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#11 - JRL 7189
May 20, 2003
Is It a New Idea that Putin Suggests to Russia?

Russia President suggests reviving of a historic tradition of sacrificing everything for the sake of unity and strength of the country. The elite is not ready for the sacrifice

People were right when they said that Putin's State of the Nation speech voiced last Friday was addressed to the electorate, not people sitting in the Marble Hall of the Kremlin. The State of the Nation speech was emasculated to the utmost, contained minimum of criticism and maximum of thesis according to which the country must catch up with the USA and leave it behind in the nearest ten years. This is certainly to be done under the guidance of Vladimir Putin, not otherwise.

Vladimir Putin is looking ahead, but the political elite of the country, at least some part of it, is blind to this remote prospective. Parliamentary elections are to be held in the country this year; outcome of the elections can hardly be predicted now. So, as soon as the presidential speech was over, deputies immediately plunged into criticism (those were the rightist and the leftist forces) and admiration (the centrist forces) of the State of the Nation speech.

As the following comments of Russian parliamentarians reveal, majority of them still hear what they like to hear, even in the presidential speech. As Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky says, the days of the government headed by Mikhail Kasyanov are numbered. Duma Vice-speaker Irina Khakamada responded to Putin's criticism of the Duma's legislative activity and said that the President should better focus on his team that develops poor laws. First Vice Chair of the Russian State Duma, Lyubov Sliska said that the president's plans concerning formation of an effective government as based on the parliamentary majority referred to the United Russia party.

As for the leftist forces, Vasily Shandybin was the most ardent critic of the presidential speech. Right after Vladimir Putin's words, Vasily Shandybin cried out that "only thieves will be sitting in the State Duma of a new convocation." And this criticism arose despite of the fact that Vladimir Putin was rather cautious with making annoying conclusions and generalization; the President didn't mention exact names of governmental officials in his speech. That was probably the main reason why some critics of the presidential speech mentioned no particular names.

Although consolidation of the society was the corner-stone of the president's State of the Nation speech, it is unlikely that the appeal will make for consolidation of the elite. There is a deep gap between the people and the elite; that is why the presidential appeal for consolidation may become absolutely vain.

It is highly likely that the population of Russia will prove to be not ready to once again "sacrifice everything" for the sake of illusive strength of the country and for "GDP doubling" (the objective which is not clear for the people as well). The situation is actually very serious if it turns out that everything mentioned in the President's State of the Nation speech was a mere pre-election campaign launched with a view to bring indifferent people to election centers and vote for the party of "selfish and incompetent" bureaucracy.

In general, as the text of the presidential speech and all comments on it reveal, it is necessary to replace the old political elites. The problem is that the present-day elites are very much estranged from the people and cannot understand their problems. If the situation remains the same, it may become the main obstacle for consolidation of the society.

Dmitry Chirkin

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