Staunton, July 28 – Many in the US and the EU are trying to make sense of the new populist upsurge in their countries, Fedor Krasheninnikov says. The situation in Russia may thus be instructive because there the situation is “quite different.” Russian populism “triumphed long ago and destroyed all institutions.” Now, that trend has entered a period of crisis.
In a commentary in “Vedomosti,” the Yekaterinburg political analyst says the clearest indication of this is that no one among any of the major Russian parties has used populist slogans in the current election campaign despite the economic and social problems that would seem to invite precisely that (vedomosti.ru/opinion/columns/2016/07/27/650717-krizis-populizma).
Vladimir Zhirionovsky of the LDPR and Gennady Zyuganov of the KPRF both of whom often used populism in the past have not done so in this campaign, Krasheninnikov points out. Instead, they and other systemic party leaders have sought to avoid “any introduction of passions on domestic political issues,” to maintain “stability,” and to keep their minorities in the Duma
“The role of populism” in Russian politics “grew from the end of the 1990s,” the Yekaterinburg analyst says. The “parties of power” at that time suffered electoral losses because the powers that be at that time “were not prepared for open demagogy,” preferring instead to tell the population “the bitter truth.”
That choice provided an opening for Zhirinovsky and Zyuganov throughout the period with one exception: the presidential elections of 1996 when Boris Yeltsin and his supporters pulled out all the stops as far as populist appeals were concerned. That vote, Krasheninnikov says, “became the prologue to the new stage of [Russian] history.”
“Beginning with the 1999 Duma elections,” he continues, “the authorities always turned out to be more successful populists than any opposition group taking part in the election.” And they continued to do so “even when the socio-economic situation in the country was favorable” with all the talk of “’national projects’” and “’modernization.’”
In response to the social protests of 2011-2012, the powers that be became even more committed to the use of “demagogy and populism for mobilizing the population in support of the existing authorities.” And that effort was so powerful and the purge of the political landscape so total that “the only way to remain in legal politics became not conformism but servility.”
But both because there was nowhere for this official populism to go after the events of 2014 and because of public fatigue with the passing of time, such an approach “has ceased to have such a bewitching influence on society” as it had earlier. Consequently, the authorities continue to use it while working to ensure that no one else does.
This development confirms an old truth, Krasheninnikov says. “A system of power build on populism turns out to be vulnerable from two directions: any alternative populism is dangerous to it as is a turning away from any of its earlier promises and slogans.” And these lead it into a trap in which people simply turn away in boredom.
“The current elections are so unbearably boring and lifeless,” he says, because “the entire system has been working to ensure that no one will be more interesting than the party of power.” Thus, there are “no new ideas and promises.” Instead, all the promises of past campaigns have resurfaced, without the impact they had then.