Continued from Part 1
The Russian Federation is not a social state. There are very acute problems of social justice and the existence of a small class of oligarchs wielding a substantial share of Russia’s wealth, including natural resources, and usually boasting second citizenship – whether Israeli or another foreign passport – is in itself a symptom of ill-being. We can also add the extremely ineffective and unfair nationality policies which have been inherited from the Soviet Union’s mistakes.
As a result, there are without a doubt very many discontent Russian citizens. Russia has long since been marked by a paradox: on the one hand, there is the high level of support for President Putin; on the other hand, Russians are sharply critical of the government headed by Dmitry Medvedev. Another paradox is that a significant portion of the government’s ministers, especially in the financial and economic wing of the government, and other senior establishment figures display varying degrees of open support for the liberal opposition.
In my latest article on Kseniia Sobchak, I emphasized that Sobchak’s character is an integral part of the Russian establishment in terms of her background and liberal views. Indeed, the existence of a wide base of social discontent is primarily due to the inefficient and unjust socio-economic policies of the liberal ministers – the very policies which Sobchak wants to intensify. The liberal ministers and the liberal street opposition act in unison: the first group creates and multiplies reasons for discontent, and the second then channels discontent towards the figure of President Putin himself.
Another, no less influential component of social problems in Russia is corruption. However, I do not think that Russia is a unique example in this sphere, as this issue grips a number of countries on all continents and plagues even the most different political systems and socio-economic models.
Every society has a limited social memory and can more or less easily be manipulated. At the same time, deep differences in different peoples’ mentalities also manifest themselves. Russians are a conservative-minded people with a centuries-old imperial tradition. Our Ukrainian brothers and neighbors, by contrast, are a stateless people who have always been at the periphery of one or another imperial project (such as the Polish and pan-Russian ones). For the past 13 years, we have seen two victorious street revolutions in Ukraine and are now witnessing the build-up to a third one. Russia’s thousand years of statehood and Russians’ mentality makes a Maidan impossible (or almost impossible) in Russia. I can say not only as a historian and philosopher, but as an ordinary Russian citizen that neither I nor my friend, neighbors, nor the overwhelming majority of my fellow citizens will ever go out into the streets for a “Maidan,” no matter how critical people are of the government. The point here is not social apathy. After all, when necessary, Russians are capable of impressive social activism and self-organization, although the latter is definitely not one of our strongest traits. The experience of providing humanitarian and military assistance to Donbass is a clear case of this, as Russians are capable of creating effective self-driven communities for supporting their compatriots.
The organizers of liberal protests in Russia are trying to appeal to Russian society’s short (or fragmented) social memory. It is no secret that since the sanctions hit in 2014, Russians’ prosperity has taken a downturn. PARNAS and other liberal organizations try to explain this as the fault of corruption and bad policies on the part of President Putin. Of course, they are silent over the fact that the majority of their representatives occupy frontline positions in the Russian state system and have left an especially noticeable trace in the history of corruption in Russia.
PARNAS leader Mikhail Kasyanov himself was Prime Minister of Russia from 2000 to 2004 and was part of the “old elite” inherited by President Putin from the Yeltsin era. Back during Kasyanov’s premiership, he was nicknamed “Misha two percent” for his involvement in corruption scandals. Ex-Vice Prime Minister and co-Chairman of PARNAS Boris Nemtsov also gained notoriety for involvement in corrupt deals. Nemtsov was killed under mysterious circumstances in early 2015, which liberals also blamed on Putin.
In tallying the reasons for mass social unrest, we by no means intend to skip over the fact that much has improved and the overall system has become more humane since Vladimir Putin became president. In the 1990’s, Russia was a no-man’s-land living according to the lawlessness of social Nazism. Society sharply polarized and was divided into two strata – the socially successful (the oligarchs, corrupt officials, and politicians and their personnel) and “pariahs,” i.e., the vast majority of Russian society. When he came to power, Vladimir Putin did not restore social justice (could he have?), but he did correct the most barbaric violations of social laws.
Putin forced the oligarchs to pay taxes (before which they not only didn’t pay taxes, but even received benefits from the state) and distributed oil and gas revenues among the people. Some of the most striking horrors of socio-economic life in Yeltsin’s Russia, such as months of unpaid salaries, disappeared from Russian life.
President Putin has not eliminated the class of oligarchs, but he has curbed their power and forced them to share their profits. As a result, Russian society has become more prosperous and the most socially vulnerable have begun to receive state assistance. For example, orphans now have the opportunity to acquire a house for free, and pensions and other social benefits have all increased. Russia’s soldiers have also begun to receive decent wages, whereas under Yeltsin the military was on the brink of chaotic collapse.
All of these and other examples of increased prosperity are not enough to call contemporary Russia a prosperous and socially just state. But there is no denying that, under President Putin, leaps and abounds forward and upwards have been accomplished. Under Putin, Russia has overcome the lowest point of its decline and is now jerking upwards towards newfound development.
The last thing that Russia needs now is a new revolution, as Russian supporters of the Ukrainian Maidan and their foreign patrons so badly desire.
So, once again, let us ask the question: Who are the people going out into the streets clamoring for a Russian Maidan? Who stands behind them and their organizations?
Continued in Part 3
Originally published on fort-russ.com