Staunton, February 26 – The
widespread notion among Russians that nothing depends on them and that
officials will take all the necessary decisions, an attitude that officials
promote for their own interests, is sometimes dismissed as unimportant, a group
of scholars from Russia’s regions say. But in fact, that attitude has put the country
on the road to failure.
Using ideas on how such passivity
leads to national failure offered in 2012 by US scholars Daron Acemoglu and
James Robinson in their book, Why Nations Fail, and developed earlier
this year by Knife commentator Aleksandr Shertobitov in an essay
entitled “Elites are Not Enough,” three of them interviewed several experts on
Yevgeniya Sibirtseva, Yevgeny
Malushev and Yekaterina Malysheva spoke with Aleksandr Romanovich, a specialist
on public attitudes, sociologist Sergey Patrushev, sociologist Anna Ochkina,
and urbanist Svyat Murunov about the links between social passivity and state failure
Romanovich says public activism
promotes the development not only of individuals and society but of the country;
and the absence of such activism in Russia means the country can’t form a civil
society or have economic modernization. When Medvedev was president, people
talked about civil society all the time. Now that term has “disappeared” from
The major reason for the passivity
of Russians is their belief, encouraged by the powers that be, that they can’t
do anything on their own and that officials can make all the decisions needed.
If people believe that, they will become ever more passive; and that is what
has been happening.
To be sure, Russians will organize
to defend specific things; but that isn’t enough. The authorities can make
concessions without creating a genuine exchange of ideas that will promote
civic activism, Romanovich continues.
Patrushev says the powers have encouraged
Russians to believe that decisions are only to be made by others, aristocrats and
communists in the past and professional managers now. “But democracy does not
presuppose decisions by professionals. Rather, it presupposes decisions which
satisfy the interests of people as to what is correct and incorrect.”
A majority of Russians want change,
but they don’t know how to achieve it. And a large share of them thus believe
that some new “good tsar,” perhaps Aleksey Navalny, needs to come and put things
right. They do not see themselves as part of this process, and they would
likely exit from politics quickly if a Navalny or someone like him took power.
Ochkina makes the same point and
says that even those who want change now view protests as something
objectionable that they don’t want to take part in. Replace the leader and then
all will be well, they think. And they thus fail to understand that they must
be a part of decision making for it to be effective.
But Murunov puts it most clearly: “In
Russia, he says, a unique situation has taken shape: practically everyone wants
change, but no one can realize it.” Most look for some kind of a savior who
will be a good tsar in place of a bad one. They do not see themselves as continuing
actors in politics, economics and society.
Because they think only in the short
term, most officials are delighted with this situation, forgetting that without
the input of citizens, the decisions of those in power will increasingly degrade
because those with power will ignore the realities they need to take into
consideration to make good choices.
For things to change, he argues, the
powers must “cease doing everything themselves” and instead of issuing bans and
prohibitions, they must pass laws that include words like “one could,” “it
would be welcome,” “it is permitted,” and “try.” So far, there is little
evidence that the powers are ready to do that or the population to demand it.
As a result, the prospects for
Russia are anything but good.