The government can expect some severe reprimands, if not dismissals

The public’s dissatisfaction with the government’s performance is approaching critical mass. By using the corruption mechanisms it has created, and with complete impunity, the bureaucracy is enjoying all the advantages of the “bureaucratic capitalism” it has established.

The delay of President Putin’s address to parliament this year has produced a variety of comments. Kremlin-watchers say that President Putin is wavering between two scenarios.

According to the first scenario, President Putin ought to heed what ordinary citizens are saying and present some tough demands: making the government tackle corruption and bureaucracy, and making the security and law enforcement agencies ensure public safety. But this option scares the influential liberals among Putin’s team. The Westernizers in the Kremlin are telling President Putin that a crackdown could generate a new wave of accusations from the West about democracy being dismantled in Russia.

The second scenario entails continuing the kid-glove policy. Its supporters use the following arguments: “Why poke a stick into the ant-hill? With energy prices high, and Russia’s gold and currency reserves growing rapidly, social harmony and stability can be maintained without any drastic moves.”

Critical mass

Meanwhile, it’s becoming increasingly clear that a whipping is unavoidable. The public’s dissatisfaction with the government’s performance is approaching critical mass. The latest major irritant is the crazy, speculative rise in housing prices. In the past month alone, the print media have carried over 2,000 articles criticizing the government and demanding the prime minister’s dismissal.

It’s worth noting that the people’s voice is taking on some different tones. In general, citizens are inclined to agree with the conclusions drawn from official statistics: life really is changing for the better, if slowly. In general, the authorities have coped with the first stage of normalization: overcoming extreme poverty. According to ROMIR Monitoring’s latest polls, poverty has been replaced as the biggest issue by the dishonesty of the authorities and lack of confidence in them. Only 5% of respondents trust the federal Cabinet, 2% trust the Duma, and 6% trust the prosecutors. More and more often, people are asking the following questions: What kind of state are we living in? What kind of authorities do we have? Who is governing us?

With every day, the answer is becoming clearer. The bureaucracy is making a comeback. The number of public servants in Russia has increased by 11% in the past year alone. By using the corruption mechanisms it has created, and with complete impunity, the bureaucracy is enjoying all the advantages of the “bureaucratic capitalism” it has established. The bureaucracy is not only blatantly robbing business owners and ordinary citizens, but (according to President Putin) turning into an “arrogant caste” that doesn’t care about how the people live or what they think. No wonder Kremlin officials joke that Russian ministers prefer to talk to the people from London.

Portrait of the average bureaucrat

The Sociology Institute at the Russian Academy of Sciences has compiled a statistical portrait of the Russian bureaucrat. What are his characteristic features? Indifference to individuals (63%), venality (58%), indifference to national interests (41%), incompetence and lack of accountability (32%). The caste of bureaucrats isn’t even interested in power as such (after all, real power involves a lot of work), but the sweet benefits of power. Hence the intense interest in show business, the touching friendships with celebrities, the taste for pop music. Not surprisingly, politics is coming to resemble show business. Some politicians would deserve the title of People’s Performing Artist more than a Services to the Fatherland award.

The pleasure-seeking bureaucracy has become a millstone for Russia’s development. Big business has direct access to President Putin’s ear, so it can break through bureaucratic barriers; but small business is forced to spend over 200 billion rubles a year on greasing the bureaucracy’s palms. According to a recent report from the Presidential Administration’s Supervisory Directorate, a substantial share of the key proposals President Putin made in last year’s address to parliament have sunk in the swamp of the bureaucracy.

The quality of our bureaucratic state is evidenced by the endless series of miscalculations. Let’s just mention the latest one: the “dacha amnesty.” Look at the benefits they promised! Look how the policy was promoted all over the country! And what happened? In order to legalize their rights to the small dacha properties tossed to them by Khrushchev, our parents are having to queue for months. Some journalists have calculated that Russia’s elderly people will spend a combined total of several million years on the registration procedures. Yet during privatization, assets worth hundreds of millions of dollars were handed out without any need for queuing.

The people are tired

The latest pastime of our liberals is criticizing President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus. But how is it possible to explain to the people that our version of democracy is better than Lukashenko-style democracy, if little Belarus has build more housing stock in the past five years than Russia and Ukraine combined? The explanation is plain to see. In Belarus, bureaucrats who steal are sent to jail. In Russia, 92% of land for housing construction has been allocated via corrupt systems. And no one has been punished! Yet the costs of bribing bureaucrats are later passed on to consumers in housing prices. Is the government aware of this? Of course it is!

So there’s hardly any need to explain why the idea of confiscating property from corrupt bureaucrats is gaining popularity among the public. And who is creating this new “revolutionary situation” in Russia? The people, who have tired of being patient – or the thieving bureaucrats who seem to have forgotten the old adage of “you can’t take it with you”?

Between 1991 and 2000, a weak state maintained an illusion of stability by doing deals, first with the oligarchs, then with the bureaucracy. The scope for that has now been exhausted. Thanks to exceptional good luck (high export prices for oil, gas, and metals), the state has grown stronger and built up the reserves it needs. Now the time has come to go back to the sources of democracy and the main source of stability: the ability to reach consensus with the people.