Sunday, October 27, 2019

Changes in Russian State and Society Make Current Situation Unsustainable, Paneyakh Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 23 – The increasing autonomy of the state which can deal with society only by the use of force and the increasing self-organization of society by means of the Internet mean, Ella Paneyakh says, that the current situation “can get better or it can get worse but something must happen.”

            Speaking at the Sakharov Center, the Higher School of Economics scholar argues that “the transformational processes now taking place in Russian society are no less powerful and even more fundamental than those in the immediate post-Soviet period” (

            On the one hand, the state is increasingly autonomous from the population, lacks the ties with society most governments have and is thus compelled to use force to try to control the situation. And on the other, society is increasingly organizing itself through experience with virtual communities online.

            At the same time, Paneyakh continues, “society is not in opposition to the state in the full sense of this word” because “every third Russian works one way or another for the state.” But “even an individual who works for the state but is not a senior official becomes a citizen when he goes into the streets.”

            “The Russian state is surprisingly autonomous from its society,” she says; and that means that “it cannot deal with its society otherwise than with the help of force.”  It has tried to create various mechanisms, including political parties, to make that less necessary but they have proven ineffectual.

            Much of the reason for this lies in the Soviet background of those in the state. But if the state has remained similar to what the Soviet one was, the society has changed. It has lost those controlling social patterns that dominated social life and is now, after a generation, acquiring new ones through its experience with online communities.

            “Post-Soviet people have learned almost from nothing to organize links among themselves,” and in this process, the Internet has played a key role. In online communities, people work out rules for coexistence and cooperation with others, and those habits transfer into their daily lives.

            Indeed, she suggests, “the appearance of blogs and social networks have made the Internet a new channel of socialization. This channel not only helps people to satisfy their requirements in communion but also to develop the habits of social communication which they then apply in the sphere of civic interrelationships.”

            And that development in turn is producing another one: people who have learned these skills and habits do not see why they should not be extended to political life, something that puts them at odds with the autonomous state. At present, of course, not all Russians have become part of this new Internet-driven world and thus there is “a digital divide” in Russian society.

            But enough have that the state has been compelled to take notice. It doesn’t like being criticized as it invariably is online and so it turns to the use of force to try to prevent this from happening.  But that is sustainable only for so long, and Paneyakh suggests that the situation is rapidly reaching a critical point.

            The relations between state and society in Russia, she says, can get worse or they can get better; but they are not going to remain where they are for very much longer.

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