MEDVEDEV COMFORTED AUDIENCE. AND STERNLY WARNED IT

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MEDVEDEV’S INTERVIEW: POLITICALLY-ORIENTED PSYCHOLOGICAL COUNSELING FROM THE HEAD OF STATE

An update on President Dmitry Medvedev’s interview with Russian TV networks.


President Dmitry Medvedev’s interview with Russian TV networks this Wednesday was a momentous event for several reasons. First, it established a new format of communications between the country’s top executive and the population. Second, experts say that Medvedev’s statements raised more questions than gave answers.

“Medvedev’s decision to go public was a one-time occurrence, I think,” Nikolai Petrov of the Moscow Carnegie Center said. “It was kind of recompense for the presidential message to the Federal Assembly a couple of months ago where Medvedev essentially ignored both the looming economic crisis and the problems that really worried the population.” Petrov also recalled the forthcoming address to the nation the president was expected to make. “Delivered on the New Year Eve, it is nothing to insert negative events of the year into,” he said.

Political scientists comment on the clearly planned psychotherapeutic effect the interview was supposed to make on the audience. Olga Kryshtanovskaya of the Elite Studies Center of the Institute of Sociology for example clearly perceived an attempt “to comfort the people, instill optimism, and remind that the state was with them and thinking about them” in Medvedev’s interview. According to Kryshtanovskaya, the president was clearly trying to forestall panic.

That the president was spared any unexpected and uncomfortable questions goes without saying. All the same, it was his answers to what questions were asked that surprised experts. Economic crisis under way was discussed at length. Having listed the difficulties the country had encountered, the president reassured the people that it was still possible for them to retain the previous way of life. “I’m talking of what has been accomplished in terms of social support – pay level, level of real income, pensions…” the president said.

Aleksei Malashenko of the Moscow Carnegie Center said the president had walked into a trap. “Comforting the people, the head of state never gave them any exact or specific information. He did not say what was really in the offing for the population in connection with the crisis. He did not say what he and his government considered their priorities in this light. Neither did Medvedev say anything about what was being done to remedy the situation or how efficient the anti-crisis measures were,” Malashenko said. “Also importantly, not a word was said about mistakes made by the government or about how it intended to correct them.”

Malashenko believes that Medvedev’s placatory statements will anger only the Russians once they see that the promises are not kept after all.

Kryshtanovskaya in her turn said she perceived nothing impossible in Medvedev’s promises. “At the very least, the state can always turn on the printing equipment,” she said. “Sure, it will mean inflation, but I do believe that it is possible for the authorities to keep all promises.” Kryshtanovskaya appraised Medvedev’s answers to these questions as a protocol of intentions rather than anything else. She suggested that what the president was trying to convey in his answers was that he did have some special anti-crisis program and agenda.

A correspondent asked Medvedev about the authorities’ reaction to actions of the normally straight-arrow people “… who just might be tempted to bend a rule or two.” As a matter of fact, the question was to be asked differently, it was to be a question on behalf of law-abiding people entitled to civil protests in the form of rallies or pickets. It was never phrased in this manner. The impression is that the president needed something he could be stern about and the question was therefore phrased so as to offer him this opportunity. “The situation being what it is, response of the state should be wise but firm,” Medvedev said. “Straight-arrow people are what they are precisely because they are smart enough to resist temptations and know better than commit crimes.”

Medvedev’s tirade was clearly a reaction to the latest protests in Vladivostok. It was also a warning to whoever might decide to protest in the streets in the future.

“Terms “wisdom” and “firmness” have no meaning in this particular context,” Malashenko said. “We saw this firmness in the Far East. It is not wisdom, it is a political game… I believe that our economists are wiser than politicians because it is the former who tell the truth more often. Firmness in this particular case is a sword that cuts two ways. Roughing up liberals (a handful) is one thing. Dealing with mass protests and strikes fomented by the unemployment is another. Consider how they pit auto makers against businesses in the Far East. Do you call it wisdom? I do not. I call it a provocation.”

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