Staunton, July 5 – Like the broader shock therapy in the 1990s, the Russian government’s proposed “shock pension therapy” has fundamentally changed the attitudes Russians have toward the powers that be leading them to revisit their past support for Vladimir Putin and to reject all the systemic parties, Vasily Koltashov says.
While the demonstrations against the proposed reform are widespread, they are still relatively weak, the head of the Moscow Center for Political-Economic Research says; and they are not yet in a position to threaten the government let alone Vladimir Putin. But if the regime mishandles the situation, that could soon change (nakanune.ru/articles/114078/).
The major reason for this shift, he continues, is that Russians are no longer protesting about some relatively abstract idea like “ending corruption,” but rather they are focusing on a specific proposal. Their willingness to demonstrate shows that people are “dissatisfied” and won’t react well if their demands are ignored.
Most of those taking part in the protests against the proposal to radically raise the pension age are not following the systemic parties whose leaders they do not trust. Rather they are acting on their own as a result of a fundamental shift in their personal positions, something that presents the powers with a far greater problem.
“The most important thing that is happening now is taking place not in the streets but in the minds” of the population,” Koltashov argues. The upsurge in patriotism as a result of the World Cup “is not influencing the process” by which “people are revising their attitudes toward state policy, officials and Medvedev.”
“Many of my apolitical acquaintances or people who traditionally have always voted for Putin say that for them all this has been a shock,” he continues. They aren’t yet prepared to go into the streets and consequently massive protests are unlikely if as expected the government compromises by reducing the number of years it will raise retirement ages.
But if the government pushes ahead, then all bets are off, Koltashov says. The first indication of that will be the collapse of support for all the systemic parties. They are all “dead” because they do not reflect the attitudes of society. United Russia has such a negative rating that there is nowhere for it to go.”
Koltashov says that he does not think that Russia is approaching a revolutionary situation. Indeed, he declares that “a revolution is impossible.” But ever more people are demanding that Medvedev and his government go, and some are talking about the need for the departure even of his superior, Putin.
“The repudiation of parties and of certain individuals in Medvedev’s campaign is leading to a demand for completely different political organizations in Russia which will correspond to the attitudes of society,” the analyst says. “And this demand will be satisfied,” especially if the economy continues in crisis.
What is important to recognize from the outset, Kolpashov says, is that the Russian people aren’t about to turn to the liberal opposition and to a figure like Aleksey Navalny. His views aren’t that far from where the government’s are whatever he says, and he is handicapped by the fact that he is “openly pro-Western.”
Instead, the Moscow analyst argues, “processes will go along a different path, one unexpected and dangerous for the powers that be.” Today, “the patriotic idea is the idea of the existing powers, the president, the foreign policy establishment and the military,” all of whom operate on that idea.
But – and this is something neither the Kremlin nor the opposition has allowed for – patriotic ideas can be taken over by the opposition and used against the regime. Russians “do not want radical liberal reforms. They want that the market be supplemented by a social state.” The destruction of that is something they’re more agitated about than they were a decade ago.
If the powers that be forget this, they “will suffer enormous losses to their reputations and at a certain moment may lose control over the patriotic idea because patriotism is today a very important phenomenon, Koltashov says. But the patriotism of today “has nothing in common with that which existed 15 years ago.”
“The implicit patriotism of the 1990s was somewhat different because it arose on the basis of the development of Russian capitalism.” Today, it can arise as a defense of the social state; and any attack on that state, as “shock pension therapy” shows, can lead to a reaction, one that could become a core element of a new patriotic and anti-Western agenda.