Vienna, January 11 – A sense that Russia is once again on the verge of radical but unpredictable change is “hanging in the air” in Moscow, according to a leading Russian commentator, something that is generating apocalyptic predictions but not yet the political forces that could actually bring them about.
In an essay in yesterday’s “Yezhednevny zhurnal,” Antoly Bernshtein says that this sense is infecting almost everyone. Ever more people in the population are becoming concerned, and ever more members of the powers that be, “occupied with their vertical, are not able to control the state” (www.ej.ru/?a=note&id=10710).
And the sense that Russia has just heard the “overture” and will soon here the entire piece has only intensified over the last week weeks, with the clashes in the Manezh Square and the new sentences for Khodorkovsky and Lebedev leading to ever more speculation about what will happen next.
That is because these events have intensified the feelings that ever more Russians have come to share over the last year, namely, that “the case is not about ‘particular shortcomings’ … but rather than ‘something is rotten in the Kingdom of Denmark’” and that consequently something has to happen.
During 2010, Bernshtein says, various “initiatives in the localities” and “from below” have “clearly intensified,” including such people as the Primorsky partisans, the football radicals, the Khimki defenders, the automobile owners “who spoke out against” special privileges for the elite and the architects who did the same against the tearing down of historical monuments.
And that enumeration of growing popular unhappiness, the “Yezhednevny Zhurnal” writer continues, does not even include the political activities and protests of “the systemic opposition” which despite everything tried to secure its position and expand its reach into the population.
The foreign policy achievements the regime talked so much about in 2010, including the reset with the US and talks about possible visa free travel with the European Union, he points out, “have had practically no impact on the social-political situation within the country,” something that throws into sharp relief Russia’s mounting domestic problems.
In this environment, Bernshtein says that there is a sense that there might even be an attempt to restore order “by extraordinary measures,” adding that he personally “does not exclude” an August 1991-style coup – although it remains unclear just who would lead it or what “they would be saving.”
But at the same time, he notes, “so many similar apocalyptic predictions have not proved to be true,” that perhaps nothing dramatic will happen at all, that Russians will be prepared to wait for the 2012 elections and the powers that be will display “the instinct of self-preservation” by promoting “stability or stagnation … which many value.”
That is what many of his friends tell him, Bernshtein says, when he shares his “neurotic expectations of cataclysms ahead.” But despite their reassurance, it strikes him and many that “there is too much dissatisfaction of various kinds and too much aggression build up in people” for things to continue as they have.
“The polarization in society is too great,” he adds, suggesting that while “at one time, people spokes about the existence of “two nations in Russia, the intelligentsia and the people,” today, it seems there are still more” and that the differences among people are not simply socio-cultural but mental.”
In today’s Russia, “many people live as if they were foreigners.” And the only reality is that “each is for himself.” There is no clear way forward in any direction, Bernshtein suggests, but “one must not forget that there are limits to fear and to the much ballyhooed indifference” of the Russian population.
As for himself, Bernshtein concludes, he has “a strange sense of a shift toward other times.” The last decade has passed “not only on the calendar but symbolically as a certain era of stable stagnation” compared to “the wild 1990s.” And as a result, “the sense of change is hanging in the air” but in just what direction the wind is blowing is still impossible to say.
It remains, as the weather forecasters routinely point out, “changeable.”