Monday, February 17, 2020

Fading Memories of Deficits in Soviet Times Changing Russians’ Assessments of that Past, Khlevnyukov Says


Paul Goble

Staunton, February 11 -- In both 2001 and 2011, Russians told pollsters that the change they valued most from late Soviet times to the first years of the post-Soviet period was the fact that the shelves in stores were full of goods to purchase rather than largely empty, Oleg Khlevnyukov, a Higher School of Economics professor says.

Not surprisingly, he says, this assessment of what had improved had a major impact on their attitudes about a wide variety of other issues (“The Impact of Full Shelves: Overcoming the Goods Deficit in the 1990s and Its Social Consequences” (in Russian), Vestnik Permskogo Universiteta 3 (46) (2019): 5-14 at press.psu.ru/index.php/history/article/view/2610/1984; summarized at iq.hse.ru/news/340493631.html).

An anecdote which circulated in Russia in the early 1990s captured this, Khlevnyukov says: “In Moscow, an Erotica store opened: it had naked shelves.”  This captured the fact that many Russians at that time couldn’t find meat, sugar, cooking oil, or even bread on a regular basis in stores close to where they lived.

As more goods became available, he continues, Russian attitudes toward socialism and markets changed, with the population gradually shifting from being supporters of socialism “with guaranteed control over prices even at the cost of deficits” to support for the widespread availability of goods “with high prices.”

In July 1990, polls found that only 50 percent of Russians agreed with the proposition that there should be high prices as long as there were plenty of goods to buy, but by March 1994, that share of the population had risen to “almost 62 percent.” At the same time, those who favored rationing dropped from 37 percent to 12 percent.

“The majority of citizens rated highly the advantages of a market economy, despite the high social cost for it,” Khlevnyukov says. And because “memory about the chronic deficits in the USSR was still fresh, they did not want to return to the empty shelves with which they associated government regulation.”

            Later, he suggests, when the memories of empty shelves faded, attitudes toward the Soviet past have changed as the issue of empty shelves has become less significant. They are evaluating that past in terms of very different issues, and thus their judgments are different as well.

Yekaterinburg Duma Speaker Underhandedly Extends His Power over Legislative Committees


Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 11 – It has often been observed that in Stalin’s times, local and regional officials became “little Stalins,” copying what the ruler at the center did in their own more limited spheres. Something similar is happening now, with officials outside the capital became “little Putins,” extending their power by what can only be described as hybrid means.

            The editors of Politsovet point to an example of this in the Yekaterinburg city duma where they say there has taken place “a real political revolution in the interests of its current head Igor Volodin” but in a way that most deputies have failed to see what has occurred (politsovet.ru/65463-perevorot-podpolkovnika-volodina-chto-znachit-rasshirenie-polnomochiy-spikera-gordumy.html).

            Volodin by stealth has acquired the power to “interfere personally in the work of any committee” of that legislative body, thus reducing the independence of the deputies and further centralizing power.  He has done so by introducing what his supporters call minor changes in the rules without the usual examination of such proposals by the relevant committee.

            The new rules, which were adopted by a bare majority of a minimum quorum, allow the head of the duma or his deputy to preside at any committee meeting and gives them the power to convene such meetings whenever they want them without consulting the chairmen of these constituent bodies.

            Initially, Volodin’s supporters said this was necessary to ensure a quorum but then, facing criticism, they suggested that it was needed because the committees are so overburdened that they will benefit from having the head or his deputies take part in and even direct their meetings.

            “The new rule,” the Politsovet editors say, “creates in the city duma a new political reality,” one in which the chairmen of the committees have little power and the head of the legislature controls almost everything.  He can now ignore or override chairman who do not agree with him and get his own way far more easily.

            Indeed, given how small the committees are, the participation of the duma head and his deputies in any meeting may give them a majorities so that they can vote out whatever they want regardless of what regular members of the committees do. Volodin says he will use this power to promote the interests of city residents, but many aren’t so sure.

            They fear that “the city duma could be transformed into an instrument for the achievement of the ambitious political plans of Volodin” and the sacrifice of the interests of the population. In the short term, this may lead to more conflicts between the head and the chairman, but over the longer haul, it may mean that the chairmen will lose their power.

            If that happens, what had been a more or less democratic arrangement in Yekaterinburg will become something else, the editors say, a conclusion that many of their readers will likely view as characteristic not only of that Urals city but of the Russian Federation as a whole in which ostensibly democratic amendments are now being used for anything but democratic ends.

‘Russia is Building the Very Worst Variant of Capitalism,’ Blogger Says


Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 11 – When the Soviet system fell and Russians committed themselves to capitalism, most of them assumed that capitalism was one system not many, but in fact, a Russian blogger posting anonymously says, there are many kinds ranging from the developed and humane form in Scandinavia to the oligarchic.

            In the latter, a handful of the richest families and businessmen run not only the economy but also the state. It is typified by “Mexico, African countries, and the United States,” he says. Perhaps not surprisingly, “Russia has been building the very worst variant,” a clan-based oligarchate (zen.yandex.ru/media/id/5e10824c028d6800ad2e288e/rossiia-stroit-samyi-hudshii-variant-kapitalizma-klanovyi-oligarhat-5e42957fed9e3c373ebf321b).

            “Without thinking very long about it,” the blogger says, “Russia proceeded along the second path, putting all the more profitable branches of the economy into the hands of one and the same people.” Many Russians lived in the hope that this was a short-term phenomenon and that with the passing of this generation, everything would change.

            They have been “cruelly mistaken,” the blogger says.

            Instead, fathers have passed control of wealth and power to their children and clans are being formed that control ever larger swaths of both the economy and the state.  And emblematic of what is happening is what has occurred in occupied Crimea, where those committed to oligarchic capitalism have imposed that order since 2014.

            “Gradually,” the blogger writes, “the clan-oligarchic system has subordinated to itself ever more resources with the help of administrative pressure applied by relatives among the authorities.”  It has become stronger not weaker and as a result may continue to exist for what seems like “forever.”

            Those at the top of this system look at what has happened in the US and see no reason why they should not continue, especially as they reap the benefits no matter how bad things become for all other Russians.