THE END OF WINTER IN RUSSIA: A POLITICAL CALM AGAINST THE BACKDROP OF THE DEATH THROES OF PATRIOTISM

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This year, February 23 was declared a public holiday for the first time in Russia’s history. Thus, there are now 11 official holidays in Russia.

The newspaper Kommersant joyously reports that Russia holds sixth place in terms of the number of public holidays on its calendar – after Bhutan, Brazil, India, Belarus, Puerto Rico, and South Korea. According to UNESCO, the average number of official holidays is 12.4 a year. The smallest number of official holidays is in Micronesia: there are only six days a year there. It seems that the climate in Micronesia does not prompt the inhabitants to rest and recreation after hard labor.

Vek weekly has reported that the “Chubais off-season” has reached Russia. After the demotion of Ilya Klebanov, the first demotion of a St. Petersburger within the Cabinet, many experts concluded that Yeltsin’s old guard is gaining strength and will soon make Anatoly Chubais prime minister again. Meanwhile, other experts believe that the president himself has sacrificed Klebanov in order to make his peace with Yeltsin’s old guard and stabilize the position of Prime Minister Mikhail Kasianov.

There are also some experts assert that Klebanov’s dismissal is aimed at distracting the public from a real personnel revolution in the government that will start in spring. These experts state that quite new political figures may come to power as a result of this revolution.

Vek explains this variety of explanations of Klebanov’s dismissal by the general confused situation in the Russian politics.

In the opinion of the weekly, the new political configuration is only beginning to acquire a shape in the country. The Russian elite has gotten used to the relative political stability in the country, and the unexpected exacerbation of the economic situation at the start of the year took it aback.

Nevertheless, the government keeps on conducting painful reforms in the country, simultaneously increasing wages and pensions as compensation. The center that has deprived regions of part of their budget revenues insists that regional authorities should fund the increase of salaries promised to state sector employees. This causes a considerable resistance in regions. The army is also annoyed with the lack of money. If we add the customary fight for power between different political groups to the general tense situation, we will see that this is a war engrossing the entire country, which is likely to read to a systemic social crisis, as Vek states. To prevent this crisis the government should choose between continuation of reforms and the socially oriented policy.

In the first case the government will have to appeal to large business and liberal political forces. In this case people’s standard of living will be worse. It is also not ruled out that the relations between the government and security agencies will be worsened too.

However, the policy of social justice envisaging preservation of basics of market economy has its own specificity. There is no doubt that the country will need a strong presidential power in this case, which may serve as a “political cudgel” against those displeased with the government’s policy. The government will also have to reanimate the “image of an enemy” that will help the government justify the increase of military expenditures and politically mobilize the society.

There is also the third alternative, to which the government sticks: to follow the natural course of events putting off the choice until better times. This policy may have certain tactic results, but it does not have any long-range prospects. The number of those dissatisfied will inevitably grow in the country, which will destroy the remainder of political stability.

Vek notes that “all dramatic events in Russia’s history, including the Bolshevist revolution and the breakup of the Soviet Union, were outcomes of delayed political decisions.”

Novaya Gazeta cites the data of the latest opinion poll conducted by the All-Russian Public Opinion Study Center (VTsIOM, showing that the number of people disapproving of activities of all levels of state government is about 13%. These people do not like either the president or the Duma, or the prime minister, or the Federation Council. About 17% of Russians approve of activities of only one subject of state government, and only 10% approve of activities of all government agencies. In other words, rather many people approve of the government only because it is the government. This phenomenon is sometimes called servilism.

VTsIOM asserts that the president with his high rating is not interested in such an attitude of the people. Experts of the think-tank also assert that the current tendency of development of public opinion shows that Russians may be most loyal if there is only one government agency in the country. In other words, people want autocracy.

According to observations of sociologists, the decisive turning point in this sphere took place at the end of 2001 and the start of 2002. There had been an evident pluralist tendency in all opinion polls up to September 2001. After September 11, there was a considerable outburst of servilism: up to 18%. Then, in October, the greatest approval of one single subject of state government was registered: 80% (it is clear what subject of government this was). Vek republished an article by the Swiss newspaper “Die Neue Zuericher Zeitung” stating that President Putin has given Russia incomparably greater stability than his predecessor. However, “this stability is based on the people’s indifference to the great extent. As the affairs surrounding television of the past few months have shown, this stability is also based on the merciless persecution of those criticizing the government.” The newspaper also believes that Putin uses his power to modernize Russia and make it closer to the West “despite anti-American spirits widespread in the country.” However, this is allegedly a typical Russian reform “from above” reducing not only ordinary citizens but also most of the political to the level of mutes. Those political parties that want to stand their grounds are in a rather difficult situation now.

In the opinion of Valery Vyzhutovich, observer of Vremya MN, the Union of Right Forces (URF) is an example of a tiresome search of a compromise. As a result of this search, its rating is only 4% now. Its permanent rival Yabloko is supported by 7% of the people, and only Women of Russia lag behind it.

Vyzhutovich thinks that there are only two alternative ways out for the URF: they can either move to the zone of radical opposition and “get marginalized there,” or follow the example of the servile United Russia.

The recent scandalous transition of Viktor Pokhmelkin from the URF to Berezovsky’s Liberal Russia showed that the right have already split into conformists and radicals. Recently, Leonid Gozman, Anatoly Chubais’ colleague from Russian Joint Energy Systems (RJES), suggested a plan, according to which all liberal actions of the government should be viewed as implementation of recommendations of the right. The observer also notes that the president doers not hinder his “prompters” share his successes and enjoy their influence.

Anatoly Chubais is certainly the main resource of influence of the URF. It is he who is able to impart some democratic idea to the president or prevent a tendency of constructing a police state system.

Sometimes Chubais makes quite frank statements. For instance, he made a few such statements in his interview to “The Financial Times” given to a correspondent of this newspaper in the Moscow restaurant Izumi. This interview has been quoted by practically every Russian newspaper. Sovetskaya Rossiya, an ultra-left newspaper, has even published its complete translation.

Russian journalists paid most attention to Chubais answer to the question about the hazard of construction of a police state. He said, “There are such fears not only in the West but also in Russia. We cannot close our eyes and say that this is nonsense. No, it is very serious.” Chubais asserts that there are some political forces “rather close to President Putin” that support this tendency of Russia’s development. There are also some other political forces protesting against this tendency, and the URF is allegedly the main one.

Then “The Financial Times” says that market economy is starting to work in Russia and that Chubais’ ideas are gradually coming true in a way, although he is only 46. The correspondent of “The Financial Times” even said that he was even ready to eat up sticks from the restaurant Izumi is Chubais does not intend to run in the presidential election of 2008.

Sovetskaya Rossiya wonders in this connection if Putin’s aides showed the president this passage and how he reacted to it if they did.

Meanwhile, another newspaper of radical communists, Zavtra, asserts referring to data of some “secret polls” that today Putin’s actual rating is no more than 12-14%. “This figure is comparable to the support of Yeltsin in 1995.”

Zavtra asserts that the decline of Putin’s influence is becoming a commonplace topic in Russian and foreign media.

At the same time, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasianov is still displaying his confidence despite numerous rumors about his upcoming dismissal. According to sources of Zavtra, Kasianov has received some guarantees in Washington that he will retain his current position. Moreover, the newspaper asserts that under some set of circumstances Kasianov may even become “the first person” in the country. In the opinion of the newspaper, this scenario is possible in connection with Berezovsky’s campaign of defamation of Putin by means of asserting that he had to do with the explosions in Moscow and Volgodonsk.

According to Zavtra, Washington has decided to support this campaign in its usual manner it will allegedly do its best to “undermine the fundamentals of the Russian regime by means of propagandaic war conducted through third countries and forces.”

Zavtra states that the plan of Washington’s actions is as follows: first Berezovsky’s accusations will be submitted to the Strasbourg Court. The court will demand that the Kremlin limit the influence of security agencies and give Chechnya sovereignty. Then it will be the turn of “the final coup, which will lead a figure like Gorbachev to power to completely destroy the Russian political space.” The newspaper thinks that Kasianov may serve as a link before the transition of power to the “confederalization leader.”

Zavtra asks in this connection, “Will the Russian military and special services, our society and political parties of the patriotic slant keep silent and accept the ‘new reality’ like they did in 1991?”

There are some problems in Russia with the patriotic way of thinking. As Komsomolskaya Pravda says, “There are none of the factors necessary for the existence of patriotism in Russia now.”

Indeed, the economic roots of patriotism are based on a high standard of living; its ideological roots are connected with traditions and spiritual unity of the nation. Currently, Russia has a shortage of all these things. The newspaper claims that there is no pride in their country among Russian citizens, nor is there any spiritual unity. Most Russians are convinced that their country has done nothing good for them and are not obliged to it. Komsomolskaya Pravda notes that a few years ago “the feeling of shame prevailed among Russians. Now they mostly have no feelings at all.” In such a situation appeals for restoration of patriotism are interpreted as a “cheap propaganda action.”

Alexander Zinovyev, a prominent observer, has states in Literaturnaya Gazeta that there are no forces in Russia interested in restoration of patriotism. “Currently, only an imitation of patriotism is possible: political verbosity accompanied with shows on this topic that do not encourage most Russians to patriotic demeanor.”

Using the market language, patriotism is a “long-term investment project” is Russia, whereas such projects are not funded in the country now. Nearly the only ground for the spiritual unity is the obvious disgust for America and Americans, which was displayed during the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

The Russian media has long been trying to discover the reasons for Russians’ dislike for America. Pro-Western media assert that the reason for this dislike is just the envy for Americans’ prosperity. More patriotic media state that Americans are too self-concerned and conceited, so the US does not take any account of the interests of any other countries.

The Olympic passions have led even such a moderate and respected periodical as the newspaper Izvestia to make a rather harsh announcement: “The Olympic Games are a model of the world. The model of the modern world is as follows: here is the US and there are all the rest. The fate of all the rest depends on whether the US will acknowledge their existence.”

In the opinion of Izvestia, the strong pressure on Russian sportsmen during the Olympic Games and the aspiration to gain a victory at any expense destroyed naive hopes of the Russian society for the possibility of a new unity with the West on the anti-terror ground.

The cause of what took place at the Olympic Games is rather simple. Americans are traditionally not much interested in Olympic Games preferring more customary spectacles, such as American football or basketball. It was necessary to make these Olympic Games American games to make people watch them.

However, Izvestia thinks that “wishing to raise its ordinary citizens shocked by the tragedy of September 11, America hurt ordinary citizens of many other countries of the world, who could have become its sincere allies.” As a result, sport has become a new arena of cold war.

Famous writer Vasily Aksenov has noted in his article in Moskovskie Novosti, “It seems to me that Olympic Games should not be excessively patriotic. This is a festival of the entire human race. Why should we get even with one another remembering the times when sport was a weapon of the permanent ideological squabbling?”

The newspaper Vremya MN says in this connection, “A search for enemies is the worst thing revived by these Olympic Games. At the same time, the newspaper believes that the recent Olympic experience may prove useful. “The hysterical reaction of the society revealed what actually goes on in our country.” This reaction was especially impressive against the background of the society’s indifference to really acute domestic problems, such as the Chechen war or homeless children. The newspaper also states that the games showed that the world has radically changed. This happened not on September 11 but much earlier. “The extent of business, television, the press, and politics was so great that it did not correspond to initial values of Olympic Games. Earlier, participation in Olympic Games was more important that a victory. And now the main aim is a victory at any expense, by any possible means.”

This lesson may easily be understood by the country, where every third person thinks that nuclear weapons are the main thing that makes a country great.

Moskovskie Novosti states that the number of those who think so has doubled over the past four years. Two years ago the number of those who thought that a country’s scale depends on its cultural heritage was larger by 10%. The number of those who think that the highness of a country is determined by observance of human rights and freedoms has dwindled too.

As Izvestia has noted, “it will be difficult for politicians of ‘offended countries to explain to their citizens why America is the empire of the truth and kindness and international terrorists belong to the empire of evil.” It is noteworthy that the anti-terror operation in Iraq has not begun yet.

Against this background all intrigues of the Russian “evil genius,” Boris Berezovsky, seem needless. Why arrange a special conspiracy to destroy Russia if it still lives by ideas of the 20th or even 19th century? It is not ruled out that Berezovsky will only have to wait a little and everything will be as he wants.

It is only necessary for him to remember to present all inevitable events as his predictions coming true. It is not worthwhile to return to Russia for this purpose, thus provoking unfriendly actions against him. As Sergei Dorenko, Berezovsky’s former mouthpiece, has said, Berezovsky is the second Prince Kurbsky (the person who opposed Ivan the Terrible – translator’s note) only in London, while in Russia he is just a political pensioner, a person from the previous era.

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