Staunton, August 14 – Many of Vladimir Putin’s actions have been constant since his rise to power, but over the last two years, he has carried out a revolution from above, expelling from the political center the moderate liberals and moderate conservatives who agreed on the need for reform and replaced them with figures earlier viewed as marginal, Aleksandr Morozov says.
In an essay on Gefter.ru, the Moscow commentator says that this has occurred as Putin has moved from relying “on the ‘electoral majority’ in the 2012 vote to the ‘post-Crimea majority’ of 2014” and that as a result there has been “a homogenization of the political center” (gefter.ru/archive/12799).
As a result, he says, “any diversity of positions has finally disappeared” from the core elite. “Now, the speakers of the Russian political center in Russia are Mizulina, Medynsky, Rogozin, Prokhanov Dugin and the like. The entry ticket … is support for ‘Crimea is Ours’ and an acknowledgement of the permissibility of military support for Russians abroad.”
In this way, Morozov says, “the ‘Ukrainization’ of Russian domestic politics is the final change of the landscape of the political center.”
“The old institutional consensus – the idea about society as an uninterruptedly modernizing assembly of actors who reach accords on their interests in the process of communication by using institutions, modifying old ones and creating new ones – has been completely demolished,” he argues. And that constitutes a real revolution at the top.
Thus, “Putin’s third term has turned out to be not only the defeat of ‘the opposition’ but also and still worse the expulsion from the political center of ‘loyal institutionalism.’” Under the new order, “the entire political scene is occupied by anti-institutionalists of two types” – those who appeal to “’political will’” and those “quiet bureaucratic conformists who lack any interest in the preservation and development of institutions.”
Putin has achieved this in various ways, Morozov says. Some of the institutionalists have been arrested, others have emigrated, and some have retreated to private life. But they are no longer key players, and “the main question for the future is when, how and on what basis those institutionalists who have left public spaces will again be able to form a broad systemic milieu.”
Just how different the situation is within the Putin regime now then two or three years ago, Morozov says, becomes obvious if one recalls that during Putin’s first two terms and Medvedev’s presidency there was not only “a strengthening of the ‘power vertical’ but the formation of a quite broad process of institutional reform.”
Many influential businessmen, government officials, scholars, economists and journalists took part in this, even as they “ignored all these conceptions of ‘integralness’” that some of Putin’s people talked about “as inadequate, marginal and non-pragmatic.” They were the “’systemic liberals.’”
Such people, Morozov writes, “were certain that Putin’s ‘presidential republic’ or one might say ‘Putin monarchy’” was a price they had to pay “for the specific nature of Russia,” and that they had to pay it if the country was to move forward. Some of them were truly liberal, but others were conservatives who wanted to save the system by modernizing it.
This pattern recalls the one that existed in Russian society between 1900 and 1914, Morozov argues. At that time, the radicals wanted to overthrow the monarchy, but “the broad progressive class of various views, including the Zemstvos, the Kadets, the Octobrists, and the Agriarians felt that the monarchy was not the main issue.”
Some of them were for preserving it; some thought it might not survive. And others thought it could evolve. And some believed that “perhaps the monarchy was given [to Russia] by God.” But despite those disagreements, they saw the chance to develop “not only economic and social institutions but also ‘institutions of daily life,’” all of which could be important.
Just like today’s institutionalists, he continues, such people “considered that the ‘Kholmogorovs’ and ‘Limonovs’ of that time – were irrelevant people and babblers, marginal who did not understand the nature of the complex institutional tasks standing before Russia.” And also just as until recently, they thought they could work together against them.
“For all its defects, the Putin system” as it existed between 2003 and 2013 allowed them do so or at least allowed “the world establishment as a whole” to continue to assume that “in Russia ‘institutional reforms’ were continuing.” Putin’s revolution has changed that, an event Morozov dates from the Pussy Riot case and the kind of mass mobilization it allowed.
And he points to one fundamental change in the way things are discussed. Russians near the Kremlin aren’t talking about the clash of interests anymore; they are thinking about political history in terms of “fate.” According to Morozov, this is not the ‘theologization’ of politics but rather its ‘biologization,’” a shift that opens the way to idea that “something belongs to us simply because it is a part of our body (Crimea).”