Thursday, June 21, 2018

Pension Conflict Highlights Existence of Two Almost Separate Nations in Russia, Shelin Suggests

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 20 – The conflict over government plans to increase the retirement age in large part reflects the existence of two different nations in Russia, who live in different worlds and eras and who do not have a common language in which the upper and lower strata of the population can discuss what is going on, according to Rosbalt commentator Sergey Shelin.

            Unlike in many other countries, he argues (,
Russia does not face a pension crisis. Indeed, an analysis prepared by the Bank of Russia last year reached precisely that conclusion in the course of an examination of the system for at least the next two decades (

            But that is not how things appear to those at the top of the Russian political and economic system. “Vladimir Putin, along with his closest circle live in the distant past when the nobleman distributed to his peasants various bounties,” sometime more and sometimes less but without a fixed system, Shelin says.

            “The previous ‘reform’ of Russian pensions, with the introduction of the ball system and the end of savings plans, completely fit into this logic,” Shelin says. “If before this a citizen reading the annual reports of the Pension Fund sent to him about the sum of savings, as corrected for inflation, could calculate his future pension, now this became impossible.”

            But “on the other hand, nothing interfered with his continuing to hope for the generosity of the nobleman. People with an archaic cast of mind or artificially induced to that condition have become accustomed over the last 12 years to the idea that pensions in real terms will almost always grow.”

            And it is from this that arises “the principled distinction of ordinary people from the passive peasants of the century before last.”

            Today’s man on the street like his predecessor does not have any idea where the money for his pension is coming from but unlike the Russian peasant in the past can’t imagine that the state will ever pull back. “From the leader and from television, he expects to find out only about new benefits.”

            “It is understandable why the head of government did not tell the people a word about the supposedly government (but not presidential!) plan for raising the pension age. He and the ideal part of his subjects simply haven’t developed the language needed for discussing the so-called unpopular decisions.”

            In the current system, Shelin continues, “the [supreme] leader dispenses only benefits. This is his key function which in a specific case may be carried out a little later either by the softening of the ‘government’ plan by order from one high or in the extreme case even by its replacement.”

            But there is a problem: “besides the ideal citizens, we have unideal ones. Those who absolutely do not believe the state, who try to keep away from it as far as possible, who live and work in the shadows, and who don’t make contributions to the pension fund.”  The number in “the tens of millions.”

            The leader and his surrounding people view them as a problem and the source of a deficit in the Pension Fund. But this is not really the case, Shelin says, at least in the middle term. The powers that be don’t have a vocabulary to get these people to contribute, and therefore they turn to the only means they know, exposure and punishment. 

            “In Russia there is also a stratum of people who think in a contemporary fashion. They live mostly in the megalopolises and in principle are prepared to a serious argument about new pension plans … But agitation in favor of ‘pension reforms’ will only perplex those who think independently.”

            Such people don’t believe the government will keep its promises for any period of time: it hasn’t up to now. And consequently, they will be suspicious too. And so they too will be angry about what the government is proposing.

            But these are only part of a more general problem: The lack of a common language between the powers and the people. “As in the past, there is no generally understood language in which various groups of the less privileged can discuss measures” that will affect their position in a negative way.

            Until that language emerges – and there is little sign that it can given the current rulers – the real fight is not between two positions on raising the retirement age. Rather, it is about two world views, one based on a past that cannot be restored and another on a future that is only incompletely here.

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