to be wrong, since “the entire people” is just an empty phrase in Russia. According to the journalist, Russians have steadily divided into communists and capitalists. The president has been successfully balancing between these two groups so far without disclosing his ideological preferences. However, Novoprudsky asserts that Putin will have to determine his position and announce his preference; otherwise he will not be able to restore Russia’s “greatness.”

Meanwhile, the CPRF pretended to be “the recalcitrant opposition of the current government” at its recent seventh congress. Therefore, as Novoprudsky notes, it is time for the government to made it clear that it is the government that opposes the Communists. Novoprudsky stressed that although it is pleasant to be loved by everyone, it is harmful for the government to be loved by the Communists. According to Novoprudsky, “It is necessary to make it clear to the CPRF that its place is on the margins of the political system.”

However, the government is not at all ready to oust the Communists from the political arena. According to Vedomosti, the opposition views the Kremlin’s intention to restore the Soviet national anthem as its victory. Of course, most people will make fun of Sergei Mikhalkov’s new lyrics, but this is of no importance: “If the Duma adopts the music, the Communists will sing the old lyrics anyway.”

Kommersant notes that Russia will enter the 21st century with the Byzantine double-headed eagle, Peter the Great’s tricolor flag, and Stalin’s national anthem. However, the newspaper says sarcastically that this curious trio symbolizes Russia’s essence, since modern Russia is “an intricate combination of Byzantine politics, Peter’s ambitions, and the public consciousness that has not changed much since the Stalin years.”

Leonid Radzikhovsky, a Segodnya journalist, agrees with this statement in general. He considers that Alexandrov’s music for the national anthem, on which the president insists, is not necessarily a Communist symbol. “This music is well suited to the double-headed eagle, since it is a national anthem for an empire.” Thus, this national anthem should appeal to all supporters of strengthening the state, including liberals.

Izvestia reports that according to opinion polls, 49% of respondents support bringing back the old Soviet national anthem, 15% support Glinka’s “Patriotic Song,” and almost 15% like the song “Vast is my Motherland.” Thus, Vladimir Putin’s opinion practically coincides with popular opinion. However, as Andrei Kolesnikov, the author of the article, notes, the age of poll respondents was not recorded. Supporters of the Soviet symbols are mostly people over 50, who support the Communist ideology. However, Russia will have this national anthem for many years, and it is probably worth taking the opinions of younger people into account.

In Andrei Kolesnikov’s opinion, “A remake of the old national anthem means that the government has recognized its ideological defeat. Alexandrov’s music is a symbol of a ruined empire, and nostalgia should not be the foundation for state ideology.”

Izvestia also published the opinions of some prominent figures. The writer Vladimir Voinovich said, “If Alexandrov’s music is adopted as the new national anthem, this will be a great insult to the souls of many people.” The famous actor Lev Durov was not so radical: “I think it is necessary to keep Glinka’s music. Alexandrov’s national anthem was not bad, but it was a symbol of a past era, which cannot be revived.” Besides, Durov notes that it not quite the time to argue about state symbols now. “This situation resemble the post-war period, when in a starving nation the powers-that-be were pondering over whether it was necessary to perfect Russian orthography.”

The newspaper also quotes some opinions of young people, journalism undergraduates from Moscow State University. Most of them approve of Glinka’s music – or “God Save the Tsar,” the national anthem of pre-revolutionary Russia – but they say the lyrics should be different.

Thus, the “topic of the year,” as Izvestia calls the issue of the national anthem, is unlikely to be settled by the end of the year. This issue will not be resolved even if Putin appears on TV with his New Year’s Eve address, to the tune of the old Soviet national anthem which sounds so sweet to many Russian citizens.

/Translated by Kirill Frolov/

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