Plumbing the Depths of Russian Poverty
For our money, the most under-appreciated Russia journalist working today is Galina Stolyarova of the St. Petersburg Times. In our issue today, we republish not one but two of Stolyarova’s recent reports exposing the true horror of poverty in Vladimir Putin’s Russia. No thinking, feeling human being can read these reports and conclude anything other than that the Putin economy is a not just a total failure, but a total sham.
Paul Goble reports:
The real incomes of the two least-well-off quintiles of the Russian population have fallen since 1991 while those of that two best-off have risen significantly, dramatically increasing income differentiation and potentially exacerbating class-based tensions, according to two studies by the Higher School of Economics.
“If one considers the overall figures concerning how Russia lived in 1990 and 2009,” Andrey Polunin of Svobodnaya Pressa says in reporting on these studies, “it turns out that citizens have only won as a result of reforms. Thus, consumption has gone up overall 1.45 times. But this is like an average temperature in a hospital”.
That is the trend Moscow and its supporters normally report, but if one unpacks the figures as the Higher School of Economics experts do in two reports (“The Level and Way of Life of the Population in 1989-2009” and “A Comparative Analysis of Consumption and Expenditures”), Polunin says, the picture is far more complicated and less positive.
Paul Goble reports:
Preliminary results from the 2010 Russian census highlight some of that country’s most serious underlying problems and thus appear likely to be the subject of intense discussion and debate not only among commentators but also in the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections.
The results show a continuing decline in the total Russian population, a hollowing out of much of the country, an increase in the gender imbalance Russia has suffered since World War II, and, what is especially disturbing to many Russians, a shift in the ethnic balance of the population as a result of differential birthrates and immigration.
And those trends — which some observers are already suggesting may be even worse than the official figures show — help explain why some Russian leaders wanted to put off the census or at least reports of its findings until after the 2012 presidential elections lest the census data call attention to the failures of Moscow’s policies over the last decade.
Paul Goble reports:
Although this has been sometimes obscured by high oil and gas prices, the policies Vladimir Putin has carried out over the last decade “are contributing to an economic and political trend which repeats that which led to the demise of the Soviet Union,” according to a leading Moscow commentator.
Writing in Novaya Gazeta, Georgy Satarov, the head of the INDEM Foundation, argues that once these trends and the dangers they present are recognized by Russian society “disappointment with Putin will be much deeper and more severe than the [currently widespread] disappointment in Gorbachev or Yeltsin.
Today, Russia gets a dress code. Tomorrow, it rounds up the Jews? Paul Goble reports:
The Moscow Patriarchate’s advocacy of a dress code for all Russians is at one level simply an absurdity, but at another it is evidence of “a very strong tendency” in Russia “toward the establishment of a proto-fascist regime masked under the name of sovereign democracy,” according to a senior Moscow scholar.
Indeed, Sergey Arutyunov, a specialist on the North Caucasus, argues, Russia is moving toward a system “in essence no less totalitarian than Mussolini’s regime in Italy or with certain qualifications (let us say, without anti-Semitism or perhaps even with a revived anti-Semitism) Hitler’s regime in Germany.
That trend is “natural,” he argues, because “the situation in [Russia] recalls that in the Weimar Republic on the eve of the fascists’ coming to power. The very same factors, the very same attitudes in society, and the very same perspectives,” including the risky behavior and ultimate catastrophe Russia would suffer if “adventurists playing at fascism came to power.”
The indispensable Paul Goble reports:
Fewer than two percent of Russian citizens attended Orthodox Christmas church celebrations this year, a number that calls into question not only the claims of the Moscow Patriarchate that Russian population is overwhelmingly Orthodox but also the special relationship it has with the state and the state’s spending to promote Orthodoxy.
As Svetlana Solodovnik noted in Yezhednevny Zhurnal, perhaps no other public organization has benefited as much from the tandem as the Russian Orthodox Church which has positioned itself as the moral arbiter of the majority and extracted both the return of property and enormous state subsidies.
Writing on Gazeta.ru Vladimir Milov delivers a one-two punch to the solar plexus of Vladimir Putin on the issue of nationality, along with his partner in opposition Boris Nemtsov. The latter handles the Caucaus region, while Milov addresses Putin’s weakness much closer to home. Paul Goble reports:
Russia’s liberals have ceded issues like migration and the violence in the North Caucasus to the nationalists by failing to address them openly and honestly and to offer programs for their resolution, a shortcoming that has helped to marginalize the liberals in Russia and give the nationalists an undeserved victory, a liberal commentator says
In a commentary on Gazeta.ru, Vladimir Milov, the head of the Democratic Choice Movement and of the Institute of Energy Policy, argues that the Manezh Square violence must become “a serious occasion” for re-assessing “the influence and role of nationalism and the factor of inter-ethnic relations in Russian politics.