Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Forty Million Russians under 25 Overwhelmingly Support Putin Now But May Threaten His Policies Later



Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 29 – The 40 million Russians born since 1991 overwhelmingly support Vladimir Putin, but their values, including support for greater personnel freedoms and disbelief in any new cold war, may ultimately undermine the Kremlin leader’s policies if not the Kremlin leader himself.

            According to a commentary on the Profile portal, Russian young people “consider freedom a much more important value than do their parents who choose stability and security,” the promotion of which Putin has made his central task (profile.ru/obsch/item/111059-pokolenie-putina).

            For those born after 1991, Gorbachev and Yeltsin are “no more than figures” figures from the misty past. They have few memories of the difficulties of the 1990s which for many of their parents was the defining decade. Instead, they have grown up in the ever more authoritarian Russia of Vladimir Putin. And they are “his generation,” the portal says.

 The percent of this segment of the population declaring their support for Putin is “approximately as high as among older Russians,” and many of its members are just as drawn to conservative values as are they.  But nonetheless, on many issues, they are very different than their parents – and very different from the values Putin now pushes.

Also, Russian polls suggest, “the overwhelming majority of ‘the Putin generation’ does not believe in the thesis about a new cold war. These people are less affected by propaganda and are convinced that the current problems are connected chiefly with Crimea and Ukraine and that soon or later they will be overcome.”

“Separating Russia from the West is not their choice,” the Profile portal says.

Sociologists from the Levada Center have suggested that it is going to take generations for the Soviet past to be overcome or even that some Soviet values are reproducing themselves among the young. That may or may not prove to be the case either generally or in particular cases, the Profile commentary suggests.

But one thing is clear: “Today almost a third of Russians are younger than 25.” That means that “more than 40 million people were born after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Their political profile is amorphous,” and their views about the future unclear. “But without doubt, their dreams and demands are different from their parents.”

And with each passing year, they are becoming a larger share of the Russian population, while their parents are becoming a smaller one.

Another Thing Putin Shares with Stalin – A Power Base in the Non-Russian Republics



Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 29 – Even though Vladimir Putin like Joseph Stalin has moved to recentralize power in Moscow more than any other Russian leader, the current occupant of the Kremlin like his Soviet predecessor relies on the non-Russian republics as a major support for his party of power.

            In the 1920s, Stalin never won a vote in the communist party organizations of the major Russian cities until long after he had complete control over the party organizations in the non-Russian republics, a pattern that was made possible by his work as nationalities commissar and that likely predisposed him to maintaining the USSR’s national-territorial structure.

            Putin came to power via a very different route. He was appointed by Yeltsin and from the beginning was committed to bringing the non-Russian republics, starting with Chechnya, to heel and eliminating what he and his regime routinely refer to as “asymmetrical federalism” in which the non-Russian republics have more rights at least on paper than do Russian regions.

            But despite those differences, Putin like Stalin has made use of the non-Russian republics as a power base at least with respect to Duma elections. In those just completed, the republics turned out to be “more loyal to the party of power” than did the Russian regions, not to speak of the major cities.

            However, it is almost certain that unless something changes radically, the non-Russian republics within the Russian Federation will not benefit from their loyalty to Putin any more than the non-Russian union republics of the USSR benefitted from their support of Stalin. Indeed, what Stalin did to them should be an object lesson for what non-Russians can expect from Putin.

            That pattern has enormous implications both for Putin and his regime and for the Russian Federation as a whole at least in the short and medium term, and some of the most important of these are explored in a new commentary by Ayrat Shamilin of Radio Svoboda’s Tatar-Bashkir Service (idelreal.org/a/28016705.html).

                There are many reasons for “the phenomenon of loyal republics,” the commentator says. The republics are even more dependent than the regions on subventions from the center and thus want to win its favor.  And in the absence of regional parties, supporting the party of power appears to many to be the best way of achieving that end.

            The problem, Shamilin says, lies not with the national elites and national republics as such; but rather in the way in which Russian political life has developed under Putin. First of all, there has been “the extreme personification of power and the low rate of its rotation,” something that makes it easier for national elites to accept Moscow’s personified power arrangemetns.

            Second, while the party of power has not articulated a pro-non-Russian position, its neutrality on this question is less offensive than the negative attitudes reflected in some other parties, such as the openly Russian nationalist LDPR, which received only one-third the level it received for the country as a whole in the non-Russian republics.

            And third, the elites in non-Russian republics are more concerned with maintaining a balance among ethnic groups and thus inter-ethnic peace than in promoting democracy which could undermine that situation. Thus, by supporting United Russia, these elites “position themselves as a guarantor of inter-ethnic peace.”

            Unfortunately for the republics, they have not gotten very much back for their support.  Except for Chechnya, they aren’t getting more subsidies from Moscow per capita than are predominantly ethnic Russian regions.  They aren’t getting support for national cultures and languages. And they aren’t getting positions of authority even in the Duma.

            As the economic situation deteriorates and the center collects less money and thus has even less to re-distribute, Shamilin concludes, a demand for “real federalization and a serious regional policy” will grow, something that means at least some republics will see a return to the kind of treaties they had in the early 1990s.

            “This is important,” he says, “not only for the republics themselves but also for Russian democracy.  Real politics will become significant for the republics only if their problems appear on the agendas of various parties and if they are as a result heard.” Until that happens, the non-Russian republics are likely to serve as a reliable base for Putin’s party of power.

Aggressive Nationalist Groups are Part and Parcel of the State in Putin’s Russia, Pozharsky Says



Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 29 – All sorts of aggressive sects are ready to fill any “gap” in Russia’s public space left open by the inaction of the powers that be, but that does not mean that the state is dying, Mikhail Pozharsky says, because such groups “do not want to occupy a place INSTEAD of the state but rather to be TOGETHER with it.”

            In this, although the Moscow commentator does not say so, radical nationalist and xenophobic groups, many linked to Russian Orthodoxy, strongly resemble the Black Hundreds movement at the end of the tsarist period, one that also believed its actions were in support of the state but that ultimately helped destroy the state’s credibility.

            The actions of some radicals in closing a photography exhibit in Moscow last week, Pozharsky says, have led some Russian writers to argue that these groups are illegitimately taking the place of the state by violating the government’s monopoly on the use of force and thus threatening the state’s existence (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=57EB7F9EEED58).

            Such arguments are inappropriate for three reasons, he suggests.  First of all, what happened last week isn’t new. Radical groups have been doing such things for some time. Indeed, they stand ready to fill “any gap in the social space” which the state, by its failure in their view to act, has not filled.

            Second, Pozharsky continues, it is absurd to talk in either/or terms about the state’s monopoly on the use of force, especially about a state like the one in Russia which is run by bandits who are in no way controlled by social institutions like elections and the rule of law. The bandits of the state and the bandits of the radical sects thus exist along a continuum.

            “To make distinctions among these bandits may be worthwhile as far as certain practical goals are concerned,” the commentator says, but there is no reason to do so “in theory.”

            And third, there is another reason to avoid seeing the bandits in the state and the bandits in the streets as at loggerheads. In fact, the latter are “semi-state organizations which receive grants and have protectors among the deputies and the bureaucrats. They thus are the state” and not its enemies, at least as the bandits in the state understand things.

            Aleksandr Verkhovsky, the head of the SOVA analytic center, provides an additional comment about the closure of the photography exhibit by the Officers organization, noting that this represents one significant change. In the past, he says, such actions to enforce morality were taken largely by groups near the church. Now, they are taken by others as well.

            “In large measure,” he writes, “the state has taken over ideas and also methods of activists near the church. The moral theme for a long time remained in fact the monopoly of the Church. Now, people closer to the state than to the church are seeking to make use of it” (sova-center.ru/religion/publications/2016/09/d35496/).

            Verkhovsky says that he is unsure whether this “trend will continue, but if it does, then it will turn out that the Church on this issue as well will be reduced to a secondary role as an assistant. Now, the patriarch has spoken out on the issue of abortions, although no one prevented him from doing so in the past because the theme is eternal.”

            “I have the impression,” the SOVA analyst says, “that by doing so, he is trying to catch up” with the direction in which things are moving.