18/04/2007

But something could happen

Sonja Margolina reports on the advantages of "controlled instability" to Putin's regime

During the demonstrations of the collective opposition movement "The other Russia," the centres of Moscow and St Petersburg were surrounded by special security units whose numbers greatly exceeded those of the participants. What Russians can't be allowed to see in the politically conform media is not to be missed by Western audiences: the peaceful demonstrators and onlookers, among them elderly people, were bludgeoned to the ground and kicked.

Anyone who's witnessed this has to ask the question: what is the Kremlin afraid of? Putin's Russia is doing fantastically. Investments nearly doubled in the last year. The country is experiencing a consumption craze, Putins's standing remains high, many voters are even ready to elect any old "cat in the bag" in 2008 or, as bitter journalists joke, Putin's doggie Conny, should he name her as his successor.

Politically, the Kremlin has succeeded in shutting all the weak opposition parties out of the election process or to corrupt them. Only through a monstrous hall of mirrors could one see in the handful of opposition members without resources and support, anything approaching "orange revolutionaries" or Western-influenced conspirators.

The paranoid fear of a rudimentary protest movement is a symptom of the political crisis that seems to be gripping the Putinesque vertical at the nadir of its un-challenged power. The crisis originates in an old problem of legitimate power change, which represents an incalculable risk for secret service agents. They have privatised the state and secured the majority of the wealth for themselves. The successor could lead to a loss in power for rival groups and to the benefit of others – with uncertain consequences for their influence and possibly their immunity.

It would be easy to change the constitution and allow the population to re-elect Putin. This suggestion is coming not only from the regional nomenklatura, who fear for their benefits, but also from the common people, who trust no institution other than Putin and see in him a guarantee of otherwise fragile stability. Moreover, the departure of Putin could lead to a de-legitimisation of his regime because his person is the embodiment of legitimacy, the epitome of the ruling order. Among political analysts, there is a consensus that the "controlled instability" of the Kremlin administration is being intentionally nurtured to force Putin to remain in power.

But the fight for benefits manifest in the political crises is only the tip of the iceberg. The regime's quickly-spreading paranoia is more an expression of the inability to modernise and govern the country. The Kremlin has weakened or corrupted virtually all state institutions. There is no constitutional state. A system has been created whose only purpose is to manipulate elections to Putin's advantage. In exchange, Moscow would allow regional barons and landowners to help themselves in their areas and to dismiss their constituents at their discretion. The national projects into which millions of dollars flow, thanks to abundant oil revenues, fail with the avarice of bureaucrats or poor planning. This explains why the modernisation of the excavation pits in Kusnezk lead to the largest methane explosion in the history of the region.

The modernisation of the health system destroyed the old system and the new one doesn't work yet. The program of social housing projects and mortgages had lead to increases in real estate prices which don't have to be paid by the middle class. The introduction of an electronic market in alcohol products resulted in a collapse in the market in spirits. The fight against alcohol surrogates was accompanied by an increase in alcohol poisoning.

Social institutions such as homes for the elderly and handicapped are decaying or going up in flames. Heating pipes explode in the winter. Reports of similar disasters are multiplying, because the financing of social programs has been handed over to the regions – while they pay their taxes to Moscow. The profits are being shamelessly privatised by the bureaucracy, the losses shared by the whole.

According to Andrei Illarionov, Putin's former financial advisor, the level of security has sunken to the level of the 1990s, violence among the people has doubled. He considers this situation, which has a lot to do with growing social inequality and the increasing income of a few, to be extremely worrying.

In the spirit of traditional political culture, the post-Soviet elites view their subjects with disdain. The basis of Putin's regime is the bureaucracy, which serves its overlords with unconditional loyalty rather than competence. Bureaucrats need take no responsibility for the needs of the collective because that depends on the people. For the Kremlin bosses and their politicos, the people are 'vegetables' that are fed stories in the media about Western spies and 'extremist' members of the opposition. They think the people will believe the fairy-tale of the evil foreigners again and again. At the same time, the fear of an ungovernable people which seeks to ruin the elite's dolce vita is expressed in the form of "preventative violence." When a policeman is asked why it's necessary to beat up a demonstrator when nothing is happening, he says, "but something could happen."

The regime seems to want to make an "orange revolution" - for which there is supposedly no need in Russia - indeed possible.

*

Sonja Margolina was born in Moscow in 1951. She studied biology and ecology. She has been living in Berlin as a freelance journalist since 1986.

The article originally appeared in German in the Frankfurter Rundschau on April 18, 2007.

Translation: nb

Get the signandsight newsletter for regular updates on feature articles.
signandsight.com - let's talk european.

 
More articles

This kiss for the whole world

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Who actually owns "intellectual property"?  The German media that defend the concept of intellectual property as "real" property are the first to appropriate such rights, and they are using this idea as a defensive weapon. With lawmakers extending copyright laws and new structures emerging on the internet, intellectual property poses a serious challenge to the public domain. A survey of the German media landscape by Thierry Chervel
read more

Suddenly we know we are many

Wednesday 4th January, 2012

Why the Russian youth have tolerated the political situation in their country for so long and why they are no longer tolerant. The poet Natalia Klyuchareva explains the background to the protests on Bolotnaya Square in Moscow on December 10th. Image: Leonid Faerberg
read more

The Republic of Europe

Tuesday 20 December, 2011

Thanks to Radoslaw Sikorski's speech in Berlin, Poland has at last joined the big European debate about restructuring the EU in connection with the euro crisis. The "European Reformation" advocated by Germany does not mean that the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation will be established in Europe, but instead – let us hope – the Republic of Europe. By Adam Krzeminski
read more

Brown is not red

Tuesday 13 December, 2011

TeaserPicFilmmaker and theatre director Andres Veiel disagrees with the parallels currently being drawn between left-wing and right-wing violence in Germany. The RAF is the wrong model for the Zwickau neo-Nazi group, the so-called "Brown Army Faction" responsible for a series of murders of Turkish small business owners. Unlike the RAF, this group never publicly claimed responsibility for their crimes. Veiel is emphatic - you have to look at the biographies of the perpetrators. An interview with Heike Karen Runge.
read more

Legacy of denial

Tuesday 29 November, 2011

TeaserPicGermany has been rocked by the disclosures surrounding the series of neo-Nazi murders of Turkish citizens. In the wake of these events, Former GDR dissident Freya Klier calls for an honest look at the xenophobia cultivated by the policies of the former East Germany, where the core of the so-called "Brown Army Faction" was based. And demands that East Germans finally confront a long-denied past. (Photo: © Nadja Klier)
read more

Nausea in Paris

Monday 14 November, 2011

TeaserPicIn response to the arson attack on the offices of the Parisian satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo on November 2, Danish critic and semiotician Frederik Stjernfelt is nauseated by the opinions voiced against the publication, especially in the British and American media. Why don't they see that Islamism is right-wing extremism?
read more

Just one pyramid

Monday 10 October, 2011

Activist and author, Andri Snaer Magnason is among the Icelandic guests of honor at this year's Frankfurt Book Fair. His book and film "Dreamland" is both an ecological call to action and a polemic. "The politicians took one of the most beautiful parts of Iceland and offered it to unscrupulous companies," says the author in a critique of his native country. By Daniela Zinser
read more

Dark side of the light

Monday 3 October 2011

In their book "Lügendes Licht" (lying light) Thomas Worm and Claudia Karstedt explore the darker side of the EU ban on incandescent bulbs. From disposal issues to energy efficiency, the low-energy bulb is not necessarily a beacon of a greener future. By Brigitte Werneburg
read more

Lubricious puritanism

Tuesday 30 August, 2011

The malice of the American media in the case of Dominique Strauss-Kahn is a symptom of sexual uptightness that borders on the sinister, and the feminists have joined forces with the religious Right to see it through. We can learn much from America, but not when it comes to the art of love. By Pascal Bruckner
read more

Much ado about Sarrazin

Monday 22 August 2011

Published a year ago, the controversial book "Deutschland schafft sich ab" (Germany is doing away with itself) by former banker and Berlin Finance Senator Thilo Sarrazin sparked intense discussion. Hamed Abdel-Samad asks: what has the Sarrazin debate achieved beyond polarisation and insult? And how can Germany avoid cultivating its own classes of "future foreigners"?
read more

Economic giant, political dwarf

Wednesday 3 August, 2011

Germany's growing imbalance between economic and political competence is worsening the European crisis and indeed the crisis of Nato. The country has ceased to make any political signals at all and demonstrates a conspicuous lack of responsibility for what takes place beyond its own borders. This smug isolationism is linked to strains of old anti-Western and anti-political, anti-parliamentarian sentiment that is pure provincialism. By Karl Heinz Bohrer
read more

Sound and fury

Monday 11 April 2011

Budapest is shimmering with culture but Hungary's nationalist government is throwing its weight about in cultural life, effecting censorship through budget cuts and putting its own people in the top-level cultural positions. Government tolerance of hate campaigns against Jews and gays has provoked the likes of Andras Schiff, Agnes Heller, Bela Tarr and Andre Fischer to raise their voices in defence of basic human rights. But a lot of people are simply scared. By Volker Hagedorn
read more

The self-determination delusion

Monday 28 March, 2011

TeaserPicA Dutch action group for free will wants to give all people the right to assisted suicide. But can this be achieved without us ending up somewhere we never wanted to go? Gerbert van Loenen has grave doubts.
read more

Revolution without guarantee

Monday 21 February, 2011

Saying revolution and freedom is not the same as saying democracy, respect for minorities, equal rights and good relations with neighbouring nations. All this has yet to be achieved. We welcome the Arab revolution and will continue to watch with our eyes open to the potential dangers. By Andre Glucksmann
read more

Pascal Bruckner and the reality disconnect

Friday 14 January, 2011

The French writer Pascal Bruckner wants to forbid a word. Which sounds more like a typically German obsession. But for Bruckner, "Islamophobia" is one of "those expressions which we dearly need to banish from our vocabulary". One asks oneself with some trepidation which other words we "dearly need" to get rid of: Right-wing populism? Racism? Relativism? By Alan Posener
read more