Traditionally, the New Year holiday season in Russia is a rest period for both the public and the media.

The gradual change from serious and deep analyses of social issues to first various predictions and later to vague anticipations and intricate prophecies is usual for all Russian media, even the best-quality ones.

Astrologers replace political scientists everywhere – no periodical missed a chance to entertain its readers. In fact, the new Year of the Dark Horse is the perfect topic fir all kinds of impressive statements. Especially if we take into account that astrologers read political and economic news as attentively as political scientists.

For instance, according to Master of Astrology Valery Ledovskikh, whose prophecy was published in the Argumenty I Fakty weekly, “The opposition of Saturn and Pluto will again be the burden. These two strong planets are considered to be the most ‘vicious’. The process of global transformation of the world will continue.” Moreover, 2002 is the year of Mars – consequently the war is inevitable: “The Afghanistan operation will move to other countries.”

As for economy, the prophecies are as ominous as the political ones: “The economy will become a hostage to the world war. There will be nothing stable, including the dollar.” Further on the Master predicts oil price fluctuations and advises to be cautious with money deposits and long-term projects. The recommendations are obviously absolutely sensible.

The only comforting prophecy is that the new year will be rather favorable for the Russian president: “The main thing is not to follow America and not to get involved into other’s war. If Putin is not scared with independent actions, Russia will have minimum losses in the world crisis.” The astrologer is a real patriot.

Another astrologer, individualist Mikhail Levin, the rector of the Astrology Academy, purposely warned the Vremya MN paper, “I do not depend on the president, I only depend on the Uranus in the sky.”

According to Levin, “we are to have a difficult spring”, as there are likely to be accidents, man-caused disasters and so on. He also predicts instability of the ruble and lack of money in the budget. Nonetheless, Mr. Levin promises that at the end of the year things will be alright, “Overall the year is good for Russia”. It will be especially good for President Putin, “He will win the presidential elections as his popularity is growing and by 2004 it will be on its peak.” However, astrologers refuse to say anything about the third presidential term.

By the way, it is noticed that astrologers’ prophecies are as trustworthy as the data of the ROMIR agency or of the All-Russia Center for Public Opinion Research (VTsIOM).

On the threshold of the New Year VTsIOM made a popularity rating of the Russian elite by order from the Kommersant paper. According to the paper, the criterion is “love and respect of compatriots” no matter what the VIP-persons do.

Vladimir Putin, Alla Pugacheva, and Gennady Zyuganov are at the top of the list. So singer Pugacheva left behind not only all political leaders, but spiritual preceptors as well: in particular, Patriarch Aleksy II is only 13th on the list.

Overall, the people’s love is an amazing thing: for instance, singer Iosif Kobzon left behind Boris Yeltsin, and tennis player Anna Kurnikova is ahead Vladimir Ustinov.

On the other hand, are the VTsIOM data trustworthy enough? For instance, the Izvestia paper states that Ms. Condoleezza Rice – the US presidential aid – has practically left behind the queen of the Russian variety.

As usually, Boris Berezovsky is not lucky. According to the same Izvestia, the poor tycoon spent a good part of the year trying to attract the Kremlin’s attention to himself, “He tried to fund an interior opposition, to establish a party, to support the civil society institutions”. However, all was in vain. They say Boris Berezovsky even tried to personally meet with President Putin during the London visit of the latter. Judging by everything, the deeply insulted Berezovsky has finally decided to enter the warpath. For instance, aforementioned astrologer Valery Ledovskikh predicts that Berezovsky is again to lose, “Berezovsky is a real Aquarius, he is a real genius. But he is good in behind -the-curtain intrigues, and is helpless in an open fight. If he starts an open fight, he is doomed to lose.”

Actually, Berezovsky’s prophecies on the per-term end of Putin’s presidency the last fall have not come true yet.

According to the Nezavisimaya Gazeta paper, “the stably high popularity rating of President Putin has been and will be a political puzzle for many analysts”. The paper states that this phenomenon has already been called the “Putin phenomenon”: “there are no obvious signs of prosperity in the country but the trust to the head of the state is growing with every day”.

Nonetheless, after Nezavisimaya Gazeta impassionedly analyzed this sad fact, it concluded that as strange as it is, but the US mourning day – September 11 – turned to be “favorable” for President Putin. “At the background of total perplexity of the world leaders in front of a new threat to the world civilization, the Russian leader showed his best side and immediately gathered political scores.” As for the interior politics, according to some researches, the presidential popularity rating has grown due to the new pro-western course. It is also surprising, as Russia was traditionally considered to be a country oriented to the East. On the other hand, the paper speculates, Russians are so indifferent to the foreign politics that they are likely to support any course chosen by the authorities.

Another side of the “Putin phenomenon” is that people trust him but not the power institutions that realize Putin’s politics. For instance, the Duma trust rating in the country is only 9%, while the Federation Council collected only 8% of trust.

Speaking about political parties, things are also amazing with them: the absolutely loyal to the president United Russia party has only a 30% trust rating, while the Union of Right Forces that mostly supports the presidential politics, gathered only 7% of voices; at the same time the Communist Party that loudly declares its opposition to the presidential course is still on the top of parties’ trust rating.

Overall, the Nezavisimaya Gazeta paper states, “the present power system has exhausted itself”, it is unable to achieve its objectives. Consequently, the presidential trust index is likely to start falling soon, as “Hope for the best cannot last forever”.

The Vremya Novostei paper thinks that the popularity of the Communists is easy to explain. Paradoxically, but it is the Communist Party that turned to benefit by continuation of liberal reforms in the country. According to the paper, the “Communists can always offer the yearning for “golden Soviet times” that they actively cultivate, to all who dislike the present policy”.

Vremya Novostei stresses that the position of the right is much more difficult. The Union of Right Forces and the Yabloko movement warned that they would partially support the president as long as his policy coincides with their programs. At the same time the right stated that in case of discrepancies they would be toughly opposing the president.

Vremya Novostei writes, “Apparently, they counted that they would have to do only one thing: either to oppose or to support”. However, last year they had to do both: for instance, to support the military reform and to oppose concerning the Chechen problem; to support the court reform and to defend the NTV television network. At the same time, every time they had to explain their position to the voters. As the program of the authorities coincides with the program of the rights in many positions, the people traditionally prefer to support the authorities, not the right minority parties.

According to the paper, all the rights can dream about is that the authorities became “more left”, then they would be able to more definitively oppose them, while the “present alliance with the power can lead to a total loss of political self-identification”.

According to Vremya Novostei the 2001 was almost serene for Russia, the calmest year over the past decade, also due to a complete absence of parliamentary fights. The paper called it the “still water year”. Will 2002 be the same serene?

The Moskovskie Novosti weekly confirms that today’s liberal essence of the Russian economic policy is undoubted, “In fact, Gaidar’s economic program is being realized in a cut form, although the authorities prefer not to talk about it because of obvious reasons.”

On the other hand, in terms of human rights, establishment of the bureaucratic machine, and “putting the country in order”, the liberals have grounded claims to the authorities. According to Moskovskie Novosti the rights need to figure out what is more important for them, “Not for the sake of politics, but for the electorate as well, as the latter is tortured with uncertainty.” The weekly suggested estimation of the image of the Russian politicians by “liberalism-fundamentalism” scale.

No wonder, President Vladimir Putin was again in the top ten, moreover, he left behind Grigory Yavlinsky.

However, after this the experts were to compare the presidential liberal rating with ratings of presidential envoys in Russian federal districts. It turned out that almost all of them, beside Sergei Kirienko, turned to be on the opposite negative end of the scale.

As Moskovskie Novosti writes, these data is a perfect illustration for the sociological phenomenon of the year: “The president is considered to be a progressive, almost liberal politician. However, the conductors of his political will in Russian provinces are rather conservative performers”. According to the weekly, it is not only experts’ opinion, the rest of the society thinks the same, “the president is Ok, but the surrounding leaves much to be desired.”

Moreover, the weekly does not doubt that if the scale for the poll is different, for instance patriot – cosmopolites, the president will again be on top, while many representatives of his power hierarchy will be on the shameful bottom of the list.

It seems that the paradoxical popularity rating of President Putin and the unbearable hopes he is laid on is a “compensation attempt” for many. Thus the electorate proves its perplexity and inability to cope with the new Russian reality, as well as in its loss of the possibility to influence the authorities.

The Vek weekly writes that according to sociological researches, the most serious losses in the Russian values system is the loss of responsibility to oneself and the society.

As for “active participation in ruling the state”, the things are even sadder here: this index has halved against the Soviet times. According to author of the article political psychologist, the Russians are able to long and correctly reflect on the mission of the state and the necessity of reforms. However, speaking of all this they mean that someone else is supposed to take care of everything – of raising the economy, state construction, social needs…. It is curious that over the past decade the number of those who considered richness at the background of total poverty a bad thing has fallen from 20.8% to 17.6%. however, the general belief that it is only the state that is to protect the old people, the invalids, and the sick people has remained: “the people do not even think of moving this burden from the state to their own shoulders”.

Besides, the author writes that even in mid-1990s 65.9% of respondents thought it was normal that actually a minority ruled in a democratic country. By 2000 this figure fell by 54.8%, but it is still very high, “We are used to being ‘ruled’ and not ‘taken into consideration’.”

Thus, the paternalism and a belief in a strict but “good” master – or if we are lucky in a kind messiah- of the Russians that is so characteristic of our nation was reflected in Putin’s popularity ratings.

As Izvestia wrote in New Year’s euphoria, “Putin is a leading star, loved by almost all and politically unique. He has soothed and equally distanced all, charmed and calmed. Even the West cannot help being happy.”

In fact, the president managed to carry out not only revolutionary breakthroughs in foreign politics and to open Russia to the West and the West to Russia, but to also lead the country to the “door in the civilized global world”, the world of “the World Trade Organization, Investments, acting courts and economy, respected laws and citizens”.

All we have to do is to enter this door. To do this we will only have to change our country that our president “sincerely loves but that mostly demands something, wants to be ‘special’ and cannot forgive the mistakes of its idols.”

So despite all rosy predictions, the Kremlin team should not relax and should treat the creativity of astrologers, political scientists, and other oracles rather skeptically.

By the way, in old totalitarian days astrologers usually came to a bad end. According to Vremya MN both Stalin and Hitler had their own astrologers; one of Stalin’s astrologers even calculated the best time for beginning of the Stalingrad Battle. However, the fate of all of them was similar: Hitler sent all his astrologers to prison, Stalin fired all his.

The most notorious astrological story is the one concerning Hitler’s astrologer Kraft: as is known, his main prophecy was that Germany would lose the war in March 1945. He was immediately sent to prison with the verdict “To fire on March 31.” As is known, he was only one month mistaken….

It is so good that all those horrible times are long over and in our unpredictable country in the Year of Dark Horse we have a reliable and loved president, who is also a former KGB officer.

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