Staunton, October 1 – Sergey Ivanov, head of the Russian Presidential Administration, said today that the low voter turnout for the September 8 elections was a healthy phenomenon and reflected the increasing sense of well-being of the Russian people. “Thank God, “we have approached” that situation (regnum.ru/news/russia/1714111.html).
But Irina Pavlova, one of the most thoughtful commentators on Russian politics, says that interpretation is wrong. She argues that Russians did not vote in larger number even where there was the appearance of competition because they “intuitively” understood that the Kremlin controls Russian political life (rufabula.com/articles/2013/09/19/kremlin-elections-conspiracy).
Moreover, she writes, most ordinary Russians if not those who offer themselves as opponents of the regime understand very well that there won’t be anytime soon. “There is only its imitation,” and “thanks to this, ever new strata of the potential protest electorate are being drawn into ‘the space of power’ and adapting itself to this situation.”
Today, the country “lives like a hostage of the supreme power, a well-fed one but a hostage nonetheless.” And its residents instead of going to vote don’t simply sit in front of their television sets as some have complained but go shopping for various things they can carry back home.
“In human terms,” Pavlova says, it is entirely understandable that “representatives of the so-called non-systemic opposition” and even “normal people” do not want to think that. They want to believe that those who pose as opponents of the regime are genuine because “no one wants to live without hope.”
But the question for today, she suggests, is this: “what is better: the illusion of hope or a sober understanding of one’s own real position?”
The Kremlin is getting ever better at offering imitation of “’free, honest, and transparent elections,” something it can show to participants of the Valdai Club and something that Western specialists like Dmitry Simes will use to condemn those who draw comparisons between Putin’s Russia and its Stalinist predecessor.
But Pavlova says that “the bitter truth of the historical moment is that in present-day Russia politics cannot be free” and that anyone who presents himself as an opponent of the regime and gains access to the media is either deceiving himself or deceiving others about his independence from the Kremlin.
Such deceptions, she continues, “play into the hands of the authorities, helping them to strengthen themselves within the country and increase their authority in the eyes of the international community. More than that, [they] help the Kremlin perfect its art of so-called political planning.
In support of her argument, Pavlova quotes from a document prepared for Vladimir Putin in 2000 at the start of his first presidential term on how he should restructure his presidential administration and one that has guided him since (kommersant.ru/include/inc-archive/materials/archive-material-newWind.asp?textPath=/documents/reforma.htm&textTitle=%20%C4%CE%CA%D3%CC%C5%CD%D2%20&id_arcdoc=10&year=2000).
“The new President of the Russian Federation,” the document says, “if he really wants to ensure order and stability in the country during his rule, does not need a self-regulating political system but rather a political structure (organ) within his Administration which will be able not only to predict and create the ‘needed’ political situations in Russia but really administer the political and social processes in the Russian Federation and also in the countries of the near abroad.”
“The moral situation of society at the present time,” it continues, “rejects any direct declarations and actions from the President of the Russian Federation and his Administration which could be directed at the suppression of the opposition and its leaders and also to the taking under control of the mass media and information communications, and therefore those who have developed this program define as exceptionally important the strategic tactic of the conduct by the Political Administration of the President of the Russian Federation … of a ‘double’ line, in the carrying out of this work both ‘open’ (official) and ‘closed.’”
In order to avoid the mistakes of his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, the document continues, President Putin must have “the right to carry out” various programs to manipulate opposition figures and to use them “according to concrete ‘scenarios’ developed in the political Administration of the President of the Russian Federation.”
Pavlova stresses that “this is not conspiracy mongering, but a document,” and one that recalls the secret at the time documents that Stalin promulgated in 1922-1924 that became the basis of his rule. The current Russian authorities are “more open than Stalin was. But, as the cited document directly testifies, in their activity now [as in Stalin’s earlier] there is “an open and a hidden line.”
“Today, there is no more important task than understanding the existing political system,” however bitter that understanding may be, because only with such an understanding will Russians be able to “formulate an alternative to the existing unitary state and its all-powerful nature,” qualities “which have more than once led to chaos and the disintegration of the country.”
Russia has not ever experienced “genuinely free development in which the authorities and society were equalities: there always has been only the authorities and the population under their control. Changing that will be hard, Pavlova concludes, because change will have to come under what she describes as “extremely specific Russian conditions, weighted down by both the Soviet and post-Soviet heritage.”