RUSSIA IN THE 21ST CENTURY: A DECADE OF REFORMS, AND 150 YEARS SINCE THE ABOLITION OF SERFDOM

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There is hardly a publication in Russia that missed a chance to declare its standpoint on the results of the first decade of reforms in Russia, entering the new century as a different state, and the surprises of the post-reform era. At a first glance, all these issues are far from being the hot topic of the day. And analysts make efforts to have the public look at itself in “the mirror on the road” – undoubtedly, the media is to play the role of the mirror. Has the transition period ended in Russia? Observers have different opinions on this issue. Director of the Political Situation Center Valery Fedorov stated in the “Nezavisimaya Gazeta” paper that at present, Russia is living in a typical post-reform times, characterised by “being tired of upheavals, avoiding extreme ideology – both neo-liberalism and communism, and looking for a trustworthy politician to believe in.” According to Valery Fedorov, Vladimir Putin became the leader of this “tired generation”.

Director of the Political Situation Center is convinced that although the Russian president is a real state-oriented politician, the majority of people who support him are oriented on social-democratic values. Fedorov asks, “What do people consider to be the greatest achievement of Vladimir Putin’s? Active social policy, care of pensioners and budget-sector employees.” It is his attention to the needs of ordinary Russians that makes the president so popular.

Besides, today’s popularity of social-democratic ideas in Europe is likely to make it easier to Russia – in case it makes this way as a final choice – to integrate into the European community. At the same time, currently the people oriented on neo-conservatism in the manner of the present US government have very strong positions in the Russian elite. According to the author, the dilemma between social democracy and neo-conservatism makes the course of the power so unstable.

Mr. Fedorov stresses that the final choice has not been made yet, which is no accident: social democratic development would force the president to finally break up with tycoons – raw material magnates and to look for alternative supporters.

General Director of the Russian independent Institute for social and national issues Mikhail Gorshkov states in the “Vremya Novostei” newspaper that the transition period is not over in Russia yet. However, he stresses, the changes are obvious, “It is easy to feel that the young generation is considerably more active and can better adapt to the new situation.” According to Mr. Gorshkov, further transformation of the country will go on along with “appearance” of new people in the “social space” of the state. Mr. Gorshkov thinks the main peculiarity of the moment is that by the end of the first decade of reforms, “there has been a rather noticeable positive psychological turn.” If two or three years ago three fourth of Russians believed that reforms would lead the country to a dead end- today almost 60% of Russians hope that the efforts the authorities take will lead to a positive result.

Head of the Political Consulting Center Igor Bunin estimated the situation differently in his interview with the “Moskovskie Novosti” weekly. He thinks that the matter is not that “things are getting better” but that conformist mood started prevailing in the society.

Igor Bunin states: people are simply tired as over the past decade each tried to adjust to the new situation, some have had to change their profession, others have had to adopt new values. Sometimes people were forced to go into details of political fights, which were constantly public.

At the same time, the Russians gradually distanced from big politics. In Mr. Bunin’s opinion, the first stage was the so-called “nomenclatura privatization” that left the majority of Russians overboard. The second crisis was Boris Yeltsin’s 1996 presidential elections, which demonstrated corruption of the authorities and the discrepancy of their actions with expectations of the society.

Finally, the 1998 default started discrediting of liberal ideology in Russia. According to head of the Political Consulting Center, today “a considerable part of the population has shifted the responsibility for what is going on in the country and has delegated it to the top authorities.” According to Mr. Bunin’s data, no more than 5% of Russians are at present seriously interested in politics. The rest are tired of making out political stratagems and ideological complications and they are quite satisfied with the present imitation of stability in the country. Despite all talks of Putin’s KGB past and the dominance of his associates in the power, the present Russian middle class does not consider the president as a danger to its well-being. That is why the people do not need political activity and have plunged into their personal issues. If the Russian authorities continue rendering to the Russian yappy some necessary freedoms, such as: the freedom of job choosing, freedom of entertainment, freedom of travel, and so on, the authorities will not have to expect any protest from this side. Thus, a high popularity rating of the authorities is secured for the next two years, moreover, it is not just a presidential popularity rating, but it is “a rating of symbolical uniting of the society, the rating of hopes.”

The “Inostranets” paper writes, Russian market reforms, “though ugly and inconsistent”, have still changed the society: they created new social layers that have different values. It is due to them that the communists did not resume their authority in the country. Besides, according to “Inostranets” observer Mikhail Kalishevsky, the ruling elite headed by Boris Yeltsin also played an important role in preventing resume of a totalitarian revenge in the country, as they had their own reasons not to be interested in it.

The new Russian elite is perfectly aware of the peculiarities of the Russian electorate due to its prior party experience. Besides, they are very good at political demagoguery and dealing with the “administrative resource”. As we know, Putin’s rise to power was secured by experienced manipulation of voters during the 1999-2000 presidential elections. The main result of the successful “successor” operation was a passive stabilization across the nation.

However, “Inostranets” stresses, President Putin’s 75% popularity rating should not deceive anyone today: despite a total trust in the liberal president, the Communist party is still the most popular party in the country. In January 2002, 32% of voters were ready to vote for it, 30% of voters would support the United Russia, 10% of voters would support the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, 7% of Russians are for Yabloko, and 4% support the Union of Right Forces. According to the paper, such paradoxical electoral preferences mean that the political consciousness of the majority of Russians is still in fact a “clean piece of paper” and it is possible to write anything on it.

Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky states in the “Novaya Gazeta” newspaper that the Russian authorities are not interested in the electorate that is able to consciously make a choice, moreover, they do not need such voters, as “it is possible to achieve any goals with the help of electronic media.”

As we know, television played the major role in the 1999 – 2000 election campaigns. Besides, Yavlinsky reminds, “it was used to whip up war fever in autumn 1999, which was a reason to start a large-scale military operation in the North Caucasus.”

According to the Yabloko leader, this experience that is the basis of manipulating the electoral choice is very dangerous. Yavlinsky says, “It is highly likely to lead to creation of a totalitarian system with a democratic front, where all attributes of a democratic society are present: the Constitution, the parliament, courts, and so on, but they work to the needs of a couple dozens most close to the power people.”

Besides, in the opinion of Mr. Yavlinsky, such a policy of the authorities lays the foundation for irreversible lagging of the country behind as fooled and disoriented people are equally unable to do good politics and economy. “People, who open a newspaper and cannot understand which articles are paid for and which are not, which information is a provocation and which is true, are unable to make discoveries, create new technologies, they are unable to lead to the country to the level of leading developed countries.”

On the other hand, such people are very convenient for the authorities, “The Russian authorities lean on exporting natural resources, and it is satisfied with it.” For instance, in Japan it was necessary to either create the Sony industry or to die – “in Russia it is always possible to export an extra ton of oil and ‘resolve the issue’.” Thus, the authorities do not need any new technologies – all they need is tamed people.

Meanwhile, the “Vek” weekly believes, in the near future the Russian president is likely to find himself in a situation equal to the verge of the 1991 August putsch: “Vek” thinks that protesting electorate is being actively prepared in Russia.

Until recently, one the Russian elite had grounds to be dissatisfied with the presidential policy, “first of all it was tycoons, regional leaders, and head of the largest financial-industrial groupings.” However, after beginning of the housing reform, passing the law “On turnover of agricultural lands” – if it is ever passed – cancellation of privileges for the military the number of dissatisfied people is likely to sharply increase. We should also take into account growth of prices that was caused by increasing the rates of natural monopolies, considerable fluctuations of the inflation rate, resumed wage arrears, and growth of drug prices.

According to “Vek”, the political inertness of the Russian public is considerably exaggerated. “On the other hand, the expert community and the media so far prefer to promote and discuss “global specifics”. “Vek” provides some most popular discussion topics, such as: to appoint or elect regional governors, and so on.

The weekly notes that Russian law is shaped by the politicians who hope to be elected with its help. No wonder, at present the Russian electorate is maximally distanced from the results of elections.

It is generally believed in Russia that all Russian parties are mostly busy with fighting for their own influence and prospects and they are uninterested in resolving real issues of the population. Consequently, the popularity rating of political parties in Russia is extremely low. People would never trusted them to nominate their candidates if they could, but in accordance with the Russian legislation, it is the political parties that have monopoly rights to represent the interests of people.

All this explains the present situation: “Politicians are unwilling to take the responsibility – the people respond with disbelieve in politicians and in the whole election procedure.” It is impossible to assure voters attendance in such a situation, and that is why politicians suggest replacing elections with appointments – a recent initiative of the United Russia.

Overall, “Vek” writes, the majority of Russians do not even care whether their regional governor is elected or appointed – they only want him to do his work. That is why dragging people’s attention to the issue of “appointment or electing” is just an attempt to avert their attention from real issues: the real strategy of the authorities must become carrying out long-term and systematical reforms the aim of which is improvement of people’s living standard.

According to “VEk” fulfillment of this goal, which was first declared in the Soviet Union, is a necessary condition for constructing a democratic society, “Experience of developed countries prove that poor people will never be able to build a civil society. There should be not only several percent of rich citizens in the country, who are able to buy everything and everyone, but a well-to-do majority. Only then Russia will be able to overcome its system crisis of the prior reforms.”

Meanwhile, judging by the results of a research held by the Institute for Complex Social Researches of the Russian Academy of Sciences and experts of the Ebert Foundation, Russians are rather calm about their position.

According to the poll, published in the “Vremya Novostei” newspaper, 40% of respondents consider them middle and upper-middle class.

However, sociologists explained that beside social-property criteria the poll also took into account self-estimation of people and their life style as well: education, the circle of acquaintances, and pastime. It turned out that the majority of people who referred to themselves as to “upper middle class” have on average a $100 monthly income. At the same time, the researches believe it is useless to compare the Russian middle class to the US or German middle class: the matter is the affordable living standards. On the other hand, today’s data are twice as big as the 1999 data. Still, according to Professor Igor Chubais, even today the Russian middle class can be divided into “middle poor” and “middle very poor”.

It also depends on what to compare it with: it turned out that over the years of reforms, about 10% of adults in Russia have not only sunk to the very bottom of society, but have also lumpenized. Moreover, as a rule, they are well-educated people. Nonetheless, overall, according to expert appraisals, the attitude of the society towards the liberal market has stabilized: people do not consider it to be hostile any longer. Although, almost every Russian has suffered some losses over the years of reforms, at present 40% of Russians support the reforms, and slightly over 40% are determined as “reserved opponents of reforms”, only 18% of respondents are “ardent opponents”.

According to researched these data should be compared to the presidential popularity rating, who is known as supporter of reforms. On the other hand, absence of interest to political parties should be considered a dangerous trend in the society, thinks head of the Ebert Foundation Moscow branch Peter Schultze: in these terms, the Russian political system resembles an automobile that runs a difficult road without traffic signs. At the same time, Dr. Schutze states that the post-communist transformation of the Russian society is close to an end and “now we have to deal with consolidated Russia oriented for the future.” Famout political scientist, head of the Economic Politics foundation Gleb Pavlovsky also agrees that Russia has consolidated.

At the same time the “Moskovsky Komsomolets” paper informs that at present Pavslovsky who has long been known as “the Gray Cardinal of the Kremlin” is passing through hard times: the Economic Politics foundation has difficulaties with financing, rivals are becoming stronger, and the main problem is that the authorities seem to have lost interest in the cunning political consultant.

Nonetheless, Mr. Pavlovsky does not think these issues are very significant. According to him, it is much more important that all the declared aims of the first phase of Putin’s presidency have been achieved unexpectedly fast: “The new political regime is built. All the political issues inherited from Yeltsin’s epoch have been also resolved.”

However, as a result of such abrupt changes a sort of vacuum formed in the country, “It is necessary to determine new objectives, but no one is ready for this.”

According to Pavlovsky, Putin’s surrounding uses the high popularity rating of the president as a chance to relax: neither civil nor security structures are able to formulate new objectives – “all are waiting for Putin to do this.”

At the same time, it is impossible to constantly wait, “All want to know how the system will work. It is impossible to permanently grumble and frighten someone…. We have built the plane, it is time to take off.” At present the power has only two programs, first is “to keep pummeling tycoons” not only Berezovsky and Gusinsky. Second, is even simpler: “Let us not allow security structures to do this and save the society from their roistering.”

Pavlovsky thinks none of them can be considered a serious strategy, while the necessity in sensible strategic plans is very vital, as well as in economic objectives. Like many other analysts, Pavlovsky is convinced that “we have a very short break to make economic decisions”. Ceasing of economic growth, the January acceleration of the inflation rate are threatening signs that demand the authorities to take urgent measures.

Pavlovsky says, “I hope that the mobilized system will finally start moving somewhere, though it is very hard to say which economic strategy is correct.”

Some offence is easy to notice in Pavlovsky’s words – he has obviously distanced from the Kremlin’s issues, which is not characteristic of him. Perhaps the rumor of retrieving the Gray Cardinal to the shadow has some grounds.

According to the “Profil” magazine, the basis of any regime in Russia, including the post-reform regime, is such a peculiarity of the Russian social psychology as traditional estrangement from the authorities.

The Russian history is a convincing evidence of constant fight between the people and the authorities, constant attempts of the power to make its subordinates obedient. Apparently, it is this constant compete that has lasted for hundreds of years that has always averted the attention of both the people and the authorities from their direct objective: developing Russia. “Profil” states, the matter is that in fact there has not been a period in the Russian history when people felt free and independent and when their energy was directed to construction. Perhaps this is the real source of the constantly accumulating and systematically breaking through aggression of the “Russian riot” which is senseless and merciless. The authorities in turn have irreversibly deformed the national character in their intention to make the people obey.

“Profil” writes, “All sociological researches of the last years cry: Russian people are not interested in life with all its variety, they expect nothing good from it, at the same time, they make not personal effort to improve it.”

In fact, it is a classical version of the so-called stagnated psychology: it is no accident the majority of Russians consider the years of Leonid Brezhnev’s rule the best in the history of Russia.

Started reforms have hardly changed the attitude of the population to life. Like before the maximum program for an average Russia is to preserve their present state of affairs, what he or she is used to. “Our dynamic times, all these reforms and modernizations are perceived as hostile and alien, as something that is to be “put up with” as the experience of previous centuries says.” No state, even the most caring and super-socially-aware, will be able to have this “patient majority” to constructive cooperation. The magazine is convinced that even living very well these people will be “suffering and will consider the state alien and hostile”.

In these terms, there was a recent suggestion from the Union of Right Forces to make February 19, the day serfdom was abolished in Russia, another national holiday. Perhaps, says “Kommersant”, after we celebrate this holiday we will be able to understand something in our souls?

So far, despite a hundred and fifty years since Tsar Alexander II (the Liberator) issued his manifesto, Russian citizens have not shed their psychological legacy of the past and of this rather strange national peculiarity.

For instance, Russians still want to have a “real master”, a “strong hand”, which would be able to establish “iron order” in the country. In these terms, Russians are lucky to have President Putin, no matter what the liberals say.

As the New York Times noted recently, “after decades of living under senile leaders the people are proud of he who would undoubtedly pin down the man in the Oval Office.”

Well, let us believe it is a western observation of demonstration of Russian “imperial consciousness”: it is important to find something to be proud of in your own country.

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