Pro et Contra continues to publish scenarios of Russia’s development envisioned by the participants of “Russia-2020” project. The longer that holding on to power remains chief priority of the Russian government, the more likely it becomes that Russia will have to undergo a crisis or even a series of crises. But trying to guess when and how a crisis will unfold is hardly a gratifying job. It makes more sense to unpack the factors that shape Russia’s development, the various crossroads that lie ahead, and the risks that Russia may face on its multiple paths.
The Nature of Immobility in Russian Society
In a more “optimistic” scenario at some point early in the second decade of the 21st century the Russian government, faced with increasing social (and, indeed, intra-elite) tensions and a continually faltering economy, pushes towards maximum economic integration with the West, particularly with the European Union, and the latter reciprocates. Over time, a growing number of Russian citizens would begin to form institutional relationships and strategies based on their newfound unfettered access to the European space.
The Inertia of Passive Adaptation
Only the accumulation of social and cultural capital in new generations can bring change. For this to occur, those generations’ standards of living must increase significantly, achieving a level that frees them from the fear of poverty and the threat of falling back into the asceticism of Sovietstyle deficit distribution – a fear that currently serves to regulate and modulate values. Change itself would be triggered by dissatisfaction arising from the juxtaposition of prolonged stagnation with the patriotic rhetoric of Russia’s rebirth as a great power. But such prospects emerge only in the next generational cycle, sometime in the mid 2020s, and involve the likely rejection of those who make up today’s “Putin youth.”
The Evolution of Civic Activism
The gradual opening up of the political system will stimulate demand for strong NGOs. In recent years, the desire of the ruling elite to hold on to power led to the systematic removal from politics of many actors that could have become mediators both between state and society, and between the government and the opposition. A newly liberated political space could be filled by actors from NGOs, who would have to play the uncomfortable role of surrogate opposition and simultaneously take part in the development of new norms and rules for the resolution of conflicts over power.
Russia’s Regions and Cities: Scenarios for 2020
Decentralization will force regions and cities to compete more actively for investment and human capital. This, in turn, is a powerful stimulus for modernizing social institutions and improving the climate for small and medium-sized business. This competition, however, will have its winners and losers. For the latter, there are obvious risks of social instability, but there are also mechanisms for reducing those risks. In particular, the mechanism of competitive elections is capable—although with a significant time lag—of underpinning a rotation of leadership and an increase in the quality of regional or municipal management.
Russian Economy in Limbo
Russia’s economic future for the coming decade will be shaped by a choice between “business-asusual” dirigisme and radical change of the economic policy agenda. The three scenarios suggested for consideration seem to be “business as usual,” “lucky again” (a new sharp rise in global oil prices to well above $100/bbl, which may help to sustain the current political and economic system), and “radical change” (some kind of fundamental transformation of the system, most widely discussed as the return to more radical market-oriented structural reforms).
Russia’s Political Economy: The Next Decade
Economic advances both strengthen the current political regime and help society to outgrow it. Better economic performance will not in itself hasten a regime transition. On the contrary, it will help the current incumbents hold onto power, perhaps even enabling them to increase repression without much resistance. But it will prepare society for a rapid transition to more democratic government when—as is bound to happen eventually—a serious economic reversal occurs. At that point, the “mole of history” will be seen to have done its work.
Russia’s Foreign Policy Outlook
The current “evolutionary” path that Russia is on does not entail linear development. Its success demands that, against the backdrop of and driven by increasing civic activity, a modern and, simultaneously, patriotic portion of the elite would come to see itself as the core of a political class, capable of thinking in categories of truly national interest. If this group is able to gain sway over political leadership, it could become a partner for society in a national dialogue and lay the foundations for a civic republic as the “common affair” of all Russians.
History Textbooks and the Deficit of Ideology
There are serious reasons to doubt that the Russian system of education can serve as an effective mechanism of ideological indoctrination. Beyond purely technical problems—including the deficit of “free” time in the curriculum, and a lack of qualified teachers and oversight bodies—such an attempt would seem to be doomed by issues stemming from its own ideological basis. The federal government has no cohesive and coherent ideology, and the carriers of “patriotic” ideas are incapable of generating a new discourse that could be adapted to contemporary reality.
Historical Memory and the Community of Citizens
Comparative analysis of the ways in which states and societies in the 20th century grappled with the dark patches of their histories or resigned themselves to the “end of empire” could help us understand the situation in Russia today. For example, we could try to identify key actors or the conditions that help countries come to grips with these dark patches. From there, based on those data, we could attempt to pick apart the peculiarities of Russia’s long and as yet unfinished battle over the recognition of Stalin’s repressions.
Alexander Kustarev, Sergey Golunov, Sergey Peregudov