Friday, June 8, 2018

New Format of Putin’s ‘Direct Line’ Undermined Russian Faith in ‘Good Tsar, Bad Boyars,’ Shaburov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 8 – The most important result of Vladimir Putin’s latest “Direct Line” program is not what he said about this or that issue, Aleksey Shaburov says; but rather that the new format deprived many of the chance to complain to the president about officials. But “now people see that there is no difference between Putin and the bureaucrats.”

            The changes in format this time, the Yekaterinburg commentator says, were that there were no viewers in the studio and “Putin via video links spoke with governors and ministers, turning over the questions he received to them” (

            These innovations, which were announced in advance, had given rise to “heightened expectations,” Shaburov continues. Russians hoped that Putin would use the occasion to put the officials in their place and give them direct orders to make changes – or even send them into retirement for their failings.

            Had that happened, it would have been “the final incarnation of the principle of direct rule and would please the people which has believed in the formula about ‘the good tsar and bad boyars.’”  But Putin and those who put this show on clearly decided that they didn’t want this year’s “direct line” to be a litany of complaints.

            Instead, “the current ’line’ really became something else. Residents of the country appealed to Putin all with the same serious questions and problems, but the character of the answers was different,” Shaburov says. In the past, Putin gave orders; but this time around, he simply turned to governors and ministers directly.”

            “And Putin’s tone in speaking with his subordinates was not the one ordinary citizens expected him to adopt. The President was friendly, well-intentioned, and polite and did not allow himself to show any doubts about what they were telling him.” There was no harsh criticism at all. 

            And that sent a message to the Russian people. At present, “there is no principled different between ‘the tsar’ and ‘the boyars.’”   
The responses of the ministers and governors were also instructive. They admitted to particular shortcomings, “but on the whole they drew a happy picture. Judging by their words, there are no systemic problems, only particular shortcomings which can be solved in a normal working regime.”
“And Putin publicly agreed with these assertions. In essence,” Shaburov says, “everything has returned to the Soviet practice when all questions were about individual cases and there was no willingness to recognize the existence of any general problems. As a result, it was possible to respond to any question by saying that on the whole, everything is fine.”
In such a system, the officials are united in their views, and “the people in this combination looks somehow extraneous and its complaints at times inappropriate,” the Yekaterinburg commentator says.  And that means this: “Russians now do not have anyone they can complain to.”
That can hardly work any better for Putin than it worked for Brezhnev. 

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