Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Suggestions by Officials that ‘Powers Owe People Nothing’ Intended to Lower Expectations, Shaburov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 21 – Suggestions by officials that “the government owes people nothing, that instead Russians must take care of themselves, and that they must not cease paying their taxes or remaining loyal” are not only scandalous but part of a Kremlin effort to get Russians to accept a new paradigm of state-society relations, Aleksey Shaburov says.

            Such remarks by regional level officials who can be fired as needed, the Yekaterinburg analyst says, are intended to send “one and the same signal: the state is not just another institute of society and the people, despite the Constitution, are not the source of power” (

            “The state in such a paradigm,” Shaburov continues, “is a certain independent thing, given from above and in no way dependent on society. Those who work for the state … are thus a special caste of people almost physically distinguished from all other Russians.”

            Under its terms, “the ordinary Russian may live on 3500 rubles (50 US dollars) a month, but a minister can’t because he is a minister, that is, an organism of an entirely different nature and with a different level of physical requirements.”

            That system of social stratification has existed “for a long time,” the commentator continues, “but precisely now it has become obvious to almost everyone,” largely as a result of the pension form debacle.  “The thesis that ‘the state doesn’t owe you anything’ presupposes that the state doesn’t consider itself obligated to return to people something in exchange for the taxes the latter pay.”

            “In the classic conception,” Shaburov says, “the state collects taxes and then redistributes them in correspondence with one or another set of principles and also offers people a definite collection of benefits and services.  But in Russia, the conception is a little different” and works for the state and against the people.

            In it, the population isn’t so much paying taxes as paying a tribute to the regime, “a compulsory payment which representatives of certain strata must pay simply as a result of their life in the state.”  Indeed, it is significant, he suggests, that officials increasingly refer to people as a stratum making compulsory payments rather than as a collection of tax payers.

            The reason the government has chosen to push this paradigm now via these scandalous statements, Shaburov argues, is that the economic crisis has meant that there is ever less money in the system.  No one wants to live with less, but the people who are at the top of the state are in a position to prevent that from happening to them by taking money from others.

            The people lack that possibility, and so they are complaining to the state via various channels.  And to their complaints, the state is responding with this message: “live as you like: we do not owe you anything.”  And “if this thought is repeated a thousand times from various places, sooner or later the people will become accustomed to it.”

            Or at least, Shaburov concludes, that is what the powers that be are hoping for.

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