Monday, December 28, 2015

Russia May Be Close to a Revolution But Not the One Opposition Hopes For, Sociologist Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 28 – Given the increasing pessimism among Russians because of declines in their standard of living, Russia may be approaching a revolutionary situation, according to Yekaterina Dobrenkova; but the revolution may not succeed or it may turn out to be very different than the one the opposition hopes for.

            Earlier this month, VTsIOM released survey data showing a continuing deterioration in the opinions of Russians about their present and future situation.  Valery Fedorov, the polling agency’s head, noted that Russians are about to enter 2016 with anything but an optimistic attitude.

            “The reduction in the real incomes of the population by 10 percent over the last year, the new collapse of the ruble given the continuing decline of oil prices,” he said, “is perniciously reflected in the prospects for economic growth. [And] precisely the absence of prospects, of ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ oppresses people most of all.”

            The Russian Orthodox nationalist portal “Russkaya Narodnaya Liniya” reported these findings and asked Ekaterina Dobrenkova, the pro-rector of Moscow’s International Academy of Business and Administration, whether “a revolution threatens Russia?”  Her answers will be not be reassuring to the Kremlin (

            Dobrenkova says that she agrees both with the data VTsIOM has offered and with Fedorov’s conclusions and argues that “the time has come” for the government to face up to the problems, be honest with the population, and stop misleading it by suggesting that the peak of the crisis has passed.

            “Unfortunately,” she continues, “at present Russians have few reasons for optimism.” And the government is making it worse because it is one thing to issue overly positive assessments of foreign actions but quite another to say things are good when it is talking about what Russians experience every day.

            That only has the effect of increasing distrust among the population for all “official declarations and policies,” Dobrenkova says.  And she urges Moscow to “take an example from [US President Franklin Delano] Roosevelt who honestly told his people that their country was in a difficult position and proposed a course unifying all strata of the population.”

            The Russian people is so constituted that it “is prepared to unite at difficult times for the Fatherland, but only the leader of the state must offer an idea and goal with the help of which people will unite around their President. Therefore, one should not be seeking to calm the people but to unite them!”

            To date, however, she suggests, what the government has offered has not been a serious plan but rather a set of uncoordinated actions and political promises. “Without a unified strategy, the government will not be able to cope with the tasks it has set itself,” and worse, the population will see this.

            “Today,” Dobrenkova says, “it is complicated to predict whether there will be a revolution in Russia.”  The situation has not yet reached the point where those on top can’t act and those below don’t want to accept things as they are. “But when the dissatisfaction of those below exceeds 50 percent, then in this case, a revolution is possible.”

            The upcoming Duma and presidential elections could either be a means of overcoming this threat or they could exacerbate it given that in the campaigns “will appear forces who desire to whip up the anger of the population and direct it against the state” in order to weaken it and achieve their own goals, the sociologist says.

            “Our foreign ‘partners,’” she continues, “who do not wish us anything good are increasing their activities and financing on the eve of the elections.” And if Russians are left without the ability to feed their families, no one can predict what they might do. The situation is not yet that dire, but it could become so.

            At the same time, the Moscow scholar points out, “a revolution does not always lead to the overthrow of the government, because the demands of citizens can be different.” The kind of revolution in Russia that the US and the opposition would like probably won’t happen, “but this does not mean that the people will not go out into the square with their own demands.”

            The actions of the long haul truckers show this, she says, and others may follow. “What did the government do in this situation?” It made concessions that had the effect of showing that its earlier actions were “unjust” and should not have been taken in the first place.  Russians can see that.

            “Now, legislation should be very carefully considered, for numerous laws that have been adopted are putting additional burdens on business and on the population. “Unfortunately, in the government, they continue to accept laws” designed to extract more resources from the population and are imposing them to try to cope with the crisis.

             But in so doing, Dobrenkova says, the authorities are only making the situation for the country and themselves worse.

            In next year’s Duma election, the ruling United Russia Party is likely to suffer defeats as a result of this and becasue it hasn’t brought new leaders to the fore and instead has denied Russians the opportunity to vote against all candidates, it has reduced the legitimacy of the elections by depriving them of the chance to “express their opinion.”

            If things continue to deteriorate, Dobrenkova says, Russians will find other and perhaps to some less acceptable ways to express what they think.

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