Staunton, February 11 – Both in its language and in its action, the Putin regime is increasingly Orwellian, gutting the meaning of words and institutions or even going so far as to put in place something in their place that is exactly the opposite of what those words and institutions are supposed to mean.
Three cases of this were especially prominent this week: Moscow’s use of imitation public hearings because “it is better people don’t know” what their government is doing, its suggestion that mayoral elections deprive Russians of freedom, and its transparently obvious control of the courts which have been reduced to “simulacra” of the real thing.
In a “Vedomosti” article yesterday, Petr Ivanov and Tatyana Kasimova, two prominent Moscow urban sociologists, say that “the chief urban problem in Moscow now is the imitation of public hearings” because what the authorities promise on the one hand they are offering, they take away on the other (vedomosti.ru/opinion/articles/2017/02/10/677052-zhitelyam-ne-znat).
Russian laws now require public hearings on many issues affecting the population, but Russian officials are “profaning” this requirement in a variety of ways, the two scholars say, not only by restricting information about such sessions but by packing them with their own people so that the population can be ignored.
Often, the meetings are announced only a few days before they occur and in places only activists pay attention to. Then, when residents do show up, Ivanov and Kasimova say, officials don’t call on anyone except those who have been prepared in advance to say what the authorities want said. This is now common practice in “99.9 percent” of all public hearings in Moscow.
The practice of “imitating public hearings,” the two scholars say, “is not so much a desire to push a project forward at any price as a byproduct” of demands from above that any choice of the officials be pushed through as quickly as possible. Real public hearings, Ivanov and Kasimov say, only slow things down.
Unfortunately, they say, there is little reason to expect any positive change in the near future. Officials are comfortable with the practice, the expert community still doesn’t recognize what the authorities are doing, private firms are also happy to have officials ignore public demands, and perhaps worst of all, the media don’t appear to care about the things the hearings are about – things that affect the daily lives of ordinary Russians.
A second Orwellian move concerns a Russian government plan to do away with direct election of mayors entirely not only in order to save money but also because officials say that such elections “limit the freedom of Russians” (bbc.com/russian/features-38884851, ng.ru/columnist/2017-02-10/6_6926_msy.html and gubdaily.ru/blog/news/vlasti-zayavili-chto-pryamye-vybory-merov-ogranichivayut-svobodu-rossiyan/).
What Moscow appears to want, according to Galina Shirshina, who was forced out as the elected mayor of Petrozavodsk, is a system that relies not on elected mayors but on city managers. That is because, she says, mayors who are elected are responsible to their voters; city managers are answerable only to the officials above them who appoint and can fire them.
And third, as opposition political leader Dmitry Gudkov points out in a post on Ekho Moskvy, as of now, “there is no court in Moscow; instead, there is a simulacra” which may look like courts with people in robes and official signs on the doors but which rarely if ever act like one (echo.msk.ru/blog/dgudkov/1925700-echo/).
That is clearly shown in the way in which the constitutional court responded to Ildar Dadin’s appeal. It ruled, using ostensibly “wise words” and “Latin phrases” and citing “a multitude of decisions of the European Human Rights Court” that despite a constitutional provision against double jeopardy, a Russian can found guilty of the same crime twice.
“There is no court in Russia, not a Constitutional one or any other,” Gudkov writes. In place of it are things that look like courts but don’t function as courts because in Putin’s Russia, those the regime doesn’t like “have no rights” and no possibility of defending themselves against the arbitrary actions of those who have power.