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IE BRICS – Russia: yesterday, today, tomorrow

By Yuliya Afanaseva, political scientist, Innovatori Europei Russia

 The aim of this article – introducing my collaboration within Innovatori Europei – is to present some facts and specific features of the contemporary Russian political process. It is a short sketch from the inside that gives an idea of what is going on in the country and the roots of contemporary situation.

In around 2 weeks Russia is to face the next electoral stage – elections of State Duma (lower chamber of the State parliament) as well as the elections of 27 regional parliaments.

First of all, let us take a look at the evolution of the party system inRussia. From multiparty system (1995 – 43 parties at the elections, 2011 – 7 officially registered parties) it switched to “dominant party” system, where “United Russia” controls not just the legislative power but also executive (out of 83 appointed governors 75 are members of the dominant party).

The changes in electoral legislation that came into action in 2003 resulted in decrease of amount of political parties as well as a rapid decrease of political participation, later the Constitution was changed so that now parliament is elected for 5 years (not 4), and President – for 6 years (not 4). According to the surveys citizens do not vote at the elections as they think that the decision is already made and their participation will not make any change. On the one hand, the small number of political parties contributes to the stability of party system, but on the other there is almost no chance to create a new party and promote the interests of those groups that are not well represented yet.

It is obvious that to maintain the country in order people need to sacrifice freedom. But what is supposed to be done if after it happens people need to be protected from the ones who rule the country? Probably, a revolution is not possible soon even though those moods are present in the society. After the nightmare of the “wild 1990s” and the terrible crisis of 1998 no one wants to lose what they posses. Revolutions regularly lead to chaos as we see on the examples of the recent ones.

Coming to the issue of the dominant party, we can examine what “United Russia” is. Let us first see how they vote. The video shows how the law concerning drinking and driving was accepted (zero tolerance introduced).  In 2007 Dmitriy Gryzlov, the chairman of the party said that “the parliament is not the right place for debates”. Well, ever since that time members of the parliament have probably decided not to attend it at all. Here we can see how the bills influencing millions of people’s lives are become laws. And if we look at what kind of laws those are we will see that for the most part they are cancelling social programs (social sphere commercialization, giving extra benefits for military and police, which shows that the basis of the regime is not legitimacy but force). InSt Petersburg in the 1990s there were around 60 social programs maintained by City Administration, now there are none.

The upcoming elections are not about party programs’ or candidates’ competitions, it is all about so-called “black” or “dirty” technologies of “United Russia” and opposition trying to overcome it. However, it is pleasant to see that opposition is uniting around the idea of struggling against political monopoly – liberal democrats, communists and others are cooperating to ensure transparency of elections that is not in the sphere of interests of the state. Just one example o fthe “electoral” technologies – some time ago an interesting document was published in the internet. It is an instruction for so-called “responsibles” on how to organize an “excursion” to “places of interest” ofSt Petersburg on December 4th. The excursion is for the people living in Leningrad district close to St Petersburg, and what is interesting about the document is that participants are supposed to have some documents that are to be collected by the “responsible”s at the beginning and for “visiting the places of interest” they get free meals and money at the end. Also they are not supposed to talk to the ones “taking part in the process, journalists and take part in the exit-polls. Here is when we start having some doubts on what those “places of interest” are…  Those doubts are underpinned by a new technology used by United Russia this year, when students are paid for voting at 6 different districts of St Petersburg where a “temporary registration” is provided for them in advance. Those technologies were prepared in advance (this spring) when a new electoral law was introduced. It basically means that one can come over to the city, get a temporary registration and next day vote at the city parliament elections. Knowing that the majority of the citizens will never vote for the ruling party, they try to have ethnic diasporas, students, military officers and other “depending” categories involved.

One more interesting fact – the chairman of United Russia is Gryzlov and its leader Vladimir Putin is not even a member as well as Medvedev who is the only member of federal electoral list (other parties have 10 persons in their federal lists, others are elected from regional lists), but as their ratings are still very high, their images are used all over to increase the party support. But lately the amount of people not supporting Putin and calling his regime “the most corrupted ever” (according to Transparency International rating Russia moved to the 1st place in the last years). The report of one the oppositional leaders has lots of proof and facts. I am not going to go into the details of corruption episodes etc – just one fact – the approximate amount of bribes is around 1 trillion of rubles (23 billion euro) annually.

Some examples of “administrative resource”  – in St Petersburg (2nd biggest city of the country) NONE of the publishing establishments agree to publish the official newspaper of oppositional social-democratic  “Just Russia” party, that is why it is being printed in Smolensk, 758 km away. ALMOST NONE of advertising agencies and outdoor service companies sell advertising space for the oppositional parties. So now we can only see enormous advertising hoardings of “United Russia” all over the city and just a few of others. To citizens it is funny that ads cover the historical buildings that were knocked down in the center of the city.

For the political scientists contemporary Russian politics could only be interesting from the point of view of elite and transit studies (democratic rollback). There surely are some concerns about political culture etc. It is true that there is lack of democratic traditions and necessary preconditions, only 10-13% of populations feel themselves as “middle class”, at the same time the gap between 3% of the richest possessing 85% of the resources and the poorest is huge. But the situation that we observe in the last years surely does not contribute to the development of institutions of democracy. They do exist “de jure” but “de facto” we all learn to read between the lines and come to a point of “social schizophrenia” when there is the “official” side and the “unofficial” one. For example, the official one says that after the reform of the militia when it became police all the policemen were supposed to be re-accredited. The unofficial part says that 70 % of the people do not trust the police and tend to avoid it when possible. Controlled opposition, superpresidential regime, oligarchy – those conclusions are also presented in the books of political scientists, for example in the book Stephen Wegren’s and Dale Herspring’s “After Putin’s Russia” or in the book “Friend Putin” (“L’amico Putin”) by Francesca Mireu.

As for the citizens – the are two options – to laugh at it or to cry about it. So the ones with the sense of humor come up with new political anecdotes that were so popular in Soviet Union(2 examples – a joke of 2004 when Putin was elected for the 2nd presidential term said “Special offer at the elections of 2004! If you vote for Putin for the 2nd term, you get him for the third term without elections!” It is about to become true next year as no one has any doubts that he will not be elected after it was stated at “United Russia” party conference in September. By the way, after that day the amount of people migrating from Russia increased. Second joke  – “90% of Russian citizens are sure that “United Russia” will win the elections, but none of them plan to vote for it”). The more pessimistic ones simply leave the country. And the outgoing “brain flow” is huge – only so-called academic and economical migration (scientists, students and businessmen) is 500 000 – 1 000 000 of people annually (the total population of the biggest country in the world is 145 000 000).

Now the country needs democracy more than ever and due to the experience that it had in the 20 years knows how to manage it. 80% of Russian political elite of 1990s originated from ex-soviet elite, so those just started to use a new vocabulary containing words like human rights, democratic values etc to actually use the very same or even more “savage” methods. Nowadays there are lots of those raised in different circumstances really knowing what those terms are supposed to mean in everyday life. A short personal story – I once talked to a member of the first city parliament of modern Russia (“Lensovet” of 1988).  He said: “I want to apologize to the young generation. We really believed we will lead you to the best future – free market, social welfare, human rights and freedoms. But we didn’t know how to do it – no one taught us that, we all were scientists, journalists, writers…” New generation has those ideas and knowledge and understands that democratic dictatorship, “brown” economy and corruption will not lead us anywhere.

Russiadoes have a more or less stable economy now, BUT isn’t it just a stagnation? Crisis is always a chance for changes while stagnation is just a slow regress. “United Russia”, when it was founded, managed to provide stability but as Robert Michels’ “golden law” says “power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Even Medvedev in one of his speeches stated that one ruling party regime leads the country to nowhere, but what do we observe? A “facade democracy” that only seems to be so when you look from outside. Talking about economy and environment we should underline that even though there is an understanding that state policy being based on oil and gas trade will not get the country far. Unfortunately, developing technology and entrepreneurship is not beneficial for the existing regime which means that it is not going to actually happen.

Of course, the ambivalent situation inspires a lot of artists and public persons – there are a lot of street art representations of common opinion – plays “HEAT” and “I need more freedom”, streets signs, videos etc. But wouldn’t it be better to use that creative potential for the development of environmental studies and constructive civic initiatives? Being involved into that field I can say that there are lots of “green” start ups and initiatives, for example DIY (Do it yourself) movement, but not being supported by the state they face lots of difficulties. The same problems are typical for all the NGOs trying to “correct state policy errors”.

So what will the future bring? Hard to tell, but I guess what is common for the country itself and for its neighbors and partners – a desire to see Russia not being “frozen in decline”, but strong and prosperous – that is how it can lead the innovations and progress.

Una risposta a IE BRICS – Russia: yesterday, today, tomorrow

  • James Coghlan scrive:

    Dependency on oil cannot last more than 50 yrs. Better techs exist that could carry Mother Russia from the shadows and promote industrial production on the scale of China and her other competitors. Although the same tech will be used by other G8 members. Clean, green and cheap to produce it does not involve nanotechnology and could also aid Russian space program.

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