Staunton, February 1 – Many people assume that the neo-traditionalist course of the Putin Administration is moving Russian society to the right opening the way to a right-wing dictatorship, but in fact, Kseniya Kirillova notes, there are many indications that Russian society is moving to the left on key issues of social justice.
That shift, revealed in polls and popular reactions to problems with healthcare, income differentiation and corruption, she says, has not attracted as much attention as moves to the right because most Russians still place their hopes for resolution in a paternalist state rather than on their own (planeta.media/articles/11695-kseniya-kirillova-kreml-medlenno-ubivaet-svoj-narod/).
As long as such attitudes about the state persist, protests about these issues are likely to remain small, the US-based Russian analyst says; but these attitudes nonetheless pose a challenge to Putin in his next term because society expects him to address their concerns and is increasingly angry that he has done little more than make promises.
Over time, that divide between promises and reality could alter the attitude of the population toward the state or at least its current rulers and at the very least lead to more vocal calls for change. To the extent that the Kremlin responds to these at least rhetorically, that day will come sooner rather than later.
And thus the assumption many make that Putin can buy off the population with wars and circuses but not worry about providing them with bread, the usual second part of that equation, is likely to prove increasingly problematic, leaving the Kremlin leader with less enthusiastic support and more criticism and possibly even the emergence of a challenge from the left.
In support of her argument, Kirillova cites the recent observation of Leonty Byzov, a senior scholar at the Moscow Institute of Sociology that “today’s demands for change ‘bear primarily a left-statist character (mk.ru/politics/2018/01/25/novyy-srok-putina-budet-ochen-tyazhelym-dlya-nego-i-strany.html).
This demand, he says, “must not be called simply leftist because that term presupposes a certain civic activity – the establishment of trade unions, the struggle for one’s rights and so one. Here no such desires are being followed. People are not ready to do anything for themselves: they only appeal to the powers.”
“This is a demand for a paternalist state, for a state which would begin to be concerned about everyone. But the powers that be are not in a position to satisfy this demand. The dynamic is obvious: the left-statist component of the Putin majority is actively displaying the right, which is connected with national identity, ‘the Russian spring,’ and similar things.”
In first place now, Byzov says, is “the dissatisfaction of people with the extreme social injustice” they see around them. That attitude may not yet lead to protests, but it is one that the powers in the Kremlin cannot ignore even if they are very unsure of how to deal with it effectively.
Kirillova points to how the authorities in recent months have made the situation worse by not addressing environmental concerns like radiation leaks, optimizing health care to the point that ever more Russians are suffering and dying, and failing to take steps to reduce the yawning inequality between rich and poor.
Because of the election campaign, Putin and some others are saying more about these issues than they did earlier; but the government isn’t yet acting in a way to effectively address them. Indeed, it seems almost tone deaf to a set of attitudes among ever more Russians that are completely at odds with its own.