Sunday, December 21, 2008

Window on Eurasia: A Worried Kremlin Makes Plans to ‘Ward Off Revolution’

Paul Goble

Vienna, December 21 – Faced with an increasingly restive population, the Russian government is developing a plan to use the political parties and media it controls to prevent the situation from getting out of hand and threatening the regime, a program a commentator has described as a program to “ward off a revolution.”
That plan, according to “Nezavisimaya gazeta” journalist Alisa Vedenskaya, is contained in a confidential government document her newspaper has obtained that highlights the level of concern at the highest levels of the Russian government and its fundamental assumptions about the nature of the problems it faces (
Vedenskaya did not say how she had obtained a copy of the document nor does her article provide sufficient information to prove it is genuine, but Denis Bilunov of the Solidarity Movement, told that he had no doubt that what she reported reflected official thinking if not an actual document (
The description of the document that Vedenskaya does offer certainly appears to reflect the habit of mind of many in the current Russian leadership. First of all, she says, the document suggests that the real problem lies in the behavior of Russian businessmen rather than in that of the Russian authorities.
According to Vedenskaya, the document specifies that businessmen in Russia are taking advantage of the economic crisis in order to reduce staff, lower wages and otherwise protect themselves even at the expense of social order. And that in turn means, the document says, that early next year widespread protests are possible.
On the one hand, that reading of the situation suggests that the central government no longer believes that it can count on the passivity and deference of the population in tough economic times. But on the other, it means that the authorities, perhaps to the surprise of no one, have not yet faced up to their own responsibility for what is taking place.
The document suggests, “the chief task of the powers that be is to distract citizens from destructive populist appeals of right-wing and left-wing forces” by reducing the influence of opposition groups and boosting the standing and activity of pro-Kremlin parties liked United Russia and Just Russia, including having them set up anti-crisis groups in the regions.
Among the opposition groups targeted for “a reduction” in their standing (“image”) with the population are Garri Kasparov’s movement Solidarity, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, and the extra-systemic left, with Kremlin-controlled media calling for “vigilance” against “provocative calls and declarations of these structures.”
In addition, the document calls for the government to work to restrain further price rises for consumer goods and the prevention of “the growth of nationalist attitudes in society” lest the two come together as they already have in places like Vladivostok and Kaliningrad and produce the kind and scale of protests no Russian officials have seen in recent years.
Further, the government plan calls for creating a special fund to help those who have suffered, to craft an anti-corruption drive to send a signal that those at the top are prepared to unite with the population against venal elements in between, and to work to support the most educated groups lest they lead protests or leave the country, exacerbating the current brain drain.
All such measures, the document says, will help to overcome the current economic crisis, but they are “clearly insufficient,” and consequently, the regime must put draw on ideas from national and regional leaders as well as major financial, scientific and educational institutions to help develop a media strategy that will inspire people to work through the crisis.
One idea the document mentions in this regard, Vedenskaya continues, is the creation of special columns and even whole sections in the print and electronic media outlets about overcoming the crisis and even “creating a separate publication which would be entirely devoted to this theme.”
The “Nezavisimaya gazeta” journalist concludes with the observation that “the concern of the Kremlin about the attitudes of the masses is understandable: In the Russian tradition, from love t hatred is only a single step, especially when [as certainly seems to be the case now] there is no prophet in one’s own fatherland.”
The current crisis, she continues, is “beginning ever more clearly to highlight the weakness of the model of administered democracy” that Vladimir Putin developed and the danger that it will be challenged by those who will succeed in drawing on the “dissatisfaction of people” given the inability of those currently in power to improve things.

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