Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
Excerpts from the JRL E-Mail Community :: Founded and Edited by David Johnson

#9 - JRL 7020
No. 1
January 2003
The citizens of Putin's Russia want more than they are entitled to
Author: Iskander Khisamov
[from WPS Monitoring Agency, www.wps.ru/e_index.html]


Question: What do you expect from the upcoming political year?

Gleb Pavlovsky: I expect a vicious internal battle of interests, coupled with militarization of the global situation. But war around the world should ensure that we resist the temptation to fight one another.

Putin's Russia is used to stability, and almost everyone in it wants more than he or she is entitled to. Our imperceptible economic growth generates some appetites; but there is nothing to satisfy them. And the policy of stability - this controlled democracy of ours - leaves these interests unrepresented. It should be noted here that this same stability boiled down to postponement of the most ambitious appetites. Putin is blamed for the lack of projects on the national scope, and yet they are not absent. They are merely postponed. The regime forced the major players to postpone their ambitious projects since their very ambitiousness makes them incompatible with one another. The consensus of stability was thus formed, a corridor Putin and the country moved by these last three years. Providing resources for the policy of stability, this development has corrupted the political establishment which is skeptical through and through and which knows no principles nowadays.

And the war is upon us. The slogan of the war on international terrorism brought us to the era of new wars. These wars are anything but local in the traditional meaning. The most convenient testing round for the new theaters of operations is adjacent to the southern borders of Russia and its allies. We are ringed by ambitious nations either with nuclear weapons of their own or on the way of obtaining them. Every conflict here affects Russia's relations with Europe, the United States, or with regional "super powers".

Question: Do you think effect of this factor will be felt before the parliamentary election already?

Gleb Pavlovsky: I do not doubt that the factor will be felt in 2003 already. There is more to the war in Iraq than Saddam Hussein's future. There is the matter of unrestricted rearrangement of the United States. In what state will America return from Iraq? What will the war do to its mentality and to the dollar? Do not forget that Russia's foreign policy is having an effect on our political spectrum. It is possible for politicians to gain prominence through foreign policy matters nowadays.

Question: How compatible is all this with the problems and agenda of the parliamentary election scheduled to take place in late 2003 and to be followed by presidential election?

Gleb Pavlovsky: The system of parties we have nowadays has nothing to do with the regime. The regime is one thing, the parties are another. The parties we have in Russia believe that their ratings indicate the size of their electorates when in fact they merely indicate their air time.

There was the widespread opinion that since Putin was not going to have any rivals in the next presidential race, it made the whole party-political system something without alternatives. In other words, that everything would remain more or less the way it used to be, and that the Duma would not change much. All this bore the proud name of the inertial scenario!

If you ask me, the inertial scenario is dead, and we even now the day of its interment - December 14, 2003. Why is that? Because the stability everyone relied on is a certain policy, Putin's policy in fact. It is not a given. It will be difficult for Putin to play stability like a political combination. Wherever any balance is, there are mechanisms maintaining it. The problem is, these mechanisms will not last beyond the next election. The mechanisms we are talking about do not have anything to do with elections at all. The regime took form after Putin's election, right on Match 25, 2000, in society that shook off horrors of pre-election void of authority. Hence all these speculations on the lack of alternatives, on how voters put the state beyond the framework of any future election, how they made the state unquestionable and giving the president the keys. For a long time to come, if not forever. And what now? What parties will do at the election without alternative suggestions?

Growth of the mass of interests that are not represented anywhere is the other side of the coin. The new right, new city-dwellers, new communists, new educated classes, new small business owners... The "party air" seems to have transformed Russia into a nation of unrepresented citizens.

New businesses are anti-oligarchic to a greater extent than even the CPRF. The Communists can and do deal with oligarchs, but not new businesses. The new generation of business owners has its own set of values and bearing points. This new generation doesn't compare taxes, customs, or banks with what they were like in the early 1990s. It merely accepts them as they are, in order to rearrange them afterwards to its own liking. New businesses are expanding. They know that they do not stand a chance without real politics, without a political process which shapes the government and dictates its policy.

Question: Do you mean that they need a party?

Gleb Pavlovsky: I mean that they do not have a party. Businesses know it. The Union of Right Forces is the first party urging everyone - and especially businesspeople - to join it. At the same time, the Union of Right Forces doesn't understand business owners, and doesn't see what they have to offer. The Union of Right Forces doesn't understand regional economics, it has not even formulated its position with regard to the regime, and it disdains the subject of security. Its 1999 idea that old political servants of the post-Soviet oligarchic economy may be adapted in order to represent the interests of new economy is a mistake.

However, this doesn't mean that the Union of Right Forces doesn't have a future. It merely means that the Union of Right Forces should undergo a transformation, from a disposable campaign gimmick into a party, in order to reach into non-oligarchic strata. In the meantime, 40% of poll respondents say that not a single party in Russia today represents their interests. This is a market. A huge political market, those 40% who know they are not represented by anyone.

Question: What about the communists?

Gleb Pavlovsky: They are incompetent, even though they were the first to grasp the idea. Upper echelons of the Communist Party are serious worried, discussion within the party media is under way. I wish parties of the right flank had this glasnost. Yes, communists have problems with the leader and with the party bourgeoisie. Their traditional demands (legacy of the Soviet Union and the party ready to assume responsibility) seem to be shifting over to Putin and to United Russia via him. Ageing of the format is not a tragedy in itself. Parties rearrange themselves on the eve of elections and study their groups of interests anew. But what is needed for the rearrangement? Serious public expertise is needed along with stiffly-worded rational speech. This is what is in high demand nowadays.

Question: And yet, you are talking in favor of the rational scenario now. What you are saying is that we should not expect any new party project in the near future... Society has its own life to live. Some interests are lobbied in the apparatus but all this doesn't have anything to do with public politics.

Gleb Pavlovsky: In my view, a project like that must be and will inevitably be. On the other hand, it may be much too late. Why "must be"? Parties cannot pass the election without holding on to this or that group of interests. They will have to pour colossal money into their promotion campaigns otherwise and run the risk of losing the election all the same. (By the way, this is what Moscow-based PR- colossi are inducing them to do.)

I do not doubt that agenda of the upcoming election will be centered first and foremost around the question of a party capable of ruling. The first party to show to the interests (not to TV audience, to the interests) that it takes them into consideration, that it will represent them and be responsible... it will have a chance to become the ruling party. The theater of party democracy is opening, but no one is particularly hot about seeing the same old actors there all over again.

Question: Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think that you are merely waiting for the correct tendencies to prevail: parties will have to find their place and their electorates or disappear altogether. I attended a conference of political technologists the other day. They complained (all of them) that the new draconian electoral legislation was shifting the electoral wars from the sphere of technologies to that of legal nuances. This is what everyone was talking about. No one so much as mentioned the connection between interests and parties or between national interests and elections.

Gleb Pavlovsky: It merely confirms the assumption that Moscow politicians and political technologists are like a cub with two heads. They still follow the convenient financial-political pattern of the golden era of 1993 - 1996 and force the same arrangement on the regime. Here is the Kremlin. It comes up with a project or several. Politicians are chosen for it, and TV gets into high gear. When all these conditions are met and money appears, everything is fine. That is how Russia's Democratic Choice, Our Home is Russia, All Russia, and the Union of Right Forces were formed. This is the basic model of the world Moscow politicians and political scientists live in. All this was called politics and was politics under Yeltsin, before Putin.

Question: And this pattern doesn't require any evolution on the part of these parties.

Gleb Pavlovsky: Right. The pattern is great but for a single nuance. It doesn't lead anyone into the corridors of power any more. The regime is smart, and new businesses have their own money (meaning that they do not need budget funds). Krasnoyarsk election confirms it. All old machinery, all Moscow PR companies assembled there - with nothing to show for it. It was Glaziev who passed the election with flying colors. Glaziev - a man without budget funds and without prominent companies working for him. And he used an idea so simple as to be staggering in its simplicity: look what they have been doing to you! I'm not like them. I'm Glaziev. Here is my position on this and that, here is my program, and here is what I will do... Glaziev asked his voters to support Khloponin afterwards, but he did not lose face.

Question: As for the Krasnoyarsk election, I'd say that all Moscow vectors nullified one another. Half of them worked for aluminium, and the other hand for nickel while the Kremlin (and therefore the major TV channels) never even decided who he wanted as Krasnoyarsk governor. Had the Kremlin made up its mind, everything would have been much more simple.

Gleb Pavlovsky: Paying for elections, regional or party, with Putin is like using banknotes or securities to get an oven going. I hope that there are no more fools like that in the Kremlin. Back in 1999, Putin persuaded voters that the new regime would be inadequate and disabled without a new Duma. It was logical, democratic, and quite in line with the acting Constitution. Along with that, the prime minister (he was not the president yet as we know) essentially asked for the people's support and protection and everyone knew from whom. Regardless of who Putin himself meant, voters protected him from unpredictable Yeltsin. Voting for the Unity, the people voted for a fully-fledged alternative to Yeltsin's regime. The factor of Yeltsin is history now.

Question: And yet, Putin's dependance on the so called Family remain the talk of the day.

Gleb Pavlovsky: This is a lasting myth. It includes just a single byte of the truth: no more trust in politicians of Yeltsin's era. Removal of this generation from the field is on of the questions that may be solved in the course of the election.

In theory, only one force - United Russia - is currently compatible with the global nature of Putin's communications with the population. But not as a power party despite the label used by the media. The conformist electorate will give it 10%, 12% tops. It will not poll more as a power party. Putin will be left without a party in the next Duma in this case. And if United Russia presents itself as Putin's party, it will have to prove that like the Unity in 1999 it is an alternative to old variants of the authority. It will have to prove it to voters first and foremost, not to Putin. It has not proved it yet.

Question: Do you think it can prove it?

Gleb Pavlovsky: To accomplish that, it will have to become a party of real interests of the real population. And it will have to rule the country in the name of the real majority.

Question: Well, can it?

Gleb Pavlovsky: The task is difficult indeed. Pro-Putin majority is diversified, it comprises different electorates. They are electorates of old parties and this is the resource of United Russia. People vote for different parties, for Putin, and for different parties. But voters are confused, and opinion polls in focus groups show it plainly. Voters are hesitant now. Who or what they are fore - for Putin as such or for this or that party? This is where United Russia has a considerable resource.

Question: Society is quite skeptical about the men in the upper echelons of the party. Even I do not think that they can exist independently, without Putin.

Gleb Pavlovsky: Politics is not a theater. When the audience grows fed up with show-politicians, it becomes the producer, kicks out the company, and finds new actors. That's politics.

Question: Or vice versa. It is probably not a coincidence that precisely these actors were selected in the course of political casting. This particular party must have needed these particular men with these particular traits.

Gleb Pavlovsky: This casting as you put it took place in a different Russia. Actors were chosen for the now forgotten task, and the stability that followed spoiled them. They will have to play a new part now. The situation being what it is, some actors will prove absolutely inadequate.

Question: Your forecast concerning the future Duma? Who will make it, how many parties will there be in the lower house of the parliament?

Gleb Pavlovsky: The names will remain mostly unchanged but parties themselves will be quite different. Let us start at the point of maximum interests. Take United Russia for example. It cannot afford being outperformed by communists or failing to become a party of the majority. Because it will cease being Putin's party in this case. It will become useless for Putin in this case, and everything useless in politics is a burden.

Question: Do you mean that the failure of United Russia in the next election may affect Putin's own political future?

Gleb Pavlovsky: It will certainly have an effect on trust in Putin's policy. It will convince voters that Putin failed to do right about the Duma voters gave him on his own request. Can the president (the way we see him) within the framework of his strategic course forsake leadership in the Duma or be left without the Duma altogether? No way! How will he lead the country when the helm is in somebody else's hands? Russia will become like Ukraine of the last several years in this case. Putin the lawmaker would have been forced to rule by decrees and we all know what it results in. It is either total sabotage of the decrees or construction of a special executive apparats for their implementation. It will mean abandonment of the constitutional field altogether. No, Putin needs a real Duma of many parties and, importantly, a Duma following the course he himself sets for the country. He needs a Duma where he controls the majority.

Question: And inertia...

Gleb Pavlovsky: Will never lead to this configuration. Let us take a look at it from a different angle. If United Russia polled as many votes as Unity did in 1999, it will not have the majority. The Communists will not permit it to form the old majority this time. It means that Putin will become a ruler without political support - either a ruler who wields no power, or an authoritarian ruler. In that case, Russia will change greatly. Is it possible? No. Therefore, a victory is needed.

Question: Let's assume that United Russia lives up to expectations and wins the Duma elections. What is going to happen to the communists then?

Gleb Pavlovsky: Coming in second and aware that presidency is beyond their grasp, communists will have to explain all that to voters. It follows that they will have to rearrange themselves too. United Russia has to rearrange itself into a party of the majority; the communists into a party of leftist interests (and they could manage that by as soon as the next election). The Union of Right Forces and Yabloko face the worst problem. It is not even clear yet what interests they should work with. The possibility of appearing as a new force in he right flank is much too tempting for many.

Question: Do you mean a wholly new force?

Gleb Pavlovsky: Yes, a new right-wing force. And I do not think it will be an overtly liberal right-wing party.

Question: What if we look four more years in the future, when the new president is to be elected? Does the matter have anything to do with the agenda of the upcoming election?

Gleb Pavlovsky: It certainly does. If United Russia proves to the voters and the president that it is the party of the president and of the majority, that the president will only benefit from becoming its leader, then the start of the second presidency will be inspiring indeed. A ruling party will appear in Russia. Resigning as president, Putin will find it difficult to withstand the temptation to become the party of the majority in the Duma. It will be the second most potent position in the country and it will not be the position of the prime minister. It will be the post of chairman of the party controlling the Duma and whole sectors of local executive and legislative branches of the government. In theory, Putin as a leader of this party will be a favorite before the presidential race of 2012.

Question: Do you mean that the period between 2008 and 2012 may be something like the era of regency?

Gleb Pavlovsky: No, but the president elected in 2008 will not be able to disregard the leader of such a considerable political force. The force that will have been the ruling party for five years by then. If it became a ruling party, of course.

Question: Yes, if...

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