President Putin’s political reforms: the temptation of simple solutions for the authorities and the public


Based on poll results from the Levada Center, the press reports that if civil liberties are restricted, some 10-12% of the Russian population (at least 10 million people) might emigrate from Russia within the next few years.

The Sobesednik weekly gives detailed advice for potential emigrants: the United States, Canada, Germany, Greece, the Czech Republic, and undoubtedly Israel: “The last one is most accessible – you’re accepted even if your grandfather is the only Jewish in your family tree.”

In the opinion of Sobesednik, Australia is very attractive: it is “facing a terrible shortage of skilled labor, and almost everybody is needed,” especially programmers, environmental specialists, geophysicists, designers and even journalists. The only requirements are to learn the language and leave the “closing society” for the sake of the antipodes.

Germany guarantees immigrants not only free medical insurance and monthly payments during their job search period, but also free German language courses with scholarships. German migration companies assure that the people inclined for science prefer the country: “In our country Russians could resume or get the education, the quality of which is recognized throughout the world, for free.”

Clearly, concludes Sobesednik in the article entitled “Where to flee?” that most active, educated and enterprising people will leave the country.

Meanwhile, Vedomosti, has concluded after analyzing the poll results provided by the Levada Center and the National Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM), that Russians are more concerned for loss of the social rights than infringement on their civil and political liberties.

As it turned out, the number of respondents who think the right to life is the most significant has fallen from 63% to 54% over the past decade; the share of those who esteem private liberty and inviolability of the home most of all has fallen by 10% (45% vs. 55% in 1994); however, the share of those who recognize the right for free education, medical services, welfare in old age and during illnesses as most significant has increased from 64% to 74%.

According to Vedomosti, the Levada Center accounted for the changes with the fact that the citizens see no more immediate threats to their lives, since it has become more “order” over the past decade. As for social problems, the get to the foreground due to the reformation of benefits, which the regime has declared and which is a concern for many people.

On the contrary, the VTsIOM, is more likely to be optimistic about the situation. Its experts say that “the problems of life quality – social guarantees, the right for medical services, etc., rather than the survival at any price” are prior to people now.

Yuri Dzhibladze, director of the Center for Democracy and Human Rights Development Center specified for Vedomosti that when the first poll was conducted a decade ago (to results of which the VTsIOM and Levada Center are referring now), the system of Soviet medical services and education had been functioning mechanically; it has been dismantled over the past decade. For a considerable number of voters the social problems haven’t been that urgent before, as a result of which the people could allow to be more demanding.

According to Yuri Dhibladze, the majority of Russians now perceive civil liberties as “abstraction, which has nothing to do with their everyday life” and are ready “to give them up.”

However, the VTsIOM is less categorical here either; its experts are certain that although the people give no priority to the right of electing or being elected, this doesn’t mean they regard this right as a redundant one.

Not to mention the fact that, according to VTsIOM General Director Valery Fyodorov’s interview for Versiya, only 20% of respondents are ready to agree that the things are taking a right course in the country, while 41 % are discontent. “The moods are alarming. The people are awaiting something,” Fyodorov says. The confidence for power is falling.

According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, “the October defoliation came along a sharp fall of ‘quotations’ of the majority of top Russian politicians.” The political weight of almost all makers of fates in the country has fallen – from the president to ministers and deputies,” the newspaper says.

However, Fyodorov insists in Versiya, the president still has the so-called “Teflon rating:” “Persons are always found to shift the responsibility for failures and cataclysms to.” VTsIOM poll-takers were given expressive responses to questions: “Who is must be given the credit of the economic growth, wage and pension rises?” and “Who is to blame for inflation and price rises?” It turned out again that the overwhelming majority of citizens attribute the services to Putin and shifts the errors on the government.

As formerly renowned TV narrator Sergei Dorenko noted to Russkii Kurier newspaper, Putin in Russia has been duly performing a role of “electoral locomotive,” which Berezovsky, Yu,ashev and Voloshin had invented for him earlier. “He was supposed to haul the entire Russian elite, as well as Unity party and Yeltsin’s “Family”…into the bright future. I then recall the talks that no matter how many cars are attached, he hauls everything: he’s a wonderful, astonishing electora; resource,” Dorenko says.

Evidently, “the locomotive is not the same now: the boiler and the steam are wrong.” This is especially evident as applied to the election in Ukraine, in the preparations for which Russia has recklessly interfered. The Russian “pre-electoral locomotive” evidently has low hauling power, despite being “hanged rounds with cars.”

According to Dorenko, in the struggle for Yanukovych’s victory Putin has “venturesomely put his own reputation and the reputation of Russia on the scales.”

Involvement of another country’s president in similar elections is inadmissible, but once this has happened, notes Dorenko, “the victory must be a knock-out” and Yanukovych’s result must be twice higher than that of Yuschenko. “As we can see now, the entire Ukrainian and Russian administrative resources and personally Vladimir Putin have hardly managed to get a draw; this is undoubtedly a very serious defeat for Putin,” Sergei Dorenko notes reproachfully.

Indeed, nobody dares to predict results of the second round of voting in Ukraine, especially since “the resource pumped into Yanukovych, from Russia as well, is nearly exhausted now,” Russkii Kurier stresses, while the first round has shown that “even Gleb Pavlovsky, a native of Ukraine, has overestimated flexibility of minds” of his former compatriots. As stated by Russkii Kurier, Ukraine “didn’t reacted to the propaganda: the people are voting for the change of power.”

Olga Romanova, an observer at Ren TV says in Vedomosti: “One is simply envious at times when observing Ukraine: alternative presidential election, mass protest resignations of journalists protesting against violation of liberty of speech, poisonings and egg-throwing, meetings and unveiling schemes of destroying the country by the political enemy, shaking up old criminal cases and sincere folk festivals with a political tinge, taking photos with the Russian president.”

According to Romanova, Russia has presented this fest to Ukraine: “Because we care for the person to become president there. Therefore, we now spare no gas, no Pavlovsky and Gelman no even our favorite president for Ukraine; the president has done a good job there.”

A danger exists that the Russian-Ukrainian pre-electoral feast may have a sad ending: “Results of the first round indicate that neither Yanukovych, nor Yuschenko will give up a victory, as well as the Ukrainian voters. The country has split by almost equal halves: the east supports Yanukovych, the west – Yuschenko. The east won’t accept Yuschenko, the west won’t accept Yanukovych; this all is emotional; the nerve strain is serious to mention any tolerance. Any outcome and any president will split the country in two parts.”

The split may prove to be ideological, as well as real and juridical – two presidents in two countries.

“We need to leave Ukraine urgently. These countries won’t end everything in peace. These are not the Czech Republic and Slovakia; they are Hutu and Tutsi from Burundi,” says Romanova.

She stresses that Russian politicians had nothing to do there: “This is not our country; neither it is our election, nor our citizens are erecting barricades in Lviv.”

It was inadmissible to interfere, but even now once “we have interfered, we need to stop anyway… To try to save our reputation, so that we could deny any charges of being involved in the collapse of the country; to preserve our pipelines; to leave a chance for ourselves.”

It is time to switch to internal problems, try to establish order in our country: “The order so that the neighbors would envy, so that they want to befriend a clever, united, rich and free nation.”

Meanwhile, rightist leader Boris Nemtsov told Novye Izvestia that, in his opinion, the possible victory of the opposition in Ukraine would have an effect on the political situation in Russia: “Firstly, it would dispel the myth that an election is inevitably won by the designated successor or heir. Secondly, it would dispel the myth that it is possible for Russia to exert substantial influence on elections in a foreign country, even a friendly one. Thirdly, the myth that the opposition can be defeated by using state administration resources. Fourthly, the myth that the voice of the people doesn’t mean a thing. All of these are Russia’s myths, and they could be dispelled in Ukraine.”

However, says Boris Nemtsov, the jeopardy of being following the same path as Belarus under Lukashenko is following is more evident for Russia.

Nemtsov told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that Russia exists “according to the Belarusian script” with a gap of some three years.

“The first thing Lukashenko did when came to power a decade ago was to liquidate private television channels. Our president has done the same. Later on, Lukashenko began pressing on the political opposition. Putin is doing the same,” said Nemtsov. This goes further, right up to “falsifying elections at all levels” and “a referendum on making Lukashenko president for life.”

According to Nemtsov, is Belarus is indeed Russia in the future: it may soon occur to the Kremlin to conduct “a similar referendum on making Putin president for life.”

To Nemtsov the theory of transition for parliamentary republic, which is widely discussed among Russian politicians and political consultants seems to be unlikely. He notes that “Russia has never been a parliamentary country;” moreover our country “is so vast, profane and uncontrollable” that a similar method of ruling doesn’t quite suit it: “Therefore, I don’t have faith in this script, but may believe in the Lukashenko-manner scenario.”

In the opinion of Irina Khakamada, who has recently conducted a constitutive congress of her own party entitled “Our Choice,” Putin disapproves of the path selected by Alexander Lukashenko but he “might be compelled” to accept this scenario for himself, “because the oligarchy as a phenomenon hasn’t disappeared under his aegis, but one kind of oligarchy has been replaced with another kind, less public and open. Therefore, he (Putin. – author’s note) will be held to hold the entire clan or find a more dreadful replacement for him,” Irina Khakamada has explained to Novoye Vremya magazine.

In her opinion, “the problem is not about Putin as a dictator: he might simply be a typical official who has no values of his own. However, he’s building a system, which is stimulating aggression.”

It’s no coincidence, stresses the leader of Our Choice party, that Zhirinovsky could be regarded as the second popular politician following Putin; Rogozin is evidently improving his standing as well.

Under these conditions, Khakamada told Novoye Vremya, a system is being created in Russia which may bring to “a dictator by faith – not the one who commits errors by chance, like Putin, but practicing with fervor, internally, in Stalin’s manner, since he had had internal beliefs. This is much more fearsome.”

So far, the Russian regime is quite amorphous, stresses Khakamada, “is weak by its absence of internal beliefs, but availability of official-manner approach and cynicism.” Therefore, explains Khakamada, she’s trying to warn the public and the regime: “Do you realize what you’re doing? Someone will come then who’ll jail you first.”

The figures given by Yuri Levada in the above interview for Versiya gives the possible sources of waves of passionarism. According to the Levada Center, at least 52% of respondents support the slogan “Russia is for Russians;” fewer than 20% reject that “because this is fascism.”

Fyodorov of the VTsIOM is more evasive: “A definite rise in xenophobic moods is evident, but extremely irreconcilable views are minimal.” According to the VTsIOM, when asked about youth violence due to ethnic hatred, only 26% of respondents think this reflects the moods of the youth in general. Valery Fyodorov says such moods are “more typical of the young people who haven’t been affected by Soviet-era tolerance.”

Fascism is in fashion in the Russian periphery, says Novye Izvestia: “The country is overrun with a new wave of skinhead terror.”

According to experts, about 55,000 young men in Russia count themselves among the skinhead movement; if skinheads earlier existed in major cities alone, they’ve now spread throughout the country.

Several trials against skinheads groups are underway in Russia nowadays, says Novye Izvestia – in Volgograd, Novosibirsk, St. Petersburg. In all cases young men are indicted of racial murders, kind of “ethnic cleanups” in the streets of cities where they live.

According to researchers, the number of skinheads may double within years – this complies with the general outburst of xenophobic moods in the public. “Many adults and allegedly conscious people openly say: “We understand them” notes Novye Izvestia.

Russian politicians have noticed the fashion for ethnic topic long ago and have been skillfully using it. Dmitri Rogozin, leader of the Motherland Party is the brightest example in this respect.

“Who call us nationalists? Those who blackmail the country with local manifestations of Russophobia, who incite republics of the North Caucasus and the Volga region for a rebellion. You must confess that this is wrong when eastern tyrannies headed by the rapacious national elites, which are not replaced by decades, prosper inside Russia,” Rogozin said in his interview for Argumenty i Fakty weekly.

In the opinion of Rogozin, this cannot fail to affect the humors of various nations which form the Russian Federation, for instance Tartars: Tartars “are not Indians to reside reservations, be it even prospering at the expense of other Russian regions.”

According to Rogozin, the struggle against “ethnic bureaucracy” is among the causes why the political reform proposed by Vladimir Putin is being underway: “It is dangerous to leave everything unchanged. Our vast and multi-national country cannot live under with the permanent fear of collapsing under the Balkan scenario.”

Therefore, Motherland leader thinks the idea of enlarging regions and appointing governors are very favorable: “This is what we expect Putin to do – the strategy for strengthening our country. This very unambiguous statement by the president would immediately cease any speculations saying that the post-Beslan initiatives are supposedly aimed at consolidating his personal power alone.”

Moreover, says Rogozin, the idea of electing governors by the regional legislatures under submission of the president makes only the first, unfinished step in reforming the executive branch of power: “The governors must be honestly and officially be appointed.”

The interview published by AiF once again proves that the leading nationalistic-patriotic politician has no problems with passionarism: “We’ve elected a president and now want to know how skilful he is in the manpower policy. We don’t care about fables of governors that they are all clever and the federal center has deprived them of taxes and they cannot implement regional programs; the president shouldn’t also say then that he’s good but they are all losers in the regions, who sabotaging the presidential programs.”

Rogozin stressed in this connection that it makes no sense to wait the end of gubernatorial terms in office until 2009 and proposed that revising them be launched already in 2005.

In general, “at a benchmark neither the Kremlin, nor the nation has the right to relax. Our country has great future, which we must try making true today,” by means of the constitutional reform as well: “We mustn’t think that the Constitution is untouchable.”

In his another interview for Kommersant-Vlast magazine Dmitri Rogozin said that his Motherland “is the only democratic alternative to the United Russia party.”

He accounts for Motherland’s latest success in the regional election with a skilful, in his opinion, “synthesis of social and patriotic ideas: We found the symbiosis popular in December and find it popular nowadays.”

Rogozin is confident that the popularity of his party will be growing – at any rate, no indications are available thus far that the situation is improving in the country: “The gap between the citizenry and the authorities is widening.”

Of course, notes Rogozin, the regime has a unique resource to maintain the required state of mind in the public through suppression of free speech: “Even the NTV network no longer broadcasts live programs. Everything is edited. Those who wield the scissors determine the content.”

However, stresses Rogozin, “I do not think that it will last long.”

Such diverse political figures like Rogozin and Khakamada are unanimous on this point. Given below is how leader of Our Choice party has determined the causes why the majority supports all actions of the Kremlin: “If the regime is praised all day long at central television channels and no serious criticism is broadcast, and if each time the opposition is broadcast as a laughing-stock, the people’s system of values is distorted.”

Nevertheless, says Khakamada, “if the insane social policy is continued… those who voted in favor of this power will gradually realize that it has been infinitely brutal” and inefficient: “The inefficiency of power is installed into its structure and it will surely blow up someday.”

In the opinion of Khakamada, it is hard ye to determine the term: “This might happen in a couple of years… a decade, but we must be prepared, which means we must work. As is said, do your best and let it flow, without claiming to the victory in the near future.”

This approach differs drastically from that of Rogozin; his approach is distinctive for unusual resolve of statements and extreme practicality on the other hand: “The people… will assess the president in the next, by either accepting or disagreeing the candidacy of successor.”

However, says Yulia Latynina in Novaya Gazeta, the candidacy of the 2008 successor is unlikely to be of crucial significance for Russia.

As decided by the president and the Duma, the people will no longer be involved in the voting: “The people are unworthy. Take a look at those they elect.”

Hence, continues Latynina, it becomes clear how the 2008 problem is to be solved: “The Constitution will have to be revised some in 2008 (just like in the matter of governors). Not in the sense of enabling Putin to remain the president again. In the sense of transfer of power in the country to the prime minister elected by the parliamentary majority. In other words, Putin the president will be succeeded to by Putin the prime minister. And the prime minister will be able to rule the country as long as it fancies him.”

This plan has plenty of advantages: in addition to reserving the reins of government for those who now suits the political elites which are engaged in redistribution of property, this is an evident bow in the direction of West, a proof that Putin is not eventually Lukashenko. “Take a look at Germany. Who is there to restrict Chancellor Schroeder’s reign?” notes Latynina.

Thus, according to Latynina, the Kremlin hopes to accomplish what President Leonid Kuchma of Ukraine has failed to do.

Moreover, cancellation of elections means re-routing of financial flows “from the population to the Kremlin: the people loved elections. Candidates for governors (particularly from single-mandate districts) used to tour the provinces and God-forsaken villages to pay wages, establish regular transport runs, bring gas… The money that was spent on buses and gas will go to the presidential administration. What was spent on thousands of old Russians, will be distributed among two or three officials.”

Besides, warns Latynina, “abolition of elections apparently implies an impending loss of control over the country.” Effectiveness of a system without a feedback is clear in the Caucasus: pressure was particularly unprecedented in the election of Alkhanov and Zyazikov and they both proved to be helpless when facing the first contingencies.

According to Latynina, the regimes there “control the space in front of the presidential palace – sufficient to set up a TV camera and make a report on strengthening the hierarchy of governance. It is good at daytime, while at night neither the light for camera, nor control are available.”

The “temptation of simple solutions,” which Sergei Mitrokhin, deputy chairman of the Yabloko party, mentions in Nezavisimaya Gazeta, may let the regime down. Instead of “building institutes,” i.e. create norms and rules encouraging activity of people, public associations and regions the Kremlin prefers “building the people,” i.e. creating the comprehensive tools of bureaucratic control over this all. “The notorious revival of the state is reduced to implanting primitive, obsolete forms of government, which have long ago been rejected by advanced states and which are thus uncompetitive,” says Mitrokhin, “which may bring our country to a catastrophe.”

According to Khakamada, even the Soviet Union had failed to last longer than decades “it is especially true under conditions of globalization, since the competition is very keen.”

Millions of Russia’s most active and enterprising citizens might be unwilling to wait until the authorities finally realize all this.

Thus, they are bound to be tempted by simple solutions – refer to the beginning of this review.