Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Putin’s Commitment to ‘Stability above Everything’ Promises Anything But, Moscow Experts Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 9 – A report by the Inter-Regional Association of Young Political Scientists notes that Vladimir Putin has changed his language to reflect is “commitment to stability above everything else,” a conclusion that one Moscow commentator suggests fails to capture just how dangerous Putin’s position is for Russia as a whole.

            In an essay posted on the LawinRussia.ru site yesterday, Vyacheslav Petrov says that the report – available online at dropbox.com/s/o4qvp90tmrz5er4/Doklad_Putin_AMP.pdf – offers two conclusions, one “banal” and the other incompletely developed because the report’s authors did not choose to draw on the work of others (lawinrussia.ru/node/261492).

            On the one hand, the report says, Putin in 2000 presented himself as “a balanced combination of conservative and liberal ideology.”  And on the other, it concludes that by 2012, the Russian president had shifted to authoritarianism, dropped references to liberal values in favor of conservative ones, and talked not about goals but about his directives to the elite.

            Both of these conclusions but especially the latter could have been much improved, Petrov says, if the young political scientists had paid more attention to the ideas of more senior writers like Georgy Satarov of the INDEM Foundation, Vladimir Lukin, Russia’s ombudsman, and  Gleb Pavlovsky, a leading Moscow commentator.

            Satarov has written, Petrov says, that Putin’s obsession with stability is disturbing because it “clashes with the demands for change which were clearly articulated by society in 2012.”  What exists in Russia under his rule is “not stability; it is stagnation” and a stagnation that points to decay and collapse.

            Clearly, when the authorities “constantly talk about stability,” that raises questions not only about how fearful they must be of any kind of instability but also and perhaps even more disturbingly about “what they have in mind” for themselves and their country when they talk about stability.  

                This observation in turn raises two important questions, Petrov argues.  First, “has Russia achieved a balance of interests of various social subjects and political forces?”  And second, does on observe in Russia “legal guarantees” of the rights of people to advance their interests in the public sphere.

            Russia’s problem is, the LawinRussia.ru writer says, that the authorities and society answer these two questions in different ways.  “Let us speak directly, the achievement of stability is not guarantee for the successes of the authorities in vitally important spheres for the country.” Anyone can see that “with the unaided eye.”

            “More than that,” Petrov continues, “today, when the world is not standing in place, stability as such cannot be a good thing” because in this case it means to fall behind others who are advancing. As Satarov has pointed out, one cannot quite understand how anyone would want to stabilize a budget deficit, inflation, the shadow economy and other problems Russia has now.

            “What era” are the country and its regime living in?” Petrov asks. Is it “a revolutionary one or a post-revolutionary and restorationist one?”  Apparently, “the powers see for Russia (and for themselves personally) a way out in restorationist breaking, stabilization, and the structuring of growing revolutionary processes” by appealing to the inertia of mass consciousness.

            To a certain extent, the regime has gotten away with this because of the behavior of the opposition, a group that Lukinhas described as “running ‘ahead of reality’” and that Pavlovsky has suggested may in fact be an obstacle on the path to the emergence of the kind of genuine opposition Russia needs.

            Both revolutions and restorations have their own inertia, Petrov says, and both kinds of inertia are “dangerous for society and the state.” The first leads to “chaos and the destruction of the state,” something Russia has already experienced; the second, to “the illusion of a return to those times where there weren’t any disorders.”

            Moreover, the LawinRussia.ru writer argues, “the shift from a revolutionary phase of development to a restorationist one” also has a certain pattern.  In the best case, it leads to the institutionalization of revolutionary change, but in the worst, as Lukin notes, it means that “stability instead of an instrument of modernization becomes a substitute for it.”

            Ever fewer Russians are inspired by or even take seriously the statements of the Kremlin and its allies. “The old system of political communications has exhausted itself and completely lost the ability to mobilize the population,” Petrov says, evidence for which is the recent increase in political anecdotes and the rise of websites making fun of the country’s powers that be.

            A decade ago, Putin was a fresh face, and many Russians placed their hopes in him. But now he and his regime are an aging brand, and he is trying to escape that through rhetorical changes. But rhetoric is not enough, Petrov insists. What is needed is real political competition to reflect the real divisions in society.

             Putin can’t offer that without undermining his own position, Petrov says, but if he pursues a policy that is nothing more than stagnation, other forces will emerge and open the door to the kind of change that the current Russian president’s power vertical and commitment to stability above all else that the country needs and that he can delay but not ultimately block.

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