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On Russian Illusions

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Op-Ed Day
The Russian political regime is in a state of crisis, as is its economic model and the social life of the country. However, there are also there are several signs of Russian society’s awakening.
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The Carnegie Moscow Center has recently pub­li­shed a report en­tit­led “The Russian Awake­ning.” The authors of the re­port consider that a po­litical crisis is present in the country on three levels:

a) the personalized power;

b) the model of capitalism which has developed in Russia, where the incomes come mainly from the rent in kind;

c) paternalistic model of social behavior.

It will be reminded that in spring 2011 the Centre for Strategic Development jointly with the Institute of Contemporary Development (INSOR) reported as well that Russia will soon face a political crisis. In particular, the report about mass moods of Russians carried out by Centre for Strategic Development read that the drop in president’s popularity and losing of legitimacy by governmental bodies due to doubtful elections might lead to the change of power in the country as a result of a mass civil rebellion.

The Day requested the leading scholarly associate of the Carnegie Moscow Center Lilia Shevtsova to tell about the grounds on which the authors’ statements that Russia is awakening are based.
Shevtsova chaired the Russian Domestic Politics and Political Institutions Program at the Carnegie Moscow Center, dividing her time between Carnegie’s offices in Washington, DC, and Moscow. She had been with Carnegie since 1995.
Lilia Shevtsova
Senior Associate
Russian Domestic Politics and Political Institutions Program
Moscow Center
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“The report has one distinct line. On the one hand, the team of the Carnegie Moscow Center proves that Russian political regime is in the state of crisis. This is truly so, if the president has started to use much more repressive mechanisms and methods of governance, which means that the previous form of governance turned out to be unable to preserve him and the ruling team of the power. So, moving to new mechanisms of governance is the result and reflection of the crisis. Beyond doubt, the elements of crisis are also present in the economic model, which is based solely on the raw-material economy. Beyond doubt, the crisis phenomena are manifested in the social life of the country as well, if the progressive and dynamic minority in the cities is no more satisfied with the form of governance.
“On the other hand, there are undoubtedly several signs of awakening. The waves of protest that started in December 2011 indicate that the urban Russia, Russia of great megalopolises, Moscow above all, is no more asleep; it has awakened and starts to look for the forms to manifest itself. And the fact that the first wave of discontent and protest activity has faded away does not mean that a new wave won’t come in the near future. The society has woken up in the sense that it has already understood that it is discontent with the government and its own situation, in the sense that it has started to seek the forms of expressing this protest. Certainly, in this understanding it is the first awakening of Russian society since the end of Yeltsin’s presidency.”

Can Putin’s back problems be an extra factor for Russia’s awakening? They say Russian president could hardly sit down during the negotiations with Turkey’s prime minister in Istanbul.

“This is a good question and it is very ironic. I think that Putin’s back or backbone problems, and his other illnesses, of course, haunt any person aged over 60, and even such a macho as Putin could not avoid it. It is unlikely that Putin’s back will have any influence on the new wave of protest. But it is absolutely obvious that it does have an impact on another factor, the moods in the Russian political elite. The elite is not split, rather confused, and some of its members have started to look around, looking for means of survival. And the fact that Putin is trying to consolidate the elite with the help of intimidation and selective anti-corruption cases can only strengthen the desire of the elite to find a new guaranty of safety and another person to embody this guaranty.”

They often say that the predictions about Russia never come true. The INSOR, too, warned about the approaching crisis back in spring 2011. To what extent is the report of your center closer to the reality?

“Apparently, we should wait till 2013 and see to what extent the signs of the external reflection of the crisis are reinforced or weakened. The difference between our report and INSOR’s is as follows. As I see it, INSOR and many other politicians close to the government, Medvedev in particular, and think tanks have been pedaling too much the situation with the crisis and they were too much propelling the fear before the crisis in order to prove that only one man, one leader – Medvedev – had the keys to ride out the situation. Even after Medvedev left his office, some systemic organizations close to the government, like in Mikhail Dmitriev’s report, were speaking about the crisis in a rougher and more apocalyptical manner. And what conclusion does Dmitriev make? We need to bring back liberals to power. We need to bring Kudrin back to the government and appoint him prime minister again. The circles, which are too close to power, may pinpoint crisis to prompt a reshuffle in the highest echelons of power. We offer to see the notion of crisis in a totally different aspect. This is a crisis as an impetus to society’s awakening and looking for an alternative by the society itself.”

The press already buzzes that the Kremlin has accused the authors of the report of “ungrounded pessimism.” How would you comment on this?

“I don’t know. Have they already accused us? I never heard about it. But it is quite possible. It is well expected, if they say that we have ungrounded pessimism, they should present the reasons for their optimism. But actually this commentary carries no sense.”

I have come across an article in a French newspaper Les Echos about the leaders which quotes Winston Churchill’s words: “People make the right choice after they’ve tried everything else.” Have Russians tried everything else?

“As far as I remember, Churchill said: ‘You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else.’ As for the Russian scenario, I am afraid here I want to decline the optimistic view on the continuation of the crisis, because in my opinion a crisis is an optimistic thing. There can be no development if there is no crisis. And in this case we in Russia will have to overcome one illusion or hope, the illusion that the personified autocratic power, yet under liberal flags, will be able to find a way out of this crisis and the way to the legal state. In the meanwhile, many liberals, not only in the system of power, but also Russian anti-systemic liberals in the opposition still hope to modify the power.”


“Because they are afraid of free elections. Because they are afraid that left nationalists will come to power. So, they stake on the autocracy, because they are afraid of the society itself. There is one more threat which we are really facing, which is the attempt to save the systemic Russian matrix through the change of the regime.” 

According to the mass media reports, Putin will be soon made the wise patriarch of Russian politics. There is already a collage where Putin is depicted as a patriarch. Is this irony too?

“This is terrible irony, because we can see that before our eyes the Russian government is trying to use the church for its own legitimization. In its turn, the Orthodox Church is trying to use the government to broaden its own expansion. The union of the church and the state is one of the most archaic features of development of the world civilization. I don’t think Putin stands any chances to save himself in the patriarch’s embrace. I don’t think he is going to become the head of the Russian church, because in that case Russia will turn into Iran.” 

In your opinion, will Russian power’s attempts to impose on the world community the control over the world web be successful? In his speech at the press conference in Paris Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev called upon the world community to develop the rules to regulate the Internet.

“China has already shown that the Chinese state can quite successfully restrict and censure the Internet, with the help of the providers’ consent, because Google never opposed its ‘castration’ in China. I don’t think Medvedev’s initiative will succeed, especially today when the world community has started to perceive the events in Russia in an increasingly more critical way. And the approval of the Magnitsky Law in the US House of Representatives, and the European Parliament’s resolution, and, finally, the fact that German government, the closest government, which can be called Russia’s partner and ally, has become critical about the processes that are taking place in Russia. Therefore I can see neither world nor general audience to make the problem of the Internet limitation easier to resolve.”
End of document

Comments (4)

  • walterasgbenjamin
    Waht do you think about this article? Could you tell us about your situation in Moscow? We are concerned of your future, of your independence!

    Part I
    Rise and Fall of Russia's Economic Think Tanks
    19 December 2012 | Issue 5038
    By Anders Aslund
    The current witch-hunt against nongovernmental organizations is not only harming freedom but also hurting Russia's intellectual life and policymaking. In the two decades since communism, Moscow's economic think tanks underwent a dramatic development of which I have been part. Independent economic think tanks arose around 1990 and peaked in the early 2000s. Since 2005, the government has forced them into a rapid decline. Today, their survival is in question.
    In Soviet times, the Academy of Sciences had a monopoly on serious research institutes. It has been in a steady decline since 1990, and only its flagship Institute of World Economy and International Relations remains widely respected today.    
    Around 1990, the first independent economic think tanks were created. Two stood out. One was Grigory Yavlinsky's EPICenter that drafted the famous 500-day program but soon faded. The other was Yegor Gaidar's substantial Institute of Economic Policy, now named the Gaidar Institute, which remains and thrives. It became the launching pad of the first Russian reform government. The EPICenter was independent, while the Gaidar Institute was founded jointly by the Academy of Sciences and the Russian Academy of the National Economy, which gave it great independence as well as access to state resources.
    In the 1990s, many impressive independent think tanks were formed, largely with Western financing. George Soros' Open Society Institute was the pioneer. Other American foundations followed suit: the Eurasia Foundation, the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Ford Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation, and the MacArthur Foundation. The European Union and the World Bank also made major efforts. The leading foreign think tanks were Carnegie Moscow Center, the Russian European Center for Economic Policy and, briefly, the World Bank's Bureau of Economic Analysis.
    End of Part I
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  • walterasgbenjamin
    Part II
    In 2000, the economic think tanks had their heyday writing Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref's reform program, which dominated economic policymaking during President Vladimir Putin's first term. The dominant input came from the newly founded Gref Center for Strategic Problems, the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the Gaidar Institute, the Higher School of Economics, and the Carnegie Moscow Center.
    In the early 2000s, Russian oligarchs started pouring money into nongovernmental organizations, including think tanks. The main source was Mikhail Khodorkovsky's Open Russia Foundation, modeled on Soros' Open Society Institute. Think tanks had more money than ever; they enjoyed great demand from the government and extraordinary access; a new cadre of skilled Russian economists had emerged.
    The quality of economics improved with the foundation of the Center for Economic and Financial Research at the private graduate school the New Economic School, which attracted young Russian economists who had earned their doctorates in the West. The New Economic School, which like the Higher School of Economics just celebrated its 20th anniversary, offers without a doubt the best economic education in Russia.
    From 2000 until 2003, Moscow probably had the best economic think tanks in the world outside the U.S. They were freer, livelier, and more significant than the predominantly state-controlled or underfinanced private think tanks in Europe.
    Then, the descent began. It was entirely orchestrated by the Kremlin. The big blow was the arrest of Khodorkovsky on Oct. 25, 2003. Through this single act, the Kremlin sent an instant message to the oligarchs: You must not offer financing to independent think tanks. Most of the domestic private financing disappeared. Meanwhile, the bulk of the foreign financing had vanished because private domestic financing was plentiful and Russia had become rather wealthy. The World Bank and the EU withdrew. The Pew Charitable Trusts had already decided to focus on the U.S. Soros worried that he was supporting authoritarianism rather than an open society.
    End of Part II
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  • walterasgbenjamin
    Part III
    A second blow was dealt when the government stopped carrying out reforms after the failed monetization of social benefits in January 2005. Oil prices skyrocketed in late 2003, so why pursue reforms enhancing efficiency when money seemed to be a free utility? Since minimal policy was being pursued, the government demanded neither economic research nor policy advice. The motions of policy research continued through the government's "Strategy 2020" adopted in early 2008, but it was all too obvious that the intention to pursue reforms was missing.
    The third blow was devastating. In January 2006, Putin signed the law on nongovernmental organizations. Its obvious intention was to restrain all independent organizations through a massive aggravation of bureaucratic impediments. The regime exposed think tanks to all kinds of harassment through audits and raids, claiming that they might not have complied with all tax laws.
    Now, the Kremlin has just delivered a fourth, and possibly mortal, blow to independent economic think tanks: the law on foreign agents. In effect, it has rendered foreign financing illegal. Moreover, any institution that has received foreign funding is suspect and unlikely to receive state contracts, which have become the dominant form of financing.
    USAID has been kicked out, though it has hardly contributed to economic think tanks. The Ford Foundation stopped all funding to Russian institutions in September, leaving Carnegie Corporation and MacArthur Foundation as the only significant private foreign donors. Carnegie Moscow Center has closed its economic program and domestic politics program, remaining a mere shadow of its former self.
    Independent economic think tanks have largely lost their means of subsistence. With minor exceptions, neither domestic nor foreign financing is permissible. Nor is the government much interested in policy research or advice, since reform is hardly on the agenda. Bureaucratic impediments and harassment are considerable. Why try to run a private economic think tank? Their staff are usually pragmatic problem solvers integrated into the establishment and no political firebrands.
    End of Part III
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  • walterasgbenjamin
    Part IV
    Much of the qualified staff has left for the commercial or state sector, abandoning intellectual work, while the best researchers are emigrating. Remaining independent research institutes or their staff seek protection with one of the two big state education institutions that also harbor think tanks, the Higher School of Economics and the Academy of the National Economy. Both are liberal, and they offer intellectuals both protection and financing. Thanks to their dominant focus on education, they are allowed more freedom than independent think tanks. Soon, the Kremlin might have succeeded in its goal to eliminate independent economic think tanks. The strongest one is  perhaps the Gaidar Institute, which never left the Russian Academy of the National Economy.
    As in late Soviet times, the best hope for independent professional thought to survive in Russia seems to be in liberal state institutions.
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Source http://carnegie.ru/2012/12/06/venezuela-confronts-political-uncertainty-as-ailing-chavez-misses-inauguration/exj8

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