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

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