Thursday, December 23, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Russian Stability is ‘Largest Potemkin Village of All,’ Commentator Says

Paul Goble

Staunton, December 23 – The Russian powers that be have built “the largest Potemkin village” ever with their largely successful effort to promote the notion that their country is “politically stable,” but while they may have fooled others and themselves, the reality behind this façade, a Russian analyst says, is that today’s Russia is “unstable and unpredictable.”
In a commentary on yesterday, Olesya Yakhno says that this becomes obvious if one compares the actual events on the Manezh Square with the entirely inadequate responses of Russia’s senior leaders, responses that show they are almost completely out of touch with Russian realities (
If one considers “objective realities, she says, it is difficult to insist that the Manezh clashes were something “unpredictable.” Football fanatics had organized a protest earlier on the same issue; the family and friends of Yegor Sviridov had held a meeting in his honor. And, she points out, there have been similar outbursts and criminal actions elsewhere.
But “all the same, no one, including the powers that be expected such an enormous manifestation of ‘Russian spontaneity’ especially at the walls of the Kremlin,” Yakhno says, the latest example of an unfortunate phenomenon that has been the case in Russia since imperial times.
Indeed, she argues, “in Russian history it was always this way. Neither the collapse of the Russian Empire in 1917 nor that of the Soviet Union in 1991 were predicted, either inside the country or beyond its borders.” Instead, these key turning points in Russian history emerged seemingly out of nowhere.
The question thus arises: Is Russia on the verge of something similar now? “In the course of the last decade, the Russian powers that be have actively been involved in the construction of Potemkin Villages,” ones that suggest that Russians are well off, that their country is regaining its power, and “of course” that it is “politically stable.”
“In general, the result of such PR-constructions has turned out to be completely successful,” Yakhno continues. Both inside Russia and beyond its borders exist a certain hyperbolic conception of the Russian power vertical (especially in the Western media) and of the absolute conviction that the Russian powers that be are all-powerful and control everything.”
“And the Russian powers that be themselves thought (think?) that they are capable of modeling and controlling any situation in politics, economics and society.” Indeed, even when they do speak of problems, as for example when Dmitry Medvedev talked about “political stagnation,” the implicit notion is that these are things the powers that be can deal with.
According to Yakhno, “in many regards, these are the costs of administered democracy. Administration [of this kind] leads to an absence of communications. And the absence of communications to the loss of a sense of reality among the powers that be” and among those who follow only them. That in turn means they “do not feel the danger.”
“The de-politicization of the masses and the suppression of everything alive in the political process, goals that the powers that be have been actively pursuing for a decade, in the final analysis all the same did not deaden the feelings about justice among the Russian people,” as the elites appeared to have expected.
Instead, things went in just the opposite way. The actions of the powers that be “led to aggression because [what the powers that be have done] excluded the possibility of softer forms of expression of protest and disagreement with one or another action.” Had there been the possibility of open politics, there wouldn’t have been this kind of explosion.
“The December pogroms at the gates of the Kremlin, the symbol of Russian statehood” have led people to ask many questions, Yakhno says. In the first instance, Russians asked whether these events worked for Medvedev or for Putin. But “in this situation, neither responded” as a leader might be expected to.
In their assessments, the commentator says, “neither from Medvedev nor from Putin did we hear about the extent of the problem.” Instead, they talked about “hooliganism, extremism, and nationalism,” suggesting that they retain their “faith in the all-powerfulness of administrative and force solutions.”
During his direct line talk, Putin manifested “all the themes and style of Russia of the period of the beginning of the 2000s, talking about Khodorkovsky and accusing Nemtsov, Ryzhkov and so on. He said little about more recent problems and “almost nothing” about what was behind the Manezh violence.
Medvedev in his turn also ignored the Russian present by speaking “from the point of view of the future,” about how the system can be modernized via the efforts of the state rather than any discussion of the genuine involvement of the Russian people in solving the problems their country faces.
By talking in these ways, both members of the tandem worked hard to preserve “the very largest Potemkin Village,” the one that suggests “Russian political stability” exists. But in fact, Yakhno concludes, “Russia today is unstable and unpredictable,” and it is “already that way today.”

No comments: