Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Putin has Reduced Local Governments to ‘Fifth Wheel’ Status to Undermine Russians’ Faith in Democracy, Experts Say


Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 21 – Over the last 15 years, the Putin regime has moved step by step to eliminate the democratic basis of local government and thereby reduce that part of the state to little more than a transmission belt for the center, Emil Markvart says, a drive intended to solidify Moscow’s control of the country and undermine popular faith in democracy as such.

            The specialist on local government at the Russian Academy of Economics and State Service details the step-by-step process in which Moscow stripped local governments of their democratic legitimacy and power to make decisions, leaving them little more than extensions of the Kremlin (rosbalt.ru/moscow/2019/05/17/1781658.html).

            The first move came in 2003 when city managers who introduced alongside the mayors chose by the municipal assemblies. Then, officials from the regions were added to the commissions that selected candidates to head the municipalities. And overtime, the elections became more pro forma and less meaningful.

            With changes in 2008, Markvart continues, it became obvious to the population that local heads, “even elected by the population in direct elections” were without real power and could be removed at will by those above them.  But as bad as that was for local autonomy and democracy, worse was to come in 2014.

            In that year, the Duma passed a measure which drove the final nail in the coffin of local self-administration.  It gave the regional authorities new leverage over municipal heads by increasing the share of regional officials in the selection boards from a third to a half, a step that almost always guaranteed that the region, not the people, controlled who would be mayor.

            City managers became the real locus of power and they were no longer subject to any vote, even an advisory one. And these changes were ratified in 2015 when the Russian Constitutional Court declared that they were fully consistent with the country’s basic law rather than a violation of its provisions.

            No significant changes in laws regarding this sector have occurred since, but “this was enough,” Markvart says. As a result, he continues, at present, only 12 percent of the heads of districts (raiony) and 11 percent of city districts (okrugs) are still elected.  And of the 1800 districts now, there are direct elections of any kind in only about 1,000.

            “If in 2008, about 70 percent of mayors were chosen by direct election, in 2014, that figure was already down to 34 percent; and in 2019, to only 14 percent,” other Moscow experts say.  And power has passed to appointed city managers almost everywhere – with popular faith in democracy ebbing as a result.

            Markvart says that the center has achieved its goal of establishing complete control over the mayors; but in the process, Moscow “is losing a most important political institution” and increasing the distance between the government at all levels and the population, with officials looking up not down and the population having little confidence in local ones.

One municipal deputy, Pavel Yarilin of the Aeroport district, says that what Moscow has done is to go in exactly the opposite direction to the trajectories of other countries which are handing ever more authority to local officials who are best placed to make decisions about many issues.

According to Yarilin, “local self-administration in Russia is like a fifth wheel on the cart of statehood.” Like so many other things the Russian Constitution calls for, local governance is only “an imitation” of what it is supposed to be.  Markvart agrees: local governance in Russia now is “a completely decorative institution.”

Its role is minimal, and everyone understands this because “they are not idiots,” the Russian scholar says. But the consequences are immense: Russia is losing “the culture of elections” and a generation is rising which consists of “people for whom these democratic values are losing their significance.”

Putin’s ‘Chef’ Reportedly Cooks Up Plan to Stir Racial Enmity and Dismember the United States


Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 21 – The Khodorkovsky-supported Dossier Center is reporting and the American television network NBC is rebroadcasting a report that Yevgeny Prigozhin, known as Putin’s “chef” and who has been involved in subversive activities in Africa has come up with a plan to stoke racial hostilities in the US and ultimately threaten that country’s territorial integrity.

            The essence of the plan, if such it is, calls for Prigozhin’s team to recruit Black Americans, train them in Africa for combat and sabotage, and then return them to the US to foment violence (dossier.center/e-prigozhin/article/prigozhinskij-otvet-doktrine-gerasimova/ and nbcnews.com/news/world/russian-documents-reveal-desire-sow-racial-discord-violence-u-s-n1008051).

            What is especially disturbing about all this is that those presented with such documents, which certainly reflect a mindset of the Putin regime which supports using all means legal and illegal against its opponents, have been put in an impossible position exactly as the Kremlin intends.

            If they dismiss such plans as the kind of fantasies they almost certainly are, the kind of thing some Russian officials can be counted on to think would be wonderful if they were carried out, those who are presented with such documents risk missing a real story, one that shows Moscow is intervening in American life far beyond the elections.

            But if they report them and focus only on the likelihood of such plans being carried out, they may be missing the point because in broadcasting the report, they are likely doing exactly what the Kremlin and its “cook” want: spreading a story, which even if it isn’t true, will likely exacerbate suspicions among Americans and further undermine racial comity.

            In many ways, the supposed Prigozhin plan is yet another revival of Soviet-era programs to reach out in support of Black Americans in the 1920s and later. Those plans did little to help Negroes, but they did provide a trope for segregationists and their supporters who argued that the drive for racial justice was a communist plot.

            Unfortunately, there will be some in the US now who will be ready to draw similar conclusions and vote accordingly.  That is what the Kremlin wanted in Soviet times; it is what it wants now.  And those who comfort themselves with the notion that Russia is not the USSR should recognize that in this case as in many others they are only deceiving themselves.
           

Yevkurov and Moscow Now Using Foreign Agents Law to Go After Opponents


Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 21 – The Ingush authorities, together with their colleagues from Moscow, have raided various non-governmental organizations in Ingushetia and not found evidence that they can use against them. As a result, Magomed Mutsolgov, the head of one of them, says the authorities are now charging such groups with being “foreign agents.”

            That represents another increase in political repression in Ingushetia and underscores the way in which Moscow and Magas are abusing such laws in order to repress the population, the MASHR head says, noting that his group has become one of a long line of Ingush NGOs so targeted (kavkaz-uzel.eu/blogs/342/posts/37863).

            According to Mutsolgov, the Ingush leadership came up with this idea in the wake of mass protests against the border change agreement last October but only began to use it in dragnet-fashion after efforts to gather evidence against Yevkurov’s opponents fell short. Now, it appears, this is where the next wave of repression is going to occur.

            In his blog post, the MASHR leader provides details on the groups the regimes have gone after, including a chronology that shows how the decision to move against organizations after the arrests of individuals failed to contain protest attitudes in the republic. Clearly, the government now recognizes that it is opposed not by individuals but by almost the entire population.

            The most serious consequence of such moves, however, may be very different than what the authorities imagine. Destroying NGOs may slow the mobilization of people for a time, but as the Ingush have shown in the past, if they cannot work through established channels, they will create new ones.

            So far, they have remained committed to legal action. But if the authorities keep up their pressure, it is likely that at least some will become committed to more radical measures, especially if the restraining influence of leaders now under arrest and organizations now banned or marginalized is reduced.