Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Could the Provincial Middle Class Lead the Next Russian Revolution?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 22 – Russia’s middle class in the provinces in contrast to its Moscow or St. Petersburg counterparts contains a higher percentage of businessmen and a lower percentage, is more authoritarian but more distrustful of the center, and is already occupying positions of power in the regions.
                As such, according to Pavel Pryanikov of “Tolkovatel” who interviewed many of its representatives while they were vacationing in Turkey, it is “entirely possible that it will be precisely these people who will carry out the next revolution from above [in the Russian Federation] in the 2020s (ttolk.ru/?p=18918).

            Russia’s provincial middle class, Pryanikov says, are going to Turkey for vacations the way Muscovites and Petersburgers did 10 to 15 years ago, a typical lag.  But if it appears to be following its counterparts in the capitals in that regard, the middle class in the provinces is very different, with its own characteristics and trends.

            More than 90 percent of the provincial middle class consists of rising businessmen, administrators, prosecutors and judges and includes in contrast to Moscow and St. Petersburg, “a very low percentage (or almost none at all) of ‘the creative class,’ rentiers and the service clientele of the oligarchate.”

                Most of its members are 35 to 40 years old, rather old-fashioned and “’too Russian’” by Moscow standards.  They almost all wear crosses – indeed, tourists from Germany who rarely wear such things refer to them as the new “crusaders.” Most of them are overweight and drink too much, far more than Muscovites.  Perhaps a third, Pryanikov says, are borderline alcoholics.

             Moreover, according to the Tolkovatel blogger, in most cases, they are incurious and hostile, viewing smiles or laughter as a sign of foolishness or an intend to deceive.

            The provincial middle class is extremely patriotic. They reject the division of Russian “into several states” and overwhelmingly believe that Moscow should hold the North Caucasus even if that requires extreme measures.  They are xenophobic and would like Russia to be an empire in which ethnic Russians would enjoy special rights and people from the Caucasus would be like “contemporary serfs, whose fate could be decided without their being asked.”

            For the provincial middle class, “Putin is recognized as a moral leader and master,” but many of its members feel he has been in power too long and should be succeeded by someone who is prepared to use force more readily.  Many said that they believed that “Putin has become too soft and liberal.”

            The Russian provincial middle class, Pryanikov continues, views “aggressive Islam” as Russia’s main enemy and thinks that relations with the United States are a kind of “cold friendship” rather than a new cold war.
            The provincial middle class, however supportive of Putin it may be, does not want to have to follow the diktat of Moscow in its daily life.  They see as “the ideal regional politician” someone like Yekaterinburg’s Royzman and view Navalny as “a capital joker” rather than potential national leader.

            For the members of this stratum, “the internal enemy is the oligarchate and the Moscow liberals in the government.” These are personified by Abramovich and Chubais, and their current power reflects “the present-day weakness of Putin.”

            The stratum divides politically between those over 40-45 and those younger than that. The older group favors what might be called “left-wing paternalism” and wants a leader like Stalin.  The younger wants Russia to be an empire but one in which the regions have more power and are allowed to develop on their own.

            Summing up, Pryanikov says that in his view, “we are seeking in the Russian proviinces the rebirth of a social group like the kulaks,” enterprising people who want “a strict master” and support the ideas of the right SRs, justice and order.  As such and despite the lack of attention they now receive, they may make the next revolution a decade from now.

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