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

#13 - JRL 7040
Rossiiskiye Vesti
No. 2
January 2003
[translation from RIA Novosti for personal use only]

Putin's coming to power revived the hope for the improvement of living standards of the bulk of the people. Opinion polls show that the basic requirements of the people have not changed in the past ten-odd years.

The people want to keep representative democracy, access to sources of political and ideological information, a low level of political persecution, and access to the global palette of commodities and services. Many people want to have a business of their own but the state has not created conditions for this despite assurances of support for the small- and medium-sized businesses.

Most want to have a job of their choice or at least in their profession, as well as a befitting and reliable salary. Russians want access to cheap or free housing, education, medical care, and so on, and greater safety for common people. The list is far from complete but you probably got the idea.

Liberal sociologists in Russia usually describe this package of social expectations as "eclectic," which means that unreasonable people want incompatible things. But many European countries, especially those where social-democratic traditions are strong, have ensured the package to their population. The difference (and a great one at that) between the Russian people and, say, Swedes is that Russians almost never try to rally in order to use collective effort to attain their goals. Instead, they wait for the "uncle" to do it. In this case the president is the "uncle."

This explains the people's trust for Putin. They believe that he wants to materialise their desires and think that he is not succeeding because he is surrounded on all sides by powerful opponents of the idea of public prosperity, such as the oligarchs, Yeltsin's "family," corrupt officials, the proponents of liberal-thieving policy supported by the West, and the like.

This public view is justified. Though the absolute strength of the oligarchic-"family" and liberal-corrupt bloc is not very great, the strength of their opponents is still smaller because they are disorganised and suspicious of each other. The oligarchs and their allies are kept together not only by a desire to continue to get super-profits, but also - and most importantly - by their fear of being called to account for the illegal seizure of property, which Yeltsin handed out to them.

But people's trust for Putin has temporal limitations. As we see it, Russians will not wait much longer for the president to start acting.

The economic system created in Russia is a trap. It suits the bulk of active operators in the political and economic sphere egoistically and for now, but offers no future to the country as a whole and the bulk of its population. This system does not have self-improvement facilities because it is part of the global capitalist system, which prevents the periphery from reaching the standards of income comparable to those of the centre while shifting the burden of transition processes to the periphery. But Russia has a specific feature that may soften its transition to a different economic system. We mean its mineral wealth, of course. The time during which Yeltsin's economic policy could be amended is past and now we will have to break before building. If we procrastinate, the process of destruction will be initiated by the public and will therefore do greater damage to the country and the people. It would be best for these changes to be initiated by the president. In this case they would be not revolutionary but reforming.

The first thing to do is for the state to take over land rent from the oligarchs. This can be accomplished by a simple change in the legislation on the taxation of raw materials producers. Special services, law-enforcement agencies and the army, not to mention the general public, would support such changes. It may be even possible to rally the support of the media and absolutely vital to ensure support for the idea in the area of public policy.

This can be done in two ways. First, United Russia can be ordered to turn left, with solid ideology replacing its bureaucratic essence. And second, a democratic left bloc can be created, such as the Popular Front, which would rally not just social democrats and socialists but also moderate nationalists. Given the president's support, such a bloc would win at least one-third of the vote at the parliamentary elections and serve as Putin's pillar at the presidential elections.

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