Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Under Putin, Bureaucrats are Strong but the Bureaucracy is Weak, Moscow Analyst Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, August 11 – During his ten years in power, Vladimir Putin has set up “a dictatorship not of the bureaucracy but of the individual bureaucrat,” thereby creating a dangerous situation in which the bureaucracy as a whole is weak but the individual bureaucrats feel themselves “little fuehrers” beyond anyone’s control, according to a Moscow analyst.
In an essay posted on APN.ru today, Pavel Svyatenkov acknowledges that his conclusions may strike many as internally inconsistent because of course “the bureaucrat is part of the bureaucracy,” but this paradox reflect the particular approach Putin has adopted, one very different from his Soviet predecessors (www.apn.ru/publications/article21849.htm).
The Russian nationalist writer points out that it is absolutely true to say that “in the Soviet union, the nomenklatura governed,” but because officials could be removed or even killed by someone more powerful, individual “nomenklaturshchiks” were hardly “all-powerful.” Indeed, he continues, the system restrained their pretentions to being powers in their own right.
But the situation under Putin, Svyatenkov argues, the relationship of the bureaucracy and the bureaucrat has been fundamentally transformed. “The Putin bureaucracy as a collective whole, unlike Stalin’s, is weak, ineffective, cowardly and not especially capable of administering the country.”
But the individual bureaucrat is in a much stronger position, the Moscow analyst says, because “the Putin regime has guaranteed the bureaucrat [personal] inviolability and [hence] the right to extravagance” in the display of his powers relative to those beneath him and a unique kind of behavior toward those above.
As a result of this reversal, every Russian bureaucrat “has been transformed into his own kind of a petty feudal with his own court and hangers on.” Unlike “the Soviet bureaucrat who was autonomous from society but extremely dependent on the bosses,” the Putin-era bureaucrat is largely “autonomous from both society and the bosses.”
“It is surprising but a fact,” Svyatenkov continues, that this system has been created in which the higher ups will not touch the bureaucrat however much he steals and misbehaves until his activity crosses their own interests. Any complaints [against the bureaucrat] will be ignored, and any protests cut short.”
Adolf Hitler, the Moscow analyst notes, developed the “fuehrer principle,” according to which “the government must be led by a single leader.” But Hitler “stood at the top of a pyramid of other, petty fuehrers, each of which in the area of his responsibility gave orders on a personal basis” in the expectation that they could not be punished or otherwise brought into line.
In Putin’s Russia, he goes on, “the principle of ‘the little fuehrer’ triumphed,” not ideologically but because “the weakness and all-around security of the bureaucracy led to the all-powerful Bureaucrat,” someone with whom, Svyatenkov suggests, all Russians are now bitterly acquainted.
Svyatenkov suggests that this Putin-era phenomenon has three basic characteristics: first, such people present themselves as always in the right. Second, they are always engaged in busy work, the content of which is kept hidden behind grandiloquent words. And third, they are always certain that they have all the answers.
Such “little fuehrers,” the Moscow analyst concludes, are “the true face of the Putin era.” More than that, they are the only thing that is likely to survive the current Russian prime minister’s passing from the political scene and the decay of the political and economic system he created.
Because Svyatenkov has always been critical of Putin from a Russian nationalist position, many will be inclined to ignore his conclusions on this point. But this week, “Novaya gazeta” commentator Boris Vishnevsky, who is far closer to the mainstream in Moscow, published an article which provides support for Svyatenkov’s argument.
In more judicious language, Vishnevsky argues that the Russian government under Putin has created a system in which laws are written not in order to defend the Constitutional rights of Russians but rather “so that the powers that be may freely due everything they want” regardless of that the country’s basic law says (www.novayagazeta.ru/data/2009/086/12.html).
Such use of law reinforces the pattern Svyatenkov points to and undercuts the positive spin many give to the insistence of both President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin that Russia is now building a law-based state. In fact, the trends these two analysts highlight suggest that such claims are yet another cruel joke by the rulers at the expense of the ruled.

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