On Monday, the Levada Center released a poll on Russian attitudes toward the government, corruption, bureaucracy, the legislature and the party of power, United Russia. The results reveal a growing pessimism toward Russia’s governing institutions, and in particular, the political elite. Over half of respondents (52%), for example, believe that the the circle around Putin are more concerned with their “personal material interests” than with the country’s problems (33%).
This bodes poorly for Russian politicians across the political spectrum. But it’s particularly bad for United Russia. Forty-four percent of respondents consider ER’s Duma deputies the wealthiest, and not due to their entrepreneurial skills, but because “administrative resources are available to United Russia for the possibility of quick enrichment.” More telling, however, is that after a mere two years, Aleksei Navalny’s slogan casting United Russia as a “party of crooks and thieves” is now embraced by a majority of polled Russians.
Putin may take Navalny down “legally.” But the damage is already done. So much for ER’s “re-branding.”
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By Sean — 10 years ago
Jeffrey Tayler takes up clanology in his article “The Master and Medvedev” in hopes to map the innards of Kremlin Inc (hat tip to James at Robert Amsterdam for pointing to it). Tayler argues that Putin’s anointing of Medvedev as President, who in turn returned the favor by making his patron PM, was a great victory for Putin’s efforts to keep the siloviki at bay. If Putin left power completely, Tayler’s logic goes, he would open season to possible investigations and prosecutions for corruption. Putting Medvedev in power ensured him immunity and more importantly, Tayler adds, “Putin has outsmarted—and possibly imperiled—all those in Sechin’s clan.” But alone Medvedev is too keep to fight the sharks himself, so he needs Putin to have his back ready to pluck one with a harpoon.
All of this sounds plausible and I applaud Tayler for not rehashing the usual Putin as tsar, blah, blah, blah. Some have pointed out that Medvedev was a coup against the siloviki. I’m not entirely convinced.
Prevailing over Sechin’s group was Medvedev’s “liberal” clan, which includes Viktor Cherkesov, chief of the Federal Drug Control Service; Viktor Zolotov, in charge of presidential security; the oligarch Roman Abramovich; and members of the “Family,” Yeltsin’s old clique.
Except Medvedev has no clan or at least not one with these people (Abramovich a clan member? That playboy? Please child!) If Medvedev did have his own clan, he wouldn’t need Putin. Medvedev’s clan, again if he had one, would probably come from his Leningrad law school people. As of yet, none of these people have risen up the ladder. They all have the same jobs they did before.
Another problem with Medevev’s faux clan is that Viktor Cherkesov is no longer the chief of the Federal Drug Control Service. Cherkesov was booted from that post. So was FSB head Patrushev (a Sechin clan member.) And if there really was a victory over the siloviki, then why did Patrushev get promoted to head Medevdev’s Security Council and Cherkesov demoted to buying guns? Not to mention, Sechin is still a Deputy Prime Minister? Oh, I know why. Because it wasn’t.
In fact, the government under Medvedev still looks like the one under Putin. A few seats have shuffled but the Board of Directors are basically the same.
And this brings me to another issue. There are Kremlin clans. No doubt. There are factions behind them walls. They snip at each other. They intrigue and plot. There seems to be “liberal” faction, as in economic liberals, not political ones, and a conservative faction. But Putin is not a target or really a member of neither. He is the force that keeps these people from going at each others throats, assuming that this is even probable.
I happen to think that Cherkesov statement in Kommersant when the Siloviki War broke into the press is important to remember. He said, “There can be no winners in this war, there is too much at stake.” Indeed. For everyone. There is a reason why these clan wars are keep behind closed doors. It’s better that the public not know about these things. Just think of it like an updated “democratic centralism.” You can argue, but business stays in the family.
By all indications, the Kremlin Mandarins are a mutually benefiting team. Individual members or even groups have their own interests and bailiwicks of power to protect. But protection must be done according to the rules.
Plus talk about danger of Putin being prosecuted for any corruption is simply poppycock. Or wishful thinking. No one in the Kremlin elite wants to make that kind of precedent. Cause if you kick one card out, the whole house could fall.
Oh, and one other thing. Note to Tayler: Putin didn’t emasculate state structures by appointing people loyal to him. There were no state structures to emasculate. The Russian state has always been weak and more reliant on personalities. Every Russian leader knows this which is why they appoint their minions, and have been doing it since Kievan Rus.
Or as N. I. Ezhov said in 1933, “The Party leads by appointing people. Power is not power if it cannot appoint people. Strength consists in the fact that we first of all keep the appointment of people and the nomenklatura system in our hands–this is the political expression of party leadership in its organizational form.”
He might as well have said this today.Post Views: 914
By Sean — 11 years ago
As I’m write, the last day of electioneering is closing in Moscow. Now we wait for Sunday to see the results of what some Western media outlets are speculating might be “Russia’s last,” “the least democratic election since the USSR collapsed,” and a symbol of Russia’s return to “a Byzantine form of state-society relations” where the national leader is transformed into a “semi-divine figure.” “Democracy” in Russia, says the Guardian, is about to depart. If it is departing, then what will it leave behind? Yes, United Russia’s recent media blitz has boosted Putin’s approval ratings as high as 80 percent, all but ensuring that it will sweep the elections with overwhelming force. Come Monday, can we expect Putin to make a statement similar to “I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it. It is my style. That’s what happened in the — after the 2000 election, I earned some capital. I’ve earned capital in this election.”? For as some are saying, this is less of a parliamentary election than a referendum on Putin himself.
Thank god we have the eXile to remind us a different time, roughly ten years ago, when the NY Times hailed Russia most corrupt election to date, the Presidential elections of 1996, “A Victory for Russian Democracy.” In an interview with the eXile, Michael Meadowcroft, who then headed the OSCE’s mission to monitor the Russian polls, explains how “he was pressured by OSCE and EU authorities to ignore serious irregularities in Boris Yeltsin’s heavily manipulated 1996 election victory, and how EU officials suppressed a report about the Russian media’s near-total subservience to pro-Yeltsin forces.” The story about how a politically embattled and unpopular Yeltsin beat Communist Party candidate Zyuganov is a staple in understanding 1990s Russia. And if the deluge of reports about election fraud in Sunday’s election are any indication, it’s also a tactic worth repeating with only a few minor upgrades.
It’s also a reminder of how the West’s problem with Russia’s democracy is not one about “democracy” as such. It’s about the for who democracy benefits. Now granted, the concern over Russian democracy has little to do with the Russian people, that is except for the few idealists who still hold on to its revolutionary potential. The Russian people are only rhetorically taken into consideration. The language of “human rights” is merely a linguistic truncheon wielded in the hope that Russia might bend to Western hegemony. The question of Russian democracy is not about all those moral trappings. It’s about who holds power and to what end. And if the election was a referendum on a Russian candidate that was more amendable to West’s collective economic and political interests, there is no doubt that much of the reporting on electoral fraud would be muted.
No, this won’t be Russia’s last election. Because if anything this election has proven that democracy is an effective way to rule. Just look at all the fancy tools it provides for coning the masses into thinking that the powerful actually have their best interests at heart. Advertising, opinion polls, focus groups, exit polls, internet campaigns, even phone messages to voters mobile phones are all deployed with market precision. Much is made of Russia’s virtual politics, but what is often forgotten is that there is nothing particularly Russian about it. One day, hopefully not far into the distant future, all of us on this planet will realize that democracy has lost its revolutionary potential and that through the nexus of technology and power it has become one with the various apparatuses of control. In the meantime, United Russia’s perfection of democracy’s deployment should make Vladislav Surkov, Putin’s own version of Karl Rove, smile at his greatest creation: managed democracy.
The word “managed” evokes images of performance. We see a whole host of managed performances taking shape on the eve of the polls opening. Since the results of Sunday’s poll will prove to be anti-climatic, the only potential snag in the election would be low voter turnout. Low turnout is proving to be Putin’s soft underbelly. And it’s a weakness that is partially his own making. It was Putin that declared the election to be a referendum on his rule. Low turnout, even if the margin of victory is vast, will be a dagger to Putin’s side. However, if polls conducted by the Levada Center are any indication the turnout will be more than adequate. It’s predicted that 63 percent of Russians plan on voting Sunday. This is despite that fact that 85 percent of television viewers pay no attention to political coverage.
However, a Russian “silent majority” won’t fly. While low turnout is a signal of the “satisfied voter” in the United States, in Russia, non-participation is a sign of protest and discontent. Mobilizing the vote therefore takes on special significance since when considering Russia’s history of democracy, whether “socialist” or otherwise, the ritual of participation has always been emphasized. You see this in efforts to mobilize voters to participate in elections for local soviets in the 1920s. Sure the elections were single candidate and rigged, but that didn’t stop the Soviet regime from dumping resources into going through the motions. The very form of democracy has always been more important than its content, and now is no different. As Boris Kagarlitsky rightly notes,
The authorities cannot control whom we give our votes to but in every possible way try to make us participate in the electoral process. They are more concerned with the turnout than with the electoral preferences. There is certain logic to this position. Compulsory social rituals like coming to the polls are important to the authorities despite all the futility of the polls themselves. They want us to act in certain situations blindly and without dissent. Training obedience is the central element to the domination system.
I couldn’t agree more. This makes for an interesting comparison with the United States. While in the latter control is administered via apathy, alienation, and individualist driven consumerism, in Russia, at least until commodity production has fully sown its alienating seeds, the ritual still matters. The system’s legitimacy is still dependent to some extent on civic participation. The very fact that Russians will vote at all helps to re-inscribe the system’s right to exist and do so as it sees fit.
One thing that shouldn’t slip from the observer’s eye is how this re-inscribing is facilitated by the wedding of Russian capital with “managed democracy.” Notice how mobile companies like Beeline, Megaphon, and Sky Link have all jumped on board to mobilize the vote. Their customers will receive unsolicited text messages like “Go vote on 2 December! Your vote is important to the entire country!” All of this is done at the behest of Russia’s Election Commission. Voter mobilization will also take on more analog forms. Polling stations around the country plan on doling out food, coupon booklets, medical exams, haircuts, prizes, and other items to wet the civil appetite.
Russia’s political and economic class will certainly led a hand. Industrialists big and small like Sergei Nedoroslev, the owner of Kaskol, see election day like a holiday where families gather and vote together. “I live and vote here [in Moscow],” he told Vedomosti. “And I have not missed one single election. It’s a holiday, buns will be given!” He plans on escorting his wife to the polls after lunch. So too this anonymous manager of a metallurgical firm. “I always go vote with my entire family. It’s like a holiday. [Voting] is everyone’s social duty.” Yes, the ritual of voting must be important. Even metro-sexual oligarch Roman Abramovich plans on traveling to his Siberian fiefdom of Chukota to cast his vote.
If voter turnout does surprise Russia watchers and ends up low, there is always Plan B. The lack of physical appearance will certainly be supplemented with a flood of absentee ballots. Absentee ballots allow one person to cast several votes in several different polling stations. Police in Komi have already confiscated 60 absentee ballots purchased on Kirov region. Defiant, the Communists have vowed to not stand for the counting of “dead souls.” But in reality, what are they going to do about it?
All of this engenders questions about the political nature of Putin’s system. The question of whether it is authoritarian or democratic is too polarizing. Thinking about Russia as one or the other masks more than it reveals. Russia’s inner workings seems be defy both categories. Like most modern states, it’s a mixture. A political pendulum that sways between the two poles, but never mustering enough power to swing all the way to one or the other, even briefly. So what kind of system are we talking about here? Does it require us to invent a new analytical language to describe it? Is “Putinism”–if we can even call it this–and all of its political trappings–“managed democracy” and “sovereign democracy”–the ideological substructure of Russia’s 21st century modernization? Is it really a perversion of democracy, or is it simply the vanguard of its global exhaustion?
On this I guess we’ll have to way and see.Post Views: 850