Staunton, October 4 – This year has been marked by the rise in Russia of a new “societal agreement” on three points: that the country is in stagnation and will remain so for a long time, that Putin will stay in office “until the end of life (his or ours), and that “after Putin, everything will fall apart,” according to Dmitry Gubin.
Some are pleased by these three notions; others are horrified; but the important thing, the journalist and Rosbalt commentator says, is that “as a whole, everyone accepts all of them,” even if each of them reflects a certain masochism that underlies the lives of Russians today (rosbalt.ru/blogs/2016/09/30/1554811.html).
Even Russian patriots don’t both to deny that the country is in stagnation and that in some ways things have returned to where they were in Brezhnev’s time, with a few modifications such as social media taking the place of the kitchen. Moreover, as was true then, so now, “prices are going up and incomes aren’t, and the quality and assortment of products are declining.”
“Today,” Gubin continues, “for Petersburgers, it has become normal to take a train trip to Finland to buy cheese just as people from the provinces in Brezhnev’s time travelled in ‘sausage trains’ to Moscow.”
“But the main thing is,” he says, “that we understand and accept that without a shakeup of some kind there will not be any improvement.” That puts any improvement off for some time because Russians don’t want to take the personal or collective risks involved in trying to shake things up. Some, of course, have given up and are leaving the country.
Regarding Putin’s longevity, the second part of the new national consensus, Russians know that contemporary medicine might keep him alive to age 100 or even more. “But if the doctors of Putin are chosen according to the same principles as other officials, that is loyalty and FSB approval, then there are serious reasons to be concerned about the health of the president.”
But even if Putin remains healthy, Russians see problems. He hasn’t walked the streets of the country for 16 years and is thus increasingly out of touch with Russian realities. As a result, he will likely make more mistakes with time, especially if he can make decisions without reference to any Politburo.
And the third point of the consensus, that after Putin everything will fall apart, is perhaps the most deeply held part of the consensus. That is because, Gubin writes, “in Russia the office makes the man and not the other way around: Don’t forget that 16 years ago, Vladimir Putin was known only to a few and as a provincial bureaucrat, a liberal, a democrat and a Westernizer.”
Were one to install Khodorkovsky or Navalny in such a position of unlimited and unquestioned power, “perhaps, by the end of their second terms, they would decide that the country would fall apart without them” and work hard to ensure that they remained on the throne forever.”
The replacement at some point in the future of the autocratic system “would serve the interests of all Russians,” both those now in favor with the current president and those whom he persecutes. “This is so obvious,” Gubin says, “that it is even strange we don’t change the system right now.”
“Perhaps,” he concludes, the reason is that “Russians are historic masochists. We put up with stagnation and other things no one deserves and put up a picture of the tsar on our walls.”