Saturday, January 19, 2019

Kremlin Hopes Making Officials ‘Enemies of the People’ Will Prolong ‘Stability,’ Martynov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 18 – The outrageous suggestions of Russian officials ranging from the notion that anyone can live on 3500 rubles (50 US dollars) a month to the idea that the government doesn’t owe anyone anything because it didn’t ask them to be born have attracted enormous attention in Russia and abroad.

            But an accompanying trend has not, Kirill Martynov of Novaya gazeta says. And it may prove even more important. The regime is seeking to integrate this popular criticism into its own propaganda so that it does not become the basis for the rise of an opposition but rather promotes the feeling of “stability” the Kremlin hopes will prolong its power.

             Unlike in the past, Russians can criticize the bureaucracy on government television talk shows, he says; and the regime is even using the back and forth between insensitive officials and angry Russians as a form of “entertainment” to allow people to “’let off steam’” (

                In this scenario, “officials will become the new enemies of the people,” the commentator says, re-enforcing the old idea of the good tsar – in this case, Vladimir Putin – and the bad boyars, Russian officialdom, allowing the top to gain support as the apparent allies of the people against those Russians have traditionally despised even if they generally worship the ruler.

            That this is the regime’s plan, Martynov continues, is shown not only by the appearance of criticism of officialdom on television but by the statements of senior people in Putin’s power vertical whose words are clearly intended to send a message to the population that the Kremlin is on the side of the people.

                First Deputy Prime Minister Anton Siluanov recently observed that “the problems with the speech of officials are connected with the fact that they are terribly far away from the life of the people,” evidence for which, he said was that “the reaction of society to the pension reform became for the government a surprise.”

            And Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s press secretary, put it even more bluntly when he said that it is “customary” for Russians to criticize officials even though “the majority of them ‘work for the good of the country.’”  He suggested hatred of officials was “a characteristic of the Russian mentality and the deficit in Russia of tolerance for the words of others.”

            However strange and paradoxical it may be, Martynov concludes, “there is more than a dollop of truth in these words of the press secretary.”  What is more remarkable though is the Kremlin recognizes this and has now decided to try to exploit it for its own ends, maintaining power rather than improving the situation.

            Although Martynov does not say so, this is a potentially dangerous tactic because once Russians feel that they can criticize officials at one level, they may feel that they have the right to criticize even those at the highest levels – and, connecting the dots, become outraged that their criticisms are being ignored not just by local bureaucrats but by the man in the Kremlin as well. 

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