#9 - JRL 7168
[translation from RIA Novosti for personal use only]
RUSSIAN SOCIETY AT A CROSSROADS
Interview with William SMIRNOV, deputy head of a department at the Institute of State and Law, Russian Academy of Sciences.
Mr. Smirnov believes that Vladimir Putin cannot remain a man of compromise
Question: Mr. Smirnov, during the latest elections, while voting for Mr. Putin, Russian society had great hopes for the drastic changes for the better. However, nowadays, many people maintain a different attitude: the reforms have been announced, but in reality they are hardly noticeable...What do you think it might mean?
Answer: So far, the reforms of the Federation, the state institutions, justice and legal systems have barely touched everyday life of the majority of the Russian population. Many Russians can hardly imagine the state of total misbalance and chaos practically all power and control structures in Russia had been in before the election of the new president, because all former leaders tried to apply different philosophies of "minimal state control" and total removal of the state from governing the economy.
The dire state of the Russian economy is a separate issue. I'd like to remind you that Russia's GDP during 10 peaceful years has dropped by one-third compared with 1990. At the same time, the industrial and agricultural output decreased almost by half. Instead of fully-fledged democracy, the so-called "electrocracy" swept the country. The political and business elite isolated themselves from the unwanted part of society. Other stratums became isolated despite their will, mostly because of destitution.
Small layers of the elite privatized not only most of the public property, but also huge chunks of state, justice and legal systems. Regional "czars" adopted own constitutions and decrees.
For a certain time, the return to some sort of feudalism suited both the government and business circles. However, even Yeltsin's entourage started to realize that a "token" state that served only as a facade for the enrichment of a small minority and ceased to perform the majority of its social functions, was on the brink of a collapse.
The West played a certain role, as well. We were shown that the period of "free democracy" had ended. The threat of communism disappeared, and new Russia, with its half-criminal norms of economic and even political behavior, had started to acquire the reputation of the potential threat for western economy.
Question: But why Mr. Putin?
Answer: Vladimir Putin, if you want, had been initially chosen by the elite itself. The "coronation" of Putin, if you forgive my metaphor, was forced. The elite circles realized that they needed an outside force to control the endless fight for power and property between the clans. That's why business elite supported Vladimir Putin's actions against Boris Berezovski and Vladimir Gusinski. When individual oligarchs openly dictate their will to power, the strongest of them are those who are closest to the president. And that's always dangerous not only for society, but also for them. There is no certainty about the protection of their property not only because there is practically no notion of state or laws, but also because the principle of self-rule is enforced: everything could change in an instant. Mr. Yeltsin, under legally formal democratic Constitution, could do anything he wanted. In a sense, Vladimir Putin represented the fears and hopes of the far-sighted part of Russian business and society concerned about self-preservation.
Question: According to March ratings, 60 percent of the population support Mr. Putin. And that's in the county with an enormous amount of acute problems...
Answer: Apparently, people continue believing that without a strong leader the situation in Russia would be much worse. On the other hand, in the eyes of common citizens he took some steps in the right direction. Even more important for Russian citizens is the fact that contrary to his predecessor, Mr. Putin launched a direct dialogue with society and its non-governmental organizations.
However, Putin's tactics are always focused on a compromise. Governors and presidents lost the right to participate in the Federation Council meetings, but received other opportunities. Federal districts have been formed. At the time, if you remember, many critics expressed fears that the rigid administrative system, a sort of dictatorship would be revived. The emergence of governor-generals was predicted...Two years have passed. No governor-generals appeared on the political horizon. However, the basis for a federal system with fewer subjects is being created, and in this case the political system is not going to be reformed by drastic measures.
Another task was to diminish gradually the tyranny of oligarchs. The central authorities sealed a sort of a pact with them: the government is not going to revise the results of privatization, but oligarchs, in turn, must adopt legal methods of conducting business.
Question: Many people expected Vladimir Putin to introduce strict and harsh measures in order to establish order in the country. Why didn't he do it?
Answer: You are right, the level of corruption was extremely high. Mr. Putin was urged on to take drastic measures. However, in this situation, the only solution was to punish everybody or nobody. It's obvious that had he chosen the "forceful" solution, he would have had to establish a real dictatorship, instead of the so-called "dictatorship of the law". To achieve any results without giving full authority to power structures is unrealistic. At the same time, it's impossible in Russia today, because the power structures are not ready, not capable and don't even want to take this responsibility. The lessons of the end of the 1980's - beginning of 1990's are not forgotten.
Question: With such deregulation of the entire state mechanism, what forces could Mr. Putin rely upon?
Answer: Nowadays, any reformer - Putin or anybody else - must seek the support of the state apparatus and power structures because civil society in Russia is still not mature enough, and the multi-party system is still in the embryonic state. Unfortunately, the above-mentioned supports are also in desperate need of reforms. Big business is not in a rush to share with the rest of society the part of resources seized from it, either. All of them are Putin's allies only as long as he is ready to meet them halfway. Unfortunately, the compromise has mostly lost its potential by now.