Monday, January 10, 2011

Window on Eurasia: ‘Matryoshka Modernization’ Degrading Russia and Destroying the State, Gontmakher Warns

Paul Goble

Staunton, January 10 – Moscow’s effort be to carry out a “Matryoshka modernization,” where “’the golden million’” will peacefully co-exist with the impoverished and excluded remainder of the population is leading to the degradation of Russia and a deepening gulf between the two groups, Yevgeny Gontmakher warns.
Indeed, the senior scholar at the Moscow Institute of Contemporary Development says, “the degradation of the state has reached such a state that the political elite being prisoner of the mirage of ‘the power vertical’ and ‘administered democracy’ have lost control over the processes that are taking place in the country” (
The turn of the year, the frequent Moscow commentator says, has forced ever more people to ask “what is to be done” to prevent the country from sliding toward “a catastrophe” in which there will be a cledar division within society of “’ours’” and “’not ours’ and the former will use force to suppress the latter on an even broader scale than in Belarus.
In fact, the situation is “much worse,” he continues. “The ‘not ours’ are simply excluding themselves from social life through external and internal emigration” as well as being drowned out by propaganda. And the result of this “national catastrophe” is “irreversible degradation and the marginalization of a critically large portion of the people.”
Having restated the arguments he made in a “Vedomosti” article last month, Gontmakher suggests that the powers that be interested only in their own enrichment nonetheless have to be concerned about maintaining stability or there will not be any foreign investment or foreign workers on which and on whom the powers depend.
Consequently, those in power have to use a combination of means, including both spectacles and repression, to keep the majority in line, although “of course,” they can never say this explicitly. Instead, the members of “the golden million” say the right things but do not act upon them.
“The cause of this,” Gontmakher continues, “is not in evil intent but in the lack of correspondence between the qualities of the political elite that we have and the scope of modernization that Russia really needs,” one that would work to the benefit of the many rather than only the few.
But there is a bigger problem, one that prompts the question: “is it possible to realize in Russia the model of matryoshka modernization,” a modernization in which “the golden million” lives peacefully side by side with “all the rest of the population?” The answer of course is “no,” especially given the extent of the degradation of the state that has already occurred.
According to the Moscow commentator, “power in the localities has past to regional princelings and ‘authorities’ (which frequently are one and the same) who have taken control of the miitia and other law enforcement organs.” Such people erect “Potemkin villages” when the Moscow bosses appear but otherwise do as they like.
No small group of people can take control of this situation, Gontmakher argues. “More than that, “any attempt to interfere in the course of [these] events” by the current powers that be alone could, because of the reaction it would generate, “convert this political elite into a group of refugees from their own country.”
But despite that apocalyptic language, which clearly reflects both his own sense of the situation in the country and his frustration with the way Moscow is acting, Gontmakher says he wants to proposal “five columns” of people who, if they could come together could take upon themselves the difficult but not insoluble task of “the salvation of the country.”
These include street protests, the coming together of cultural figures, the organized and unregistered democratic opposition, the expert community “which has not lost its independence,”
and finally “the most massive naturally fifth column which speaking to the point must take on itself the enormous burden of the salvation of Russia.”
“These are millions of concerned people from all social strata,” Gontmakher says, “students, entrepreneurs, doctors, teachers, officers, and workers, the efforts of which in their work places, in their cities and settlements as a result must break the threatening tendencies of degradation and collapse.”
Only if these “columns” can come together in a single stream, the Moscow analyst argues, will there be “a chance for the salvation of Russiaand the beginning of its breakout into the circle of civilized countries.” His implication clearly is that if they don’t, the future for Russia will be very bleak indeed.
Gontmakher’s argument is likely to strike some among the powers that be as a call for a revolution. That is probably an overreading of his obviously deeply-felt words. But it is an indication of the level of Russia’s problems now that anyone as thoughtful as Gontmakher is talking not about managing problems but about trying to find a way to save the country.

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