THE NATIONAL PROJECTS: A TESTING-GROUND FOR THE RUSSIA OF THE FUTURE

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The national projects and their purpose

A paradoxical social situation has taken shape in our society. Soviet-era experience, overlaid onto the wild capitalism era, then combined with the current stabilization period – all this has created a society which has lost its self-respect.


What is 230 billion rubles? That’s the sum allocated by the state for the priority national projects (PNP) in 2007. Is that a lot, or not enough? Depends how you look at it. The national projects account for around 5% of budget spending; some might say this isn’t all that much. On the other hand, it’s equivalent to a third of Ukraine’s budget for 2007. Moreover, the national project are a supplement to, not a replacement for, regular budget funding for breakthrough aspects in the activities of sectors such as education, healthcare, construction, and agriculture.

I have set out these explanations on the PNP topic on many occasions, addressing activists of pro-Kremlin youth groups. And on many occasions I have seen openly-displayed boredom on the faces of my audience. Figures, percentages, comparisons – they weren’t interested in that. Once, an audience member stood up and said, with a conspiratorial wink, something like: “Well, we all know, don’t we, that the national projects are a public relations exercise.” Then I realized that until there is an understanding of why President Vladimir Putin announced the national projects on September 5, 2005, all the discussion will focus on election campaign publicity and the “cunning” Kremlin. And no matter how much work is done by national projects curator Dmitri Medvedev, some people will talk only of propaganda campaigns.

To understand the issues, we need to step back. A paradoxical social situation has taken shape in our society. Soviet-era experience, overlaid onto the wild capitalism era, then combined with the current stabilization period – all this has created a society which has lost its self-respect.

It all started in the late Soviet era, when two strata dominated our society. The first knew how to receive, and the second knew how to obtain. The first was more numerous, consisting of those guided by the principle of “you pretend to pay us, and we pretend to work.” It included the overwhelming majority of blue-collar workers, collective farm workers, teachers, academic researchers, healthcare workers, and so on. They are still a majority in our society. Silent, unhappy, waiting for manna from heaven. Waiting in vain.

The second stratum (much smaller than the first) was engaged in “running around” and “obtaining” all kinds of scarce items within the framework of the system, using any means necessary to “extract” the benefits due to citizens in a socialist society – such as a free apartment or a place on a waiting list for buying a car. This stratum consisted of an active and fairly aggressive majority, often with rather unpleasant faces – remember those lady activists of an indeterminate age? They have almost vanished now, absorbed into the first stratum, since in a market economy there is no need to “obtain” anything at the day-to-day level.

Another stratum emerged in the late 1980s: those who knew how to “snatch.” Snatch something fast and run off with it – that was considered good form at the time. After all, “snatching” from “such a country” was only natural. In contrast to the obtainers, who acted within the law (written or unwritten), the snatchers paid no attention to the law. Today’s numerous tribe of bandits, corrupt officials, and corrupt businesspeople originated from this stratum.

At the same time, a fourth stratum emerged: those who knew how to earn. They are honest businesspeople, active people, skilled workers, innovative teachers, highly-skilled doctors, and many others, with one thing in common: they are prepared to work hard in order to earn a lot of money.

Unfortunately, the current distribution of strata may be estimated as 65% receivers, 5% obtainers, 20% snatchers, and 10% earners. And this situation is critical: because although we have now managed to regain the level of the RSFSR in 1990, our country cannot develop further with this kind of social ratio.

The old method of distributing funding to ministries, then distributing it further in a thin layer across all of a ministry’s dependants, is corrupt. It leads to the state spending vast sums unproductively. Besides, this pattern tends to corrupt officials and bureaucrats – which is a powerful blow to the credibility of the authorities – while the end recipients only get crumbs. It’s a late-Soviet system, a new-Russian system – or, more precisely, simply a primitive system. It must be replaced. But what could replace it? We need a successful example. And the PNP management system is such an example.

For the first time in the 15 years since the USSR collapsed, the state has declared its support for the group that is prepared to earn. The priority national projects are a consistent state policy providing advantages for active groups in our society – those who are willing and able to take advantage of the opportunities they are offered.

This is clearly illustrated by the implementation of the Developing Agriculture PNP. Some huge changes are happening in rural areas. Large enterprises and small farms alike are taking out loans on excellent terms, with the state paying up to 95% of the interest. Of course, not everyone who applies for a loan will get one; only those who file a good application with a business plan. At present, rural Russia has a great many people who sit around indoors and moan about the decline of Russian agriculture. But seeing the example of a neighbor who builds a new cow-shed where modern equipment is used to milk an excellent breed of cows (and all this can happen with the Agriculture PNP) is enough to make even the grim pessimists think twice: rather than sitting around, maybe they should come up with a business plan too and try to put it into practice.

The PNPs are a form of fighting reconnaissance, intended to evaluate the extent to which it’s possible to exclude the corrupt snatchers and shape a new environment, creating conditions that encourage the receivers and obtainers to learn how to earn. It’s already evident that this clear message from the state is reaching its intended audience.

And a final point. The Stabilization Fund is now besieged on all sides by those who hunger to pull it apart. But the state won’t allow anyone to spend the Stabilization Fund until sufficient experience has been built up in realizing the national projects, with maximal safeguards against corruption, aimed at developing professional initiative – supporting those who are prepared to earn rather than snatch, receive, or obtain – and, most importantly, cultivating self-respect among our fellow citizens. This experience should suffice to enable the state to say confidently: the Stabilization Fund money allocated for any particular project will be spent for that purpose, not misspent or wasted; the results of this spending will promote the public good, not enrich a small group of snatchers; and effective spending will enable active citizens, those prepared to earn, to reach their potential in a new mega-project with the fine title of “Russia.”

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