Thursday, November 19, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Will ‘Bloggerization’ of Russian Bureaucracy Change Relationship between State and Citizens?

Paul Goble

Vienna, November 19 – Following the example of President Dmitry Medvedev, an ever- increasing number of Russian officials and politicians are creating their own blogs, but the hopes of some observers that their use of this communication channel, still the freest of any in Russia, will by itself lead to the formation of civil society there are overstated and at least premature.
In a commentary on the portal today, Vladimir Tuchkov argues that the reasons for that lie both with officials, many of whom are extremely uncertain how to function in this new environment, and with the population, many of whom fear that officials will track them down using their IP-addresses if they say anything critical.
But despite those limitations and the fact that Russians remain far behind much of the developed world in terms of Internet use, the commentator suggests, “the bloggerization of the apparatus” can provide opportunities for both officials to present themselves to the population and for the population to respond.
Tuchkov discusses several cases, including the appearance of MVD Major Aleksey Dymovsky on YouTube and the “symmetrical” response of Col.Gen. Viktor Ivanov, the director of the Federal Narcotics Control Service, who invited suggestions for a policy in that area that has already largely taken shape (
The general’s approach, of course, suggests he is more interested in appearing to be responsive to the population than in actually taking the views of Russian citizens into consideration. And as Tuckov notes, anyone writing to an FSB general has got to be concerned that he will identify and perhaps act against those who write anything critical.
But however that may be, Tuchkov continues, at least Ivanov’s blog attracted some comments from visitors. Many of the new blogs put up by officials have attracted no comment – or at least those who have put them up or their staffs have decided against posting whatever messages they have received.
Many of these new blogs, the commentator says, contain interesting information about the blogger, including his judgments about public events and so on. And consequently, as this form of media spreads, three things are likely to happen. First, as officials try to attract attention to themselves or to win support for their ideas, they will have to become more open.
Second, even if the official bloggers have no interest in being more open, the large number of officials who appear likely to go online – many in the Duma, a significant share of the governors, and other officials – guarantees that the blogs wholesale if not retail will tell a lot about opinion within the bureaucracy.
And third, because these officials will be operating within the far larger community of non-official Russian bloggers, they will likely converge on the latter both in style and content if not in attitude or position, a process that could over time have the effect of changing the way in which officials think.
None of these things is going to have an immediate impact in most cases: The Internet and even the more limited blogosphere – or “Live Journal,” as the Russians call it – are simply not going to transform Russian political life or Russian culture as quickly as many of the partisans of the world wide web have suggested.
But as Tuchkov points out, these new blog sites contain “useful information,” and that, in the increasingly restricted media space in Russia, is not unimportant. Indeed, it may be one of the few hopeful signs that Medvedev’s entrance onto the Internet will play a positive role there if not now then a few years hence as ever more officials decide they too must blog.
Monitoring this diverse set of sites will not be easy – the number is likely to overwhelm any individual analyst – but keeping track of at least those offered by the most senior officials and politicians is likely to be the focus of attention not only in the traditional media but also by individual Russians and, one hopes, by all those who care about the direction Russia is going.

No comments: