Sunday, March 27, 2011

Window on Eurasia: Russia Now Suffering a Legitimacy Crisis, Moscow Commentator Says

Paul Goble

Staunton, March 27 – Ever fewer Russians view the political system in their country as lawful and legitimate, according to a Moscow commentator, a situation which is not “pre-revolutionary” as some think but rather “pre-collapse” because of the absence of any opposition parties or forces which could take power and restore public confidence in the regime.

In an essay on last week, Igor Boykov argues that “the real ratings of trust in practically all power institutions in [the Russian Federation] at present are not simply low but catastrophically low” and that the gap between “the ruling hierarchy” and everyone else is increasing more rapidly than even in the 1990s (

This was obscured during much of the last decade, he continues, by the “anomalously” high personal rating of Vladimir Putin, “anomalous” because it was in stark contrast to “the low level of public trust in the institutions of power in general, the existence of which even representatives of the powers did not and do not deny.”

Given the various methods the regime used to boost these figures, the real level of trust even in Putin was undoubtedly much lower than the Kremlin claimed, but now, the level of trust in him and his tandem partner Dmitry Medvedev has fallen even by these measures, suggesting that the actual level of trust in the country’s leadership is very much lower indeed.

But this collapse in trust is not limited to the two top leaders. It extends to the members of the Duma, regional and republic officials, and the entire bureaucracy. And this “alienation is often leading to total nihilism and to a general anger and hatred” by the population for those who rule over it.

Such underlying attitudes, Boykov argues, help to explain “the expression of mass support” for the five Primorsky youths who became known as the partisans and for the support around the country for those who took part in the Manezh Square demonstrations at the end of last year.

“I do not doubt,” the Moscow commentator continues, “that in thousands and thousands of young Russian heads after this still more strongy became rooted the idea that to achieve from the existing powers the fulfillment of their obligations … is possible only by means of public and massive street pressure on them.”

Ever more Russians, he suggests, are asking themselves “the logical question: What kind of a state is this and what kind of ‘power vertical’ are we talking about which can be forced to fulfill its obligations … only by means of mass marches on the Kremlin and clashes with the OMON?”

“In practice, the state cannot even defend its own citizens. Throughout the entire country exist organized criminal groups linked with the powers which kill people and keep in fear entire regions,” as “the tragic events in the stanitsa of Kushchevskaya” showed the world “this dark side of contemporary Russian life.”

“And yet no one is really thinking about struggling with this,” Boykov says, arguing that this raises the question “about the legitimacy of the existing social-political system in the eyes of our fellow citizens … about the agreement of the people with the powers that it, the people, voluntarily recognizes the right of the powers” to fulfill its obligations.

The recent round of municipal elections only confirms this. Participation was way down even officially, Boykov says, and the actual levels of participation were much lower than that, with only “one quarter to one fifth” of the country’s population bothering to go to the polls and vote.

In these citcumstances, had voters the right to cast their ballots “against all,” the ruling party of United Russia would have suffered “a crushing fiasco” and not won the victory that its leaders have insisted on calling the outcome. Indeed, Boykov argues, it is clear that this vote was more about “legitimizing” Russia’s rulers in the eyes of foreigners than in those of Russians.

“Tbe decline in trust to the powers and to everything connected with them has reached threatening proportions,” Boykov says. “In Russian the people does not trust anyone or anything: the government, the deputies, the bureaucrats, the police, the army, the courts, the system of education and health” and so one.

At the same time, no one trusts those who are called the opposition because no one would “seriously call Vladimir Zhirinovsky an opposition figure or Gennady Zyuganov the hope for all the insulted and injured, even at a time when there are millions of such people in Russia” who might hope for such a defense.

“In the 1990s and even at the start of the 2000s, many people had illusions about the possibility of successful conduct of a parliamentary struggle,” but now, Boykov insists, “there does not remain a trace of that.” Instead, all political battles look like some kind of play orchestrated by “bureaucrats … at the command of the Presidential Administration.”

The state machine continues by a kind of inertia, and the people expect nothing from it. “For many of them, the contemporary powers that be are the embodinment of all the most low, shameful and unjust, and this relationship, as long as the exiswting social-political system is preserved is impossible to change.”

Consequently, as the legitimacy of the powers become less, “the more strongly the powers are forced to operate on the instruments of force and repression,” something that weakens the legitimacy of the powers still further because it is obvious to all that only “crude force” is keeping the regime in power.

“Some might call this situation pre-revolutionary,” Boykov says, but he argues that it is “now not pre-revolutionary, but pre-collapse – and this is something much worse.” That is because in a revolutionary situation one can perceive some individual or group that might take power, but at present in Russia, “we do not observe” even that.

And thus there is a “paradoxical” but “tragic” situation, Boykov says. “In the state machine of the Russian Federation, everything has rotted from top to bottom … but there is not on view any real social-political force which could seize power and stop this terrible process of destruction and unraveling.”

As a result, the Moscow commentator argues, the existing system will fall at some point in the future only as the result of the acitons of “catacomb” groups, but they will be able to succeed only when those in power suffer “a complete loss” of the ability to deploy coercion in defense of themselves, if not of the country over which they rule.

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