Russia 2010: Another Step Towards Catastrophe?

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In this year-end analysis, opposition leader Garry Kasparov warns that the Russian government is creeping more and more towards full-fledged fascism, just as the population is beginning to come together in meaningful political protest.

Russia 2010: Another Step Towards Catastrophe?
The population is decidedly disappointed in the “tandem”
By Garry Kasparov
December 30, 2010

In summing up the politics events of the year, I would dare to call this year a critical one. There is a trend of mass consciousness: Russian citizens are decidedly disappointed in the ruling party – United Russia – and their skepticism is gradually spreading to Vladimir Putin and Dmitri Medvedev. In 2010, the tandem definitively split up its spheres of influence: while the “national leader” appeals to the most conservative and uneducated segments of society, the function of the head of state is instead to evoke sympathy from the well-informed and dynamic minority focused on global integration.

Medvedev’s mission is falling apart before our very eyes: even a maneuver as impressive (despite the dragged-out waiting period) as firing Yury Luzhkov did not change the overall picture. The pathetic ending to the story of the Khimki Forest, the hopeless situation with the investigation of the attack on journalist Oleg Kashin, the lack of a coherent response to the events on Manezhnaya Square, and, finally, the disgraceful congratulatory remarks to the Belarusian dictator for his “victory” in the elections – Dmitri Medvedev has committed an entire series of acts that are unacceptable for a politician counting on the support of Russian citizens focused on European values.

And, finally, the last and final test for Medvedev “the liberal” was held on December 27. There were no surprises: the Khamovnichesky Court began its historic session by announcing the guilt of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev. All the colorful words about how pressure on the courts from “other officials” was unacceptable naturally turned out to be just that: words. If anyone was still under any illusions, now they have no grounds for them at all.

But this is not only – and not even so much – about disappointment in Medvedev. General perceptions about forms of protest are changing in the country. People are beginning to realize: under the growth of authoritarianism, there is no point to social protest if it is not accompanied by political demands. The Kaliningrad rallies at the beginning of the year; the springtime wave of Communist demonstrations with slogans calling for the resignation of the government; the ever-growing activeness of Strategy 31; the strong appeal of anti-Putin slogans – all of this testifies to a change in trends.

No “ratings” will compensate for the shock from the summer fires or the ubiquitous Kushchevskaya massacre. Here one may recall the revealing video footage from Nizhny Novgorod, in which fire victims screamed their complaints about the government right into the face of the confused “national leader.”

Disengagement from political demands inevitably leads to a dead end. In contrast, when the need to advance and assert political demands becomes clear to everyone – including trade unions, ecologists, war veterans, and football fans – the government will falter. It is important that, at that moment, it is not opposed by disparate masses of people.

Unfortunately, there is no broad public dialogue going on in this country. This is largely the result of mutual distrust between various social groups, personal ambitions, the lack of a culture of searching for compromise in oppositionist circles, and, naturally, the deliberately divisive actions of pro-Kremlin structures.

Nevertheless, the government itself does promote a general type of politicization – insofar as it establishes that any issue that affects the interests of one civil servant or another is a political one. Very often we see inept management, incompetency, abuses, and even blatant crimes go unpunished only because they are committed under the banner of “United Russia.” This is becoming too noticeable, and the comprehension that Putin’s United Russia is precisely the main source of lawlessness in this country is penetrating the general consciousness.

Given the obvious fall in its level of public support, Putin’s corrupt, bandit-ridden power vertical requires that crackdowns continue – without consideration of the possible consequences – if it is to survive.

The toughening of an authoritarian regime is an entirely logical phase of its development, and in Russia there is no exception. As I’ve already noted in my previous articles, the stability of Putin’s vertical is the result of not only the social apathy of society and well-organized, deliberate propaganda, but also the creation – with the help of prominent representatives of homegrown liberalism – the illusion of a stable economy, which allows, to a certain extent, state finances to be managed in a reasonable way, which compensates for the woeful ignorance of greedy security officials and civil servants.

In this regard, Yevgeny Yasin’s many statements are revealing. This is a man who, after Yegor Gaidar’s departure, could be fully considered a pillar of Russian liberal fundamentalism. On his blog on Ekho Moskvy, he rather frankly sets out the views of the enlightened part of the Russian elite on the state of affairs in the country: “If you’d like – the creation of a democratic Russia is a task that was set aside in ’92 for the sake of radical economic reform. But now that the basic reforms have already been carried out and we have a market economy, its further development is only possible under democracy.” This is an exceptionally valuable admission that establishes that neither Gaidar nor Anatoly Chubais considered a democratic framework to be a necessary condition for Russia’s market economy in general.

It is also not insignificant that Yasin is talking about the successful completion of market reforms precisely now, in 2010. It would be interesting to know, then, how the apologists of “Russian liberalism” picture the market and market economy. The lack of a guarantee of private property? Bureaucratic lawlessness? The lack of independent courts? A level of corruption that is beyond the pale? Or the fact that the majority of students from Yevgeny Grigorievich’s State University – Higher School of Economics want to work in Gazprom and the presidential administration. And that’s an economic result that, from Yasin’s point of view, is entirely acceptable today. This is exactly the result that was achieved by people who continue to call themselves Russian liberals, entirely discrediting the idea of a market economy and liberal democracy.

Talk of democracy has now become relevant because the party of “supporters of enlightened Putinism with a human face” knows perfectly well that the system becomes unstable under Putin’s excesses; but it nevertheless shows no desire to undertake any fundamental reforms.

The pinnacle of their desires is a return to blessed 2002, for the authoritarian form of rule to be softened but the mechanism allowing for the unchanging and supreme power of oligarch groups be preserved, with this group then resolving the power issue amongst themselves. A clear warp has formed on the part of one of the groups – the Putin one. And this has evoked rejection from systemic Russian liberals, since the oligarchical consensus has ceased to function.

I have written many times that Yeltsin’s fatal Decree 1400 in the fall of 1993 drove our country back into the rut of authoritarian development. Although, it’s now becoming clear that the method of carrying out “Gaidar’s great reforms” also brought along the seeds of authoritarianism, which was unavoidably necessary to defend the interests of the oligarchy forming then. And the liberal echelons appearing from the ranks of the so-called “Kamikaze government” are in fact an organic part of the Yeltsin-Putin regime. It is they who are its designers and engineers; it is they who created and nurtured this construct.

Any attempt to divide Putin’s milieu into “liberals” and “security officials” ignores the fact that the two work in harmony – or, in the current political fashion: in tandem. The Baikalfinansgrup fraud was created not so much by Igor Sechin and Sergey Bogdanchikov as by Alexei Kudrin and Sergey Ignatyev. And one can find very “liberal” surnames – Gref, Golikova, Khristenko – on the lists of beneficiaries of corrupt bureaucratic schemes.

The young people who wound up on Manezhnaya Square on December 11 grew up in an era of economic reform that completely changed the way of life of the population of our country. This is the generation that Gaidar’s acolytes dreamed of, insisting that young people who knew nothing of Soviet life would form the nucleus of a free, future Russia. Today it’s become clear what kind of political force makes up the nucleus that these young people have formed.

And this is quite a natural result, given the contemporary Russian conditions of non-functioning social mobility, the oppressive sensation of hopelessness for a large number of Russian citizens, a total lack of prospects, and egregious social differentiation, which also overlap with the unavoidable confessional and ethnic mix of the former Soviet empire. It impossible to think of a better fertilizer to cultivate nationalistic sentiment in a society.

At the beginning of the ’90s, when the newly-formed democratic Russian state was attempting to escape from the quagmire of social and economic chaos, many people thought that a repeat scenario of Weimar Germany was a real possibility. That said, no one considered that the Weimar Republic disappeared not as a result of Hitler’s unconditional electoral victories (the Nazis never took more than 38 percent of the vote), but as a result of the collusion between oligarchical and military circles and the Nazis, who were seen as a natural counterweight to the leftist threat.

All of the entreaties about the red-brown threat of the ’90s have turned out to be untenable. At that historic moment, the red-brown coalition was largely the result of the clumsy actions of Yeltsin’s government. But it is now possible for the red-brown combination to become a reality, as the color brown becomes consumed by shades of the Black Hundreds. And the government’s active battle against the left enables this.

It is interesting to note that the Communist Party’s eternal leader, Gennady Zyuganov, who has continued to emasculate the resources of the left flank of the opposition for all these years, began his own political career in post-Soviet Russia in the ranks of the National Patriots. Numerous purges – carried out by the Communist Party at Zyuganov’s behest and culminating in the total ruin of its Moscow city branch – lead to the domination of nationalistic and clerical views within the party leadership.

Dreams of a Russian Pinochet in the Yeltsin era excited supporters of radical economic reforms. And so only in the Russian reality does General Pinochet somehow acquire the characteristics of Lieutenant Colonel Putin or Colonel Kvachkov.

And it is also obvious that the government, whose consciousness has been dominated by the threat of red revenge since 1995, encourages the development of ultra-right groups. And the actions of left and radical-left groups elicit a brutal response from the police, even though there is not a single hint that they would use any violence. Internal Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev’s finger-pointing of the left – which, in his opinion, is responsible for the riots on Manezhnaya – is quite possibly linked with his unprofessionalism, but it is more likely linked with the simple stereotype that threats to the existing order in Russia always come from the left.

The ultra-right usually does not infringe upon private property and the oligarchical regime fears slogans of social justice more than anything else. And the regime’s reaction to the events on Manezhnaya Square is not connected to the rejection of the process itself, but with the necessity to control such potential excesses – as in the case of Kvachkov. That said, the treatises of the Minin and Pozharsky People’s Militia, which include open calls to overthrow the existing government, appeared more than a year ago. It is obvious that Eduard Limonov would have gotten 10 years without the right of correspondence for each line of that text. Until recently, Vladimir Kvachkov got away with it entirely.

In the midst of a growing socio-economic crisis, the government is going to look at the fascistization of society – most of all of its youth – as the main way to channel any desire to protest. An even more aggressive ideological formation is now beginning to crystallize from the deformed seedlings that grew into the crops at Seliger. Putin spoke in this vein when he discussed the restrictions on registration rules for nonresidents, all the way up to criminal liability. Not for foreigners – specifically for Russian citizens. Here we can once again recall the Russian constitution, which Putin’s OMON have already been wiping their feet on for a long time. But the government is already distinctly aware that, at some point, even the OMON won’t be enough.

In a healthy society, there is an acceptable balance on the scale of social differentiation. But by consciously recreating poverty and hopelessness, the government is inevitably becoming a fascist one.

In my aforementioned article, I wrote nearly three years ago: “Today we must call upon those who still foster any illusions about the current regime, and those who no longer foster any illusions, to openly and honestly declare that it is disastrous for our country. We no longer have the right to pretend that the current Russian government can be humanized through ‘small deeds.’ If we do not halt the growth of this dangerous organism today, tomorrow it will prolong its development and inevitably turn into a fascist beast. The logic of history is inexorable.”

Only by turning away from this oligarchical dead end by dismantling the Yeltsin-Putin regime as fast as possible can we save our country from such a catastrophic scenario.

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