Vienna, September 5 – Regional and republic heads appointed by Moscow are likely to be less well known among the population and, when known, often less well liked that those elected by the people, yet another negative indication of the negative impact Vladimir Putin had on the state of democracy in the Russian Federation.
At the end of August, the All-Russian Center for Public Opinion (VTsIOM), a polling agency known for its close ties to the Kremlin, surveyed residents in 13 regions whose top officials appointed by then-president Putin between 2005 and 2007. The results are striking and could set the stage for making these posts again subject to election.
According to a report in “Vedomosti” this week, the VTsIOM survey found that “the population does not know its own governors” and that the attitude of the population to them “is not always linked to the state of the economy,” a sharp contrast to what many in Moscow have regularly insisted (www.vedomosti.ru/newspaper/article.shtml?2008/09/03/159763).
The least well-known of the appointed governors was Valery Potapenko, who heads the Nenets Autonomous District. One quarter of the residents of that region could not recall his name when asked by VTsIOM’s pollsters, and another fifth gave the wrong name altogether – for a total of almost half of the population.
The situation in Sakhalin and Kamchatka, the paper continued, is roughly the same, according to the VTsIOM figures. Often those whom the population gave higher marks to were among the better known, the paper said, but “disliked governors are not always the least known.”
The governors of in the Amur and Kaliningrad regions are known but disliked.
The socio-economic situation in the regions and republics play a role in this, VTsIOM’s Valery Fedorov told the Moscow paper, with governors getting credit for good times and blame for bad ones. But “economics does not influence public opinion everywhere,” he said, noting that residents also evaluate governors in terms of crime and corruption.
The VTsIOM poll highlights one of the ways in which Putin subverted Russia’s fitful transformation into a more open and democratic society. But Olga Kryshtanovskaya, a Moscow specialist on Russian elites, provides evidence for those who argue that Russia could still turn in a democratic direction.
At a media briefing last week reported in the current issue of “Velikaya Epokha,” the sociologist said that there has been a dramatic decline in the percentage of Russian officials who earlier served in the Soviet nomenklatura, a decline that could open the way for a break with the past (www.epochtimes.ru/content/view/19154/3/).
Under Russian President Boris Yeltsin, approximately 50 percent of senior government officials – including Yeltsin himself – had been members of the Soviet nomenklatura. Under Putin, their percentage fell from 38 percent in 2000-2001 to 33 percent in 2007. And now under President Dmitry Medvedev, the figure has fallen to 16.7 percent.
Some of this decline is simply the product of the passing of time. After all, most nomenklatura officials were in their 50s or even older, and it has been 17 years since the Soviet Union collapsed and the Russian Federation emerged. But Kryshtanovskaya argued that this trend is “extraordinarily important.”
With the departure of these Soviet officials, she said, there has been a gradual decline in the impact of the Soviet mentality and Soviet ways of making decisions and implementing policy. But at the same time, she said, no one should expect a major change in the way Moscow officials do business over the next few years as compared to the Putin era.
Even though there are now fewer former nomenklatura workers, she pointed out, the force structures on which Putin’s power has been based are still dominated by them, and the political elite which Kryshtanovskaya studies has not changed as much as this statistic might suggest: 80 percent of it under Medvedev were put in place by Putin.