Staunton, February 3 – Popular reaction to a series of recent high-profile court cases shows that Russians are much less concerned about elite corruption than they were but far more fearful of the actions of an indifferent state machine that can “crush” people under any pretext, Sergey Shelin says.
And that shift, the Rosbalt commentator continues, not only helps to explain why respect among the Russian population for the ruling caste is declining but also explains why “the gap between citizens and officials” in Russia has been growing ever more rapidly over the last decade (rosbalt.ru/blogs/2018/02/02/1679382.html).
Polls show that the recently concluded case against former governor Nikita Belykh did not attract the same attention as a very similar case against former minister Aleksey Ulyukayev, Shelin says. Most people appear to believe that Belykh was guilty as charged, but they viewed Ulyukayev as a victim of intra-elite squabbles and pressures.
“Such a view of the bosses’ struggle with corrupt figures is today not simply typical,” he continues. “It is found with regard to a much broader circle of state actions.” As a result, cases like the one against regional specialist Yury Dmitriyev who was falsely accused of pedophilia and doctor Elena Misyurina who was blamed for the death of a patient could be scandals.
Their cases like those against Ulyukayev and Belukh resemble one another in that the authorities decide someone is guilty. But there is a major divide between the first two cases and the latter two: Ulyukayev’s former fellow ministers didn’t come to his defense, but doctors very much spoke out on behalf of Misyurina – and the powers that be have begun backing down.
The latter development, the commentator continues, shows that society is no longer in every case “a dumb observer” but in certain circumstances is prepared to protest. Such protests if they involve a small number of people are something the regime can and does ignore, but “the anger of an entire professional community is unusual and one wants to believe more effective.”
“One way or another,” Shelin says, “the gigantic distance between the ruling machine and the mass of the ruled” is becoming ever more obvious to the population and of ever greater concern to its members than is “the corrupt character of specific cogs and wheels of this machine.”
A decade ago, Dmitry Medvedev prophesized that “the bureaucrat will decide the fate of a citizen without knowing anything about him or responding to him or turning attention to any of his arguments and being concerned only to satisfy his own bosses” and those charged with controlling the bureaucracy as such.
As a result, Shelin continues, a Russian today “lives under constant threat of being caught in the gears not only of the defenders of the state but alsso of any other bureaucratic hierarchies, competing with one another but equally indifferent to ‘others’ or even to their former comrades in arms who have fallen” from their positions. Instead, these people behave like robots.
And that is simultaneously reducing popular respect and deference for officials and convincing people that the best strategy is to avoid contact with them if at all possible. In this situation, where there is ever less respect, there is only ever more fear.