We Change Our Minds like Socks, or, The Pollocracy’s Comeback

3Focus group drawing from the study “Autumn Change in the Minds of Russians: A Fleeting Surge or New Trends?” The first panels is labeled “Now.” The second panel shows a drunken Russia at the bottom of the stairs “in five years,” while “the US, Europe, Canada, China, [and] Japan” stand over it dressed in swanky business suits. The third panel is entitled “Friendship.” Source: Fond Liberalnaya Missiya

Experts Who Predicted Bolotnaya Claim Attitudes of Russians Have Changed
Vladimir Dergachov
RBC
December 24, 2018

Economists Mikhail Dmitriev and Sergei Belanovsky, and psychologists Anastasia Nikolskaya and Elena Cherepanova have authored a new report, “Autumn Change in the Minds of Russians: A Fleeting Surge or New Trend?” which they will present on Monday, December 24.

RBC has obtained a copy of the study. It was conducted as a follow-up to previous autumn opinion polls, which identified a loss of interest in foreign policy among Russians, growing dissatisfaction with domestic policy, and a collapse in reliance on the government.

How the Study Was Conducted
The experts combined qualitative sociology and psychological tests [sic], comparing the results with the Levada Center’s polling data. In October and November 2018, respondents in Moscow, Vladimir, Gus Khrustalny, Yekaterinburg, Krasnoyarsk, Saransk, Romodanovo (a village in Mordovia), and Ufa were surveyed as part of focus groups. In Moscow, a number of focus groups were convened involving public sector employees, including physicians, and university lecturers and researchers from the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAN). There was also a mixed focus group featuring engineers, traffic police officers, and theater employees.

Peace Instead of Scandals
Previous surveys, conducted by Dmitriev and Belanovsky in April and May 2018, showed Russians largely supported the country’s foreign policy, although critical respondents said the country spent too much money on supporting other countries and used foreign policy to distract people from issues at home. Six months later, the statements made by respondents revealed a demand for a peaceable foreign policy. “Spy scandals, falling missiles, certain statements by Russian politicians, and the protracted war in Syria” have led to a downturn in support for Russia’s foreign policy, the report claims.

In the May 2018 study, respondents were not yet pessimistic about the future. In the October surveys, however, a majority (68%) of respondents had a negative attitude towards the future. They envisioned a Russia that, in five years, was weakening and lagging behind other countries in terms of progress, a country whose populace was intimidated and did not have the right to vote.

They Predicted the Bolotnaya Square Movement

In March 2011, Dmitriev and Belanovsky, then employed at the Center for Strategic Development (TsSR), presented a report in which they alleged a profound political crisis had emerged, and support for Vladimir Putin, Dmitry Medvedev and United Russia had fallen off. They predicted increasing dissatisfaction with the political system. Less than a year later, sparked by insufficiently [sic] fair and transparent elections to the State Duma, large-scale protests kicked off in Russia.

Self-Expression Instead of Survival
In the May study, the demand for justice had increased dramatically, shunting aside the previously dominant demand for a strong leader. In October, the invocation of distributive justice (a more equal distribution of income and assets) gave way to the demand for procedural justice (equality of all before the law).

The respondents in all the focus groups felt physical needs and government welfare were less important than the need for respect, liberty, and leaders capable of voicing these values. Harsh statements by public officials on social issues (i.e., that people could live on 3,500 rubles a month by eating macaroni, etc.) had provoked increasing irritation. Concerning the raising of the retirement age, the respondents negatively assessed the suddenness of the decision and the way it was made behind closed doors.

Ninety-four percent of respondents claimed they no longer relied on the government, only on themselves. Sixty-three percent of respondents expressed a willingess to contribute personally to the country’s progress. This contribution was conceived in different ways: from a willingness to pay high taxes and be involved in charitable work, to grassroots activism and educational outreach. According to a Levada Center poll, 60% of respondents felt responsible and were willing to make personal efforts to facilitate improvements in Russia.

A Demand for Change
The May study testified to a slackening of reliance on a strong leader among Russians. In October, the analysts registered a demand for new leaders who would respect people, be honest and democratic [sic], admit to their mistakes, and act in the people’s interest. These qualities were bound up with the values of self-expression, which were foregrounded by respondents.

These qualities had little in common with the positive and negative qualities Russians [sic] had used to assess Vladimir Putin in a July poll by the Levada Center (stability, respect, personal charm, capacity for compromise, firmness, and foresight). The discrepancy in criteria was a sign of the rudimentary emergence of counter-elite sentiments [sic], the researchers warned.

A growing demand for change was noted among the respondents. Up to 76% of respondents would be willing to support temporarily painful reforms vital to overcoming the crisis in Russia. Russians no longer demanded immediate improvements. They were willing to wait and endure hardship for the sake of a positive ultimate income.

The respondents had almost no substantive notions of the necessary reforms. The experts compared public opinion to an “empty vessel” waiting for new leaders who inspired confidence.

None of the focus groups voiced aggression towards the regime, but the willingness to get involved in social movements had grown. The demand for respect and freedom prevailed over other demands, and thus the struggle for respect was imagined by the respondents as peaceable and legitimate.

Negativism towards the regime was no longer associated with a demand for populism, whose tokens include the appeal to distributive justice and anti-immigrant sentiments.

Frustation of Public Sector Employees
The report devotes a entire section to moods in the study’s public sector worker focus groups. The researchers discovered the highest level of tension among these people.

Public sector employees were frustrated not because of financial problems [sic], but because of the sector’s irrational organization [sic]. For example, due to the May 2012 decree on raising salaries, the managers of many public sector organizations took some workers off payroll, dramatically increasing the workload of other employees. The respondents were also dissatisfied with the avalanche of reports due to increasing bureaucratization, the chronically poor quality of management, and the fact that personal loyalty to bosses had replaced professionalism in the management hierarchy.

Three Scenarios
According to the experts, these trends indicate Russian public opinion has moved beyond the “stasis” of the post-Crimean consensus. They paint three possible scenarios for further changes in public opinion. The first would involve returning to “rallying around the flag,” typical of the post-Crimean period. This scenario would become a reality if international conflicts involving Russia escalated dramatically.

The second scenario would involve a rollback to counter-elite populism [sic] due to negative economic changes.

The third scenario foresees the consolidation of new values in the public’s mind over a lengthy period. This turn of events is likely if the status quo in the economy and foreign policy is maintained, that is, given sluggish economic growth and the absence of intense international conflicts. The experts cite Iran as an example of a country where this scenario has come true [sic]. Eighty percent of Iranians were born after the Islamic Revolution and have no experience of life under the previous regime. Due to the economic difficulties caused by western sanctions, young Iranians are tired of permanent crisis and disapprove of the country’s costly expansionist foreign policy. The unfavorable socio-economic conditions have a generated a demand for a alternative secularized and westernized lifestyle among young people.

In this scenario, the experts suggest altering the way the regime interacts with the populace in order to diminish its growing negativity. This is doable as long as the populace manifests no aggression towards the regime and is open to constructive dialogue.

The researchers note this scenarios contradicts the prevailing international trend of populists taking power. Unlike the societies of many developed countries, Russians have not descended into archaic populism and “social infantilism,” displaying instead increased social maturity and responsibility for the state of affairs in Russia [sic].

A Long-Term Shift
Political consultant Dmitry Fetisov generally agrees with the study’s findings. He links society’s growing demand for a peaceful foreign policy with the fact the Kremlin demonstrated a successful example of this policy during the 2018 FIFA World Cup [sic],  and the critical attitude of public sector employers towards the regime with the pension reform. Fetisov argues, however, that these trends could change depending on how the Kremlin acts.

Political scientist Nikolay Mironov is certain these shifts in public opinion are long term. He argues the trends described in the study have been caused by the post-2014 economic stagnation. Mironov does not believe a return to the “rally around the flag” consensus is possible, even in the event of international conflicts, unless they impinge on Russian territory. Mironov concludes what is needed are large-scale economic reforms and an easing of foreign policy.

Levada Center sociologist Denis Volkov also notes the growing criticality of respondents towards officialdom and public fatigue from assistance to other countries [sic]. However, Volkov argues it is wrong to chart changes in public opinion by comparing surveys of focus groups, rather than using quantitative research. Fetisov likewise points to the study’s lack of representativeness, as it is based on comparing the opinions of different focus groups.

Translated by the Russian Reader

This article and the research paper it purports to summarize and analyze should be read with a huge spoonful of salt.

First, “public opinion” polls in Russia are wildly unreliable, as I have tried to show over the years on this website, often with a leg up from likeminded Russian journalists and researchers.

Second, this study, apparently, is a funhouse mirror image of the usual “Putin’s wild popularity” poll. The economists and psychologists who wrote the report set out to detect a “positive” sea change in Russian public opinion and, God willing, they found it, by offering their focus group respondents a weak-tea pipe dream they obviously dream themselves. If that dream seems rife with contradictions, it is, although the researchers seem utterly unaware of them.

Third, even in a country as messy, corrupt, and authoritarian as Russia, the idea that people can rely only on themselves is absurd. Of course, they rely on the government for lots of things, at least if they are living in more or less large towns and cities. To the extent that libertarianism has become popular here, it has done so only as a consequence of the prevailing black political reaction, as cultivated by the Putinist state and its propaganda organs.

On the other hand, we are supposed to imagine these newly minted libertarians would be simultaneously willing to pay high taxes and endure hardships to make their country a better place, and yet this is supposed to happen without the “social infantilism” of “developed countries” where people protest on the streets against elites.

Given that the once-mighty RBC has long been a shadow of its former self, I was tempted to write this passage off as ad-libbing on the part of their reporter, but, in fact, he merely paraphrased the report’s authors, to wit:

В отличие от обществ многих развитых стран, население которых продолжает скатываться популистскую архаику и «социальный инфантилизм», российское население неожиданно для всех начинает демонстрировать возросшую социальную зрелость и ответственность за положение дел в стране. Эти качества в наибольшей мере ассоциируются с модернизированной системой ценностей, характерной для развитых стран до того, как их стала охватывать волна контрэлитного популизма.

“In contrast to the societies of many developed countries, whose populace continues to slide into archaic populism and ‘social infantilism,’ the Russian populace has surprised everyone by beginning to show increased social maturity and responsibility for the state of affairs in the country. These qualities [were] associated with the modernized value system of the developed countries before the wave of counter-elite populism engulfed them.”

As this blog has shown over the last eleven years, I have often been among the first to celebrate and chronicle emergent grassroots resistance and social movements in Russia, but the people who wrote the passage above were engaging in wishful thinking, not scholarship. If anything, their counterintuitive, baseless conclusion shows the contradictions of the newfangled method of governance at arm’s length I have dubbed the “pollocracy.”

The pollocracy has been used by the regime to monitor “public moods” while also explicitly and aggressively shaping that mood by asking pointed questions that countenance only certain answers.

On the other hand, it is used by the regime AND its allegedly liberal pseudo-critics to, alternately, register tremors of discontent among an otherwise disenchranchised and disempowered populace, and demonstrate these exact same people are routinely subject to all sorts of illiberal, irrational populist delusions and phobias, thus making them unfit to govern themselves.

Finally, the pollocracy has been used as a substitute for actual, full-fledged grassroots political involvement. A populace that “slides” into “archaic populism” and “social infantilism” is one thing (a bad thing), but a populace that meekly agrees to confine its dissent to skewed public opinion polls and hokey focus groups is both “socially mature” and not a threat to anyone, least of all to the current Russian regime.

It is especially telling these “socially mature” focus groups expect, allegedly, a less aggressive Russian foreign policy to emerge ex nihilo, merely because they wish it into existence in the safety of their anonymous focus groups. God forbid they should have to organize a national anti-war movement on their own. {TRR}

Advertisements

Give Me Your Datasets!

December 10, 2018

Hi,

I am trying to collect a richer database of all the large protests that have occurred in Russia since 1/1/17, and where they have occurred in space and time.

Our research is to determine the significance of cultural landmarks and locations for protests.

For example, we know 4 large protests occurred on the following day and locations (and we are trying to pin point the approximate time):

datasetBut we would love 100s more records.

By the looks of the attached white paper [there was no “white paper” attached], and the below links, CEPR has tracked over 2,500 protest locations.  I would love to work with the CEPR team doing this research, collaborating in any way we can.

http://cepr.su/category/monitoring-protests/

https://themoscowtimes.com/news/number-protests-russia-spikes-in-2018-researchers-say-63428

“With less than two months to go before the end of 2018, CEPR researchers said they have already recorded over 2,500 protests this year compared to under 1,500 nationwide last year, according to the report published Thursday.”

Thanks,

Mark

______________________

December 10, 2018

Mark,

You introduced yourself in no way, shape or form, and I’m not sure what it is that you’re asking me to do. I’m not an information clearinghouse.

I edit, translate, and write a blog called the Russian Reader, which is not affiliated in any way with the Center for Economic and Political Reform, although I have translated several articles by the center’s director, Nikolay Mironov, over the years.

If you would like to work with the CERP, you would have to send them a letter or call them. Their contact information is clearly indicated on their website.

http://cepr.su/about/

Контакты ЦЭПР:
E-mail: ceprsu@yandex.ruceprsu@gmail.com
Пресс-служба: +7 916 629 5609

If you don’t speak Russian, I would encourage you to learn it before doing research on Russia.
Yours,

The Russian Reader

______________________

December 11, 2018

Dear Russian Reader,

You sound angry. I think what I was asking for was pretty straightforward, and I don’t need to know Russian for what I am looking for.

I am looking for a dataset of protest locations in space and time, which is just simple math.

Have a nice 2019 and thanks for the tip on CERP.

Mark

______________________

And you are obtuse.

You just want a dataset. It’s simple math.

Where did I indicate on my site that I was in the business of handing out datasets I don’t have to people who don’t introduce themselves?

What you were asking for was not straightforward, and you were asking the wrong person.

People who don’t know Russia or Russian probably shouldn’t attempt to do research on it. Because you could have the most precise dataset on Russian protests possible, but it wouldn’t tell you anything about Russia or Russians.

Just as you failed to tell me anything about yourself or why you need this dataset.

______________________

From: Mark
7:18 AM (15 minutes ago)

Whatever.

Sent from Mobile Phone

Center for Economic and Political Reform: Protests on Rise in Russia

Analysts Claim Number of Protests Sharply on the Rise in Russia
Yevgenia Kuznetsova
RBC
July 10, 2017

The number of social and political protests in Russia has risen in the second quarter by 33% compared to the beginning of the year. Experts attribute the rise to seasonal activeness and the growth of social tension.

754997086450355
Photo courtesy of Oleg Yakovlev/RBC

Protest Factors
During the second quarter of 2017, the number of protests in Russia rose by a third compared to the start of the year. There were 284 protests in the first quarter of the year, while 378 protest events were recorded in the second quarter, the Center for Economic and Political Reform (CERP) reported in its paper “Russia in 2017: The Number of Protests Grows.” RBC has a copy of the paper.

The CERP’s analysts divide protests into political protests and social protests. The latter include protests over the violation of social rights, declines in living standards, loss of work, and nonpayment of back wages. Over the second quarter, the number of both types of protest grew. The paper’s authors recorded 148 political protests from April to July, compared to 96 in the first three months of the year, while the number of protests provoked by social injustices rose from 167 to 205. The analysts collected their information about protests from the media, social networks, regional analysts, and workforces, who recorded the protests on the ground.

The paper claims the level of protests was high both in 2016 and early 2017. Last year, however, the majority of protests touched on specific issues—wage arrears, the demands of defrauded investors and residential building stakeholders, increases in utility rates, the launch of the Plato system of road tolls for truckers, etc. The authorities did not solve these problems, and so protests have been politicized this year. People involved in them have taken to the streets with more general slogans, for example, anti-corruption slogans, the paper’s authors note. In their opinion, this is the cause of the increase in political protests. ​​

754997084667478
Protests recorded in the 1st and 2nd quarters of 2017. [Green] Protests caused by socio-economic issues: 372. [Violet] Political protests: 244. [Light blue] Labor protests: 46. 1st quarter: 167 social protests, 96 political protests, 21 labor protests = 284 protests. 2nd quarter: 205 social protests, 148 political protests, 25 labor protests = 378 protests. Source: Center for Political and Economic Reform, “Russia in 2017: The Number of Protests Grow.” Copyright 2017, RBC

The growth of protests is explained by another factor: seasonality, CERP director Nikolay Mironov told RBC. People protest less at the start of the year than in the spring months. According to Mironov, the regime uses the seasonality of protests to decide when to schedule elections. In 2012, analysts at the Central Electoral Commission determined the populace was politically most active, including in terms of turnout, during two seasons: late March, April, and May, and late October, November, and December. Therefore, the regime moved the nationwide parliamentary and local legislative assemblies election day to September to lower the turnout while announcing the presidential election for March 2018 to raise the turnout

Other eventful factors in the second quarter of this year were the adoption of the law on residential housing renovation and the large-scale protests by Alexei Navalny’s supporters. But the main factor, according to Mironov, was the overall increase in tension due to the fact that the problems that have given rise to protests have not been solved or have been solved on a case-by-case basis.

“This is the Kremlin’s election strategy: solve problems on an ad hoc basis, because it is impossible to solve them as a whole. But you can go to a region and resolve a specific problem in a flashy way for the TV cameras,” Mironov explained.

Mironov argues that the federal authorities also expect that, after a public flogging during the president’s televised call-in show and his trips to the regions, local authorities will start solving problems on their own.

“But it doesn’t work. For example, after the televised call-in show, the workers in Nizhny Tagil got their back wages paid, but the strike by miners in Gukovo, in Rostov Region, was hushed up and will continue to be hushed up,” said Mironov.

The increase in the number of political protests partly has to do with how the media covers the protests, Mironov argues. According to him, journalists usually pay more attention to political protests than to social protests, and this has a dampening effect on protests. People about whom reporters don’t write are “a priori less protected.”

Localization
The CEPR’s conclusions about the growth of protests have been indirectly confirmed by research carried out by the Levada Center. According to one of its surveys, the number of people who agree that political protests are possible in their town has risen from 14% in February to 23% in June, Levada Center sociologist Stepan Goncharov told RBC. The number of people willing to take part in political protests has increased from eight to twelve percent. An even greater number of people predicted social protests would break out in their towns. When asked, “Are protests against decreased living standards possible in your town right now?” 28% of respondents in June said they were, as opposed to only 19% in February.

754997084666804
Protests in the 1st quarter of 2017 by federal district. [Green] Social protests: 472. [Violet] Political protests: 244. [Light blue] Labor protests: 46. Volga Federal District: 160 protests. Central Federal District: 132 protests. Siberian Federal District: 86 protests. Northwest Federal District: 82 protests. Southern Federal District: 66 protests. Far Eastern Federal District: 47 protests. Ural Federal District: 62 protests. North Caucasus Federal District: 27 protests. Source: Center for Political and Economic Reform, “Russian in 2017: The Number of Protests Grow.” Copyright RBC, 2017

It would be wrong to say there have been considerably more social protests in recent months, argues Mikhail Vinogradov, head of the Petersburg Politics Foundation, based on the results of his own research. According to Vinogradov, the number of political protests has increased mainly due to protests by Navalny’s supporters, but the number of social protests has remained at the same level. It would also be wrong to say the number of social protests depends directly on how the authorities resolve the issues that provoke them, says Vinogradov. According to him, the authorities do not have an overall algorithm. In some locales, they resolve issues immediately, fearing protests, while in other places they ignore problems or get bogged down in talking about them. The problem is that the authorities are not always able to determine the real cause of protests and react correctly to it.

Discontent is growing, but the majority of protests remain local for the time being, argues political scientist Konstantin Kalachev.

“The regime is fairly good at solving problems by nipping them in the bud,” argues Kalachev.

Although we cannot be sure social protests will not segue into political protests.

“For the time being it all comes down to demands to dismiss one governor or another, nothing more,” says Kalachev.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Priorities

“Not Gonna Get Us,” t-shirt in souvenir shop and news stand at Petersburg’s Pulkovo Airport, October 23, 2016. Photograph by the Russian Reader

Budget Expenditures on Security Forces to Grow to Two Trillion Rubles by 2019
Vladimir Dergachov and Elizaveta Antonova
RBC
October 23, 2016

The authorities have decided not to save money on the security forces, despite the difficult economic situation in the country. The draft budget shows that annual spending on national security will grow to 2 trillion rubles by 2019.

The government has inserted an increase in expenditures from 1.94 trillion rubles to 2 trillion rubles [approx. 30 billion euros] by 2019 under the line item “National Security and Law Enforcement.” These figures are contained in the draft budget for 2017-2019, as submitted by the Finance Ministry. (RBC has the relevant memorandum in its possession.) These expenditures also include the secret part of the budget, which this year grew to 22.3%.

Total budgetary provisions for national security are supposed to reach 1.943 trillion rubles in 2016. Over the next three years, a spending increase in this sector has been laid into the budget. In 2017, 1.967 trillion rubles will be spent on the security forces; in 2018, 1.994 trillion rubles; and in 2019, 2.006 trillion rubles. That is, spending on national security will increase by 63 billion rubles [approx. 933 million euros] over three years.

The “National Security and Law Enforcement” section of the budget has fourteen subsections, including prosecution and investigation authorities (the Prosecutor General’s Office and Russian Investigative Committee, the Justice Ministry, the Interior Ministry, security, border guards, Interior Ministry Troops, drug police, and the penal system). The section also includes spending on emergency situations, migration policy, civil defense, and specialized applied research.

A government spokesperson forwarded RBC’s questions about spending on law enforcement to the law enforcement agencies.

RBC found out which ministries would benefit from the allocation of funds after the latest reforms in the law enforcement sector.

How Creation of the National Guard Impacted the Budget

In early April 2016, President Vladimir Putin abolished the Federal Drug Control Service (FSKN) and Federal Migration Service (FMS) as free-standing entities, incorporating them into the Interior Ministry. The Interior Ministry, in turn, lost part of its powers. Its internal troops and special forces units were turned into a new security agency, the National Guard of Russia. The National Guard acquired, in particular, the OMON (Special Purpose Militia Detachment or riot cops), the SOBR (Special Rapid Deployment Unit), the Licensing and Permit Center, and the Extra-Departmental Security Service.

As a result, the line item for spending on drug control agencies has been eliminated. (The subsection contains dashes after 2016, in which 27.3 billion rubles were allocated.)

The draft budget also incorporates a spending decrease in the line item entitled “Police Agencies,” from 683.4 billion rubles in 2016 to 625 billion rubles in 2019. (Hereinafter, expenditures are given for the period from 2016 to 2019.)

Spending on the line item “Internal Troops” will nearly double due to the formation of the National Guard: from 114.6 billion rubles to 206.6 billion rubles.

When asked about the growth in spending on this line item, National Guard spokesman Yevgeny Kubyshkin suggested that RBC readdress their question to the government officials who drafted the document.

Among other significant changes in spending due to agency and ministerial shake-ups is the more than tenfold reduction on “Migration Policy,” from 33.7 billion rubles to 285.5 million rubles. This line item incorporates spending on the Federal Migration Service, which has been merged with the Interior Ministry.

The Russian Interior Ministry’s press office confirmed to RBC that appropriations were reallocated when the budget for 2017-2019 was drafted. Monies were reallocated to pay for the Interior Ministry units transferred to the National Guard. Sources at the ministry also confirmed that spending on the abolished FMS and FSKN had been accounted for in the ministry’s budget.

“Thus, the parameters of the draft federal budget of the Russian Interior Ministry for 2017-2019, excluding pension funds, are 695.1 billion rubles in 2017; 691.9 billion rubles in 2018,; and 689.7 billion rubles in 2019. This testifies to the fact that federal financing of the Russian Interior Ministry will remain nearly at the levels of 2015-2016,” a source at the ministry told RBC.

Prosecutors Get More, Security Officers Less

The line item for “Prosecuting and Investigative Authorities” stands out among the expenditures, with an increase from 86 billion rubles to 94.8 billion rubles.

The growth of spending on prosecutors and investigators is due to the fact that, as of January 1, 2017, military investigators will be merged with the Investigative Committee and will be financed out of their budget, Investigative Committee spokeswoman Svetlana Petrenko explained to RBC. RBC is waiting for a response to its questions from the Prosecutor General’s Office.

Spending on the line item for the “Penal System” will be slashed from 196.3 billion rubles to 176.8 billion rubles. Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) spokeswoman Kristina Belousova declined to comment.

The subsection “Security Agencies” (which includes the FSB) will be also be cut, from 306.4 billion rubles to 292 billion rubles. RBC’s request for information from the FSB’s Public Relations Office went unanswered.

The line items for “Justice Authorities” and “Border Guards” have been marked for slight decreases in spending. Over the three years, spending on the Justice Ministry will decrease from 43.4 billion rubles to 42.6 million rubles, while the border guards’ budget will be reduced from 124.2 billion rubles to 119 billion rubles. The Justice Ministry promised it would answer RBC’s inquiries at a later date.

According to the government’s draft budget, spending on “Protecting the Populace from Emergency Situations” will be reduced from 81.2 billion rubles to 70.1 billion rubles. On the other hand, spending on “Fire Safety” will be increased from 109.9 billion rubles to 119.4 billion rubles. RBC has sent an inquiry to the Emergency Situations Ministry and is still waiting for a reply.

“Non-Transparent” Expenditures Grow by Two and a Half Times

However, expenditures on “Other National Security and Law Enforcement Issues” will grow by two and a half times, from 108.4 billion rubles in 2016 to 237 billion rubles in 2019. According to the budget classification codes, this subsection includes expenditures having to do with the “leadership, management, and provision of support for activities such as the development of overall policy, plans, programs, and budgets, as well as other undertakings in the field of national security and law enforcement not covered by other subsections in this section.”

The Russian budget already contains a voluminous secret section, and line items like “Other Expenses” make expenditures even less transparent, Vasily Zatsepin, head of the military economy lab at the Gaidar Institute for Economic Policy, told RBC. According to Zatsepin, this subsection could contain anything whatsoever, for example, “financial assistance to certain districts in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions [of Ukraine].”

However, the subsection “Applied Research in the Field of National Security and Law Enforcement” will be slashed from 27.5 billion rubles to 22.3 billion rubles, respectively.

Security Priorities

The government memo makes clear that overall allocations for the entire national security section of the budget amount to 2.3% of GDP. Their share of total federal spending is 11.8%.

Although spending in this category in terms of GDP will drop from 2.3% to 2% by 2019, spending on national security in terms of overall spending will increase over the next three years, from 11.8% in 2016, to 12.2% in 2017, to 12.5% percent in 2018, and to 12.6% in 2019. This is more than combined spending on education, health care, culture, sports, media, and environmental protection.

The regime’s priority is to redistribute the budget toward foreign policy and the deep state, as well as social welfare payments to the populace to maintain stability, Nikolay Mironov, head of the Center for Economic and Political Reform told RBC.

“Everything else is overlooked, although education, health care, and the national economy, whose line items have been cut, are strategic areas. Investment in them does not pay off in the current year, but always pays off later,” argued Mironov.

Translated by the
Russian Reader

Supah Powah

tumblr_static_79n01opiz5ogcsc8co448s8ok

Chuvash Pensioner Receives Two Years Probation for Repost on VKontakte
Artyom Filipyonok
RBC
October 14, 2016

A court in Chuvashia has sentenced a local pensioner to a two-year suspended sentence for reposting printed matterR earlier ruled extremist. In May of this year, Andrei Bubeyev, a mechanical engineer from Tver, was convicted of reposting an article by Boris Stomakhin.

Tsivilsk District Court in Chuvashia has sentenced 62-year-old pensioner Nikolai Yegorov, who works as a security guard at a cement factory, to a two-year suspended sentence. He was found guilty of inciting ethnic hatred (Russian Federal Criminal Code Article 282.1), reports Interfax.

Police investigators claimed that, on May 8, 2014, Yegorov posted an open letter by journalist Boris Stomakhin, which had been ruled extremist, on his page on the VKontakte social network. Lawyer Yevgeny Gubin had previously reported that prosecutors had asked the pensioner be sentenced to 360 hours of compulsory labor.

Yegorov himself claimed he had not posted anything. According to his lawyer, his client’s personal page was accessible to anyone “due to his poor knowledge of the specific features of the Internet.”

Journalist Boris Stomakhin, who supported Chechen separatists, has been convicted of inciting hatred and publicly calling for extremism on three occasions. He is currently serving a sentence for justifying terrorism. In April 2014, he was sentenced to six and a half years in prison.

In May of this year, Andrei Bubeyev, a mechanical engineer from Tver, was convicted for reposting an article by Stomakhin. The sentence was harsher: Bubeyev was sentenced to two years and three months in a work-release prison colony. The Tver man was convicted of publicly calling for extremism (Russian Federal Criminal Code Article 280.2) and publicly calling for actions aimed at violating the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation (Russian Federal Criminal Code 280.1.2).

In 2002, the law “On Combating Extremism” beefed up the definition of extremism. Extremism includes such acts as “violent change of the constitutional system and violation of the Russian Federation’s integrity,” “public justification of terrorism and other terrorist activity,” and “incitement of social, racial, ethnic or religious enmity.” Nikolay Mironov, director of the Center for Economic and Political Reform told RBC that over half of extremism convictions have to do with publications in the Internet and, in particular, on social networks.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Image courtesy of supahpowah.tumbler.com

Making the Same Mistake Thrice

p5150123

The 2016 Elections: Making the Same Mistake Is Fate
Nikolay Mironov
Moskovsky Komsomolets
September 19, 2016

It is apparent to almost everyone the country has fallen into a deep pit. (That is the most decent word for describing the situation.) Economic stability (and, along with it, the stability in our lives) is irreversibly over, and it is clear a new (moreover, radically new) economic policy is needed to bring it back. The current, extractive economic policy has run out of steam. Both the regime and society are aware that a crisis has ensued, but for the time being no one is doing anything about it. Meanwhile, the time for reform is running out.

Now, after the elections to the State Duma, as new and old MPs take their seats, 2018 moves into the foreground of the political agenda. In fact, the main issue is not whether Vladimir Putin will seek a fourth term. The main suspense revolves around whether in the near future we can expect a change in the country’s economic and political model. Which transition scenarios are the most likely? The future president’s name is interesting only from this viewpoint. Whether the president is young, mature or elderly, what matters is whether he or she will be able to implement reforms and how they will implement them.

The country’s reserves are running out, and the system acutely, critically needs a reboot. However, launching reforms becomes more complicated with every passing year. The situation has now almost been brought to an extreme. The government obviously is now no longer coping with its obligations to society: the population is rapidly plunging into poverty. The political structure is held together only by the president’s word of honor and good health.

At a critical time for the country’s future, however, the regime has preferred to act tactically rather than strategically.  When the oil price was high, it was possible not to think about costs, effective spending, and rampant corruption. When circumstances worsened, the regime also took the easy, well-trodden path of spending reserves, introducing new taxes for the general population, clamping down on small business, reducing social spending, and commercializing health care, education, and research.

Soon, however, it became clear these measures were insufficient for riding out the crisis. So, currently, the mechanism for confiscating “superfluous” money from major businessmen and top officials, previously untouchable, has been set into motion. This is borne out by the alleged anti-corruption campaigns that have been unleashed. In fact, their goal is to collect tribute from certain segments of the elite. But not from all segments, only from the “extended” circles, without affecting the circle of businessmen and administrators closest to the regime.

The system is going down the same road as the Soviet nomenklatura did in the 1980s. Initially, it firmly “brezhnevized” itself, stagnated, and rusted on the inside. Now, experiencing a lack of resources, it attempts to get by with superficial half-measures, in particular, by tempering corruption, which is sucking the country dry, by jailing a limited number of individuals. Ultimately, when the common folk learn of the colossal wealth possessed by middling colonels they are convinced of the regime’s utter corruption, but see no decisive measures being taken and are persuaded the elite has no desire to change anything. Eight billion rubles are seized in anti-corruption official Dmitry Zakharchenko’s flat, and people are paid eight-thousand-ruble pensions! [I honestly don’t know where Mironov got the second set of figures, although, of course, pensions in Russia are usually entirely to low to cope with the rising cost of living. — TRR.] A million times difference! But none of the higher-ups in the Interior Ministry has resigned. This fact alone is enough to shatter confidence in the entire political system.

The problem, however, and it is the main problem, is that the people with power and money—the nomenklatura-slash-oligarchy of our time—do not want to change their position even in the midst of a crisis. They cling to their extreme wealth and privileges. But the realization that change is necessary dawns on them with catastrophic tardiness. It was this way during tsarism’s final days, and under the late-Soviet regime. Instead of launching reforms in timely fashion, the regime has put them off, pushing the situation to the point of no return.

In the recent elections to the State Duma, United Russia, trudging to victory under the leadership of Prime Minister Medvedev, refrained altogether from proposing an anti-crisis plan to the nation, either a strategy of some sort or even a winning tactic. Quotations of Putin and tiresome references to Crimea and the country’s rising from its knees were the entire content of their campaign. The nation responded partly by skipping the elections, partly by voting as they were told, and partly by voting because there was no alternative. But the question of what to do next remains unanswered. Does the regime intend to answer the question, or will all this uncertainty crystallize in 2018?

Meanwhile, Russia finds itself at a crossroads. The first road is the inertial scenari0. Politically, it involves further crackdowns. The unwritten “social compact,” which emerged in the early noughties, has become impracticable since it cannot ensure a comfortable life. So without purging possible rivals and curtailing grassroots activism it will not be possible to painlessly solve the problem of extending the president’s term or transferring power to a chosen successor. So, for example, further censorship of the media will be required, as will the strict administration of what remains of elections, and increased persecution of undesirables, and more frequent trials and more show trials.

In economic terns, this simple plan involves the the “dekulakization” of less than totally loyal oligarchs and wayward officials, who will have to pay for the crisis. Undoubtedly, this will have a temporary effect and make it possible to plug certain holes in the budget. For a country like Russia, however, given the scale of the crisis, the effect will be quite short-lived. When this money runs out as well, reform will be the only option. But I am afraid that by then the last capital will be spent, and there will nothing left to invest in the economy. The chance to change things without radical demolition could be missed. The country will spend the last bits of the Soviet legacy, and exiting the crisis will once again require titanic efforts on the part of the people. Given increased global competition, however, Russia risks never catching up with anyone ever again.

The second scenario, vital for our survival, involves carrying out reforms right now. The government has to support the economy to give it a leg up and get development up and running. I would argue this is impossible without injections from the budget and, consequently, without strategic government planning, facilitating the rational use of the resources we have left. We not should support the economy per se, but those areas of growth that will encourage import substitution and the establishment of competitive production in the non-extractive sector and agriculture.

Where do we get the money? From reserves, tax reform (redirecting the tax burden toward the super wealthy), confiscation of funds acquired through corruption, and capital export controls. This will require quite stringent measures towards the business elite and high-ranking officials. Medium-sized businesses and rank-and-file servants should not be touched, however. Not scapegoats but the genuinely super wealthy should be involved in getting the county out of crisis.

To keep the money meant to bolster the economy from being stolen, we need a perestroika of the political system, because that is where the roots of corruption lies. It comes from secrecy, the regime’s accountability to no one but itself, and officialdom’s bloat and inefficiency. There are no miraculous prescriptions in this case. Throughout the world, free media and judicial, parliamentary, and public control help to temper the appetites of those in charge of the budget. The regular turnover of those in power is also necessary, and the only cure in this case are free and fair elections.

We also need to support the population, which has been rapidly growing poorer during the crisis, and not only from a sense of social justice. When people have no purchasing power, the economy is alway in crisis. Government financial assistance should be used to stimulate consumer demand, ensuring import substitution in those sectors where funds are received from public. Otherwise, the money will be converted to foreign currency and sent abroad. We must protect domestic producers from robbery and extortion. Otherwise, they will hide everything they get from the government and the public abroad. Plus, interest rates on loans to business must be drastically reduced. If all these things are done, tax revenues will start to grow in a few years, and government aid will be recouped.

Strategically, a reboot of the educational system is also needed now in keeping with the country’s development priorities for at least the next twenty years. Science and the national technological base must be supported.

The prescriptions for solving Russia’s problems are self-explanatory. Given the president’s high ratings and United Russia’s overwhelming majority in the Duma, it is high time to carry out large-scale reforms. There is a margin of safety and the required level of support. But everything in Russia is topsy-turvy. In Russia, it is more likely reforms will be launched if the regime’s ratings take a catastrophic nosedive. They will inevitably reach a critical level when the socio-economic situation worsens. You cannot fill your belly with endless tales of patriotism. People, after all, need to eat something, clothe their children, and get medical care.

We could also arrive at a different fork in the road: reforms from above or turmoil from below. Attempts to stop time have always led Russian regimes to ruin, destroying the country in the process. Must things come to this? The populace’s passivity in the face of a purge of the opposition is a temporary and illusory phenomenon. Many local social protests have erupted around the country. Their number is not diminishing, and general discontent has been growing. And things could seriously explode somewhere. Is it our fate to make the same mistake again and again?

I recall the joke about Ivan the Fool. A father had three sons. The eldest went into the yard, where a rake lay on the ground. He stepped on it and was killed. The middle son goes out, and it is the same story. Ivan, the youngest brother, realizes a rake is lying in the yard and he should not step on it, but there is no way around it. Such is life.

It would be funny if it weren’t so sad.

Nikolay Mironov is head of the Center for Economic and Political Reform, in Moscow, and a frequent columnist for Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper. I have published translations of his columns “Whipping Bear: Why the President Needs a ‘Bad’ Prime Minister” (June 2016) and “Despair as a Sign of the Times” (September 2016). Translation and photo by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Sean Guillory for the heads-up.

The Lowdown

the-lowdown

Despair as a Sign of the Times
The general mood of discouragement has been growing because Russia has shifted into idle, and it is unclear when and how it will end
Nikolay Mironov
Moskovsky Komsomolets
September 6, 2016

Pain and despair have seized the country. Russians are losing their jobs. They cannot pay back their debts and feed their children. Due to constant problems and the lack of apparent prospects, families are falling apart. Some make desperate decisions, finally putting an end to their lives. Russia is losing people.

In July, an employee at a sports school in Trans-Baikal Territory committed suicide after he was not paid. In early August, a married couple in Blagoveshchensk, who were up to their eyeballs in debt,. jumped from a fourteenth-floor window, leaving their young child orphaned. This spring, a father of five in Kiselyovsk in Kemerovo Region hung himself because of debts. Large numbers of similar reports have been coming from different parts of the country.

Can you live on a wage of 10,000 to 15,000 rubles a month when prices are rising continuously? [15,000 rubles is currently equivalent to approximately 200 euros. — TRR.] Or on a pension of 8,000 rubles a month? How do you raise children on this kind of money? And what if, God forbid, you have emergency expenses, for example, for expensive medical treatment, whose cost exceeds the family budget many times over? Well yes, Russia has free medical care, so to speak, but we all knew what it is really like.

It has terrible consequences. The wave of cancer patients voluntarily departing from life continues. After a series of well-publicized cases in  2014–2015, the situation has not improved this year. In mid August, a man suffering from the cancer in the Moscow Region committed suicide with explosives. In June, another cancer patient committed suicide in Yaroslavl. Despite numerous similar suicides, the Russian Health Ministry continues to claim there is no link between the suicides of cancer patients and a deficit of pain medication. Just as there is no link, of course, between the despair felt by cancer patients in our country and the state of Russian medical care, which generally gives little chance to defeat the disease to those who have no money.

According to Rosstat, 24,000 to 26,000 people take their lives each year in Russia. But the causes of this and the means of remedying the situation are not discussed seriously. Instead, Rospotrebnadzor (Russian Federal Service for Supervision of Consumer Rights Protection and Human Welfare) have drafted recommendations for reporters on how to cover suicides.

Fewer and fewer people in our country know what they are going to live on tomorrow, how they will pay for rent and medical care. Russia is plunging into poverty. People have lost their sense of stability and security. The government, on the other hand, ignores these problems. It clearly has no strategy or even tactics for solving them.

There are a gazillion “public servants” in Russia, more than in the Soviet Union, but they serve only themselves and their bosses. High-ranking officials and the business clans that have fused with them live in a secure and comfortable world, whereas the common people are forced to survive alone. The civil service has lost its effectiveness. It has turned into a caste of masters and lords from whom we cannot defend ourselves, because they are the power, while we are “cattle.”

Can fear of policemen really be a norm of a civilized life, of a civilized country? Yet lawlessness on the part of the police has remained. All the talk about combating it has been just that—talk. Here is a recent case. Igor Gubanov, a resident of Magnitogorsk, protested against police lawlessness by cutting off two of his fingers. He could find no other way of making himself heard. In January, Gubanov and his wife, who live in a communal flat, were taken to a police precinct where, according to Gubanov, policemen raped his wife. A criminal investigation was launched, but soon the police investigators closed it, accusing the victimized woman of making false charges.

Despair is felt not only by people who have decided to commit shocking acts. The overall mood of discouragement has been increasing due to the fact Russia has shifted into idle and got stuck in the doldrums, and it is unclear when and how it will end.

The national anthem and memories are all that remain of the once-great country: outer space, victories, and prestige. The country’s most recent major achievements happened fifty years ago. The “unbreakable union” has been replaced by “our great power Russia,” but what is next? Great and poor, great and impoverished. Do these notions go together? How long can we live like this?

The Russian welfare state exists only on paper. Such declarations, by the way, have also been inscribed in the constitutions of Latin American, African, and Asian countries. A Brazilian in his favela reads that he lives in an wonderful welfare state, and he is amazed. The same is true of our fellow Russians, with their miserable wages and pensions. True, unlike their brothers from the country “where many wild monkeys live,” they do not live in huts yet. But, as they say, the night is young.

The main problem nowadays is that the country lacks a locomotive capable of pulling it out of crisis. The regime is concerned only with self-preservation. Officialdom is corrupt, inefficient, and lacking any strategic benchmarks. The “elite” (which I put in quotations, because they really are not the best people in the country) have been thoroughly denationalized: they have no stake in developing Russia. Until a normal and non-corrupt state makes the “elite” serve the country, it will never move it forward. In this case, what is wanted is the bloody-mindedness of a Peter the Great, who once put an end to mestnichestvo and forced the boyars and gentry to serve the country, or the statesmanship of Alexander II, who abolished serfdom over the lamentations of the landlords.

Instead, pro-government spin doctors have been increasingly ratcheing up the propaganda machine, searching for enemies, and heavily sugarcoating reality. Jingoism has already bored everyone to death. The people directing the show do not believe in it themselves, and the audience has stopped believing in it as well, despite the sunny ideology foisted on them, because Russia is running in place, and no one is solving its problems. The propaganda spiel that enemies are to blame for everything is still functioning, but even it cannot serve as a perennial explanation for each new outburst of social turmoil and, especially, the government’s extremely poor performance. So fine, Obama is a bad guy, but what does that have to do with indexing pensions?

The only thing the regime can really boast about is reinforcing itself. But it is a regime presiding over a country losing its vitality. As a priority, the self-preservation of the “elite” deprives Russia of the chance to put itself back in motion. Yet the purged political arena, in which there is almost no opposition to speak of, much less plain old independent people who think about their country, has stopped generating leaders. There is only one leader left in the country, and he presides over a multilayered horde of bosses and oligarchs, embezzlers and dolts  perched on their estates and thinking only of themselves.

Except for United Russia, a product of the same regime, Russia’s political parties have no weight nationwide. The same goes for grassroots organizations. The media have been muzzled. Those who try and shout louder than the rest face either a harsh crackdown or a trivial payoff. Many people have taken to making oppositional noises in the hope they will be paid to shut up. Imitating protest has become a business, just like imitating patriotism. Amid the mob of clowns and crooks, the reasonable speeches made by the few real patriots who are rooting not for themselves but for their country are drowned out by the overall senseless din.

By eliminating potential enemies, the regime has also destroyed the very possibility of an alternative emerging, of a reboot. The current policies are clearly ineffective, but what and who should replace them? Reasonable prescriptions, for example, for supporting the national non-oil economy and import substitution, restoring consumer demand through social assistance to an impoverished population, ending capital flight, going after offshore companies, and clamping down hard on corruption have been voiced. These ideas, however, have come from second- and third-rank players who can advise the authorities but cannot demand anything from them. So the regime has ignored them year after year, thus exacerbating the crisis.

I am not trying to whip up a frenzy. I would like to say something positive, but the situation is firmly deadlocked. It is clear what reforms are needed. It also clear how to implement them and where to begin: with the “elite,” the civil service, the budget, and the tax system. The only open question is who would be capable of doing all this. We have already talked about the government. Russia’s active middle class is small, and it is extremely demoralized. We are left with the rank-and-file population, who have suffered most from the crisis and seemingly have a stake in launching reforms. But for the time being only a few ordinary people have been willing to take responsibility, allowing the regime quickly to localize protests, as happened with the farmers.

%d0%bc%d0%b8%d1%80%d0%be%d0%bd%d0%be%d0%b2-%d0%bd-%d0%bc
Nikolay Mironov. Photo courtesy of the Center for Economic and Political Reform (Moscow)

In the current environment, self-organization, society teaming up with honest people in the civil service and law enforcement, could be effective. Those honest people are undoubtedly there, but not in leadership roles. The country needs a grassroots organization, a movement, a party that could unite people and impose its own rules on the authorities. Society has to make the first move itself, which will serve as a signal to the honest people inside the system. We have to get the ball rolling.

Responsibility for what will become of the Motherland and us tomorrow lies with each of us today. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”

All we have to do is not be silent, not relinquish our right to speak and act to someone else, not to count on an unknown savior of the Fatherland showing up. If he has not saved the country already, why would he do it now? And, needless to say, do not be afraid. We have to overcome our isolation to put an end to the senseless suicides, severed fingers, and broken lives, to put an end finally to the shameless plunder of the people and the export of the loot abroad. Even the smallest action, as long as it is collective, carries more weight than the most desperate individual deed.

We can, of course, wait for the moment when the country finally goes to hell in a hand basket, as in Tsarist Russia or the late Soviet Union. But do we really have to go through turmoil and destruction every time we need a new impulse to development? Are victims so necessary to the process of recovery?

The country is at a standstill, and the dump truck of history is rushing toward it. There are two options. Either we start the engine and drive, or we wait to get run over and tossed onto the roadside.

Nikolay Mironov is head of the Center for Economic and Political Reform, in Moscow, and a frequent columnist for Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper. I published a translation of his column “Whipping Bear: Why the President Needs a ‘Bad’ Prime Minister” in June 2016. Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Sean Guillory for the heads-up. Photo by the Russian Reader