Paul Goble reports:
Western specialists being enlisted in the Kremlin’s effort to legitimate Russia’s “special path to democracy,” a role they are prepared to play not only because of “business interests and weakness before big money but also because of a profound crisis of [their] worldview,” according to Grani.ru commentator Irina Pavlova. And because of their willingness to do so, she writes, the world is watching a situation like that of 30 years ago “when in the army of Western Sovietologists were only a few who spoke about the possible collapse of the Soviet Union and almost no one who was prepared to put the question as Andrey Amalrik did in his essay ‘Will the Soviet Union Survive until 1984?’”
Today, she notes, “the future participants of the world political forum” scheduled to take place in Yaroslavl in September, like the one that took place a year ago, are meeting in Berlin to discuss what will be discussed. Among those attending, Pavlova says, are Immanuel Wallerstein and Fareed Zakaria.
The presence of such people at such meetings, she continues, represents the successful realization of a campaign by the Kremlin to gain international “legitimation” of its program to present its policies as a search for “its own path to democracy” and to forestall any criticism of what it is in fact doing. And what the Kremlin’s plans are in this regard are clearly indicated by some of the proposed topics. Pavlova notes that in Berlin during the session on “Standards of Democracy and the Multiplicity of Democratic Experience,” Gleb Pavlovsky plans to discuss subjects that show just how far Russian democracy is from the real thing.
Among the topics that session is to discuss are “Russia – a Country which is Building Itself on the Basis of a New Freely Chosen Democratic Identity,” “Democracy as a Working but Incomplete Model,” and “The Russian Democratic Experiment – a Contribution to the Practice and Theory of Democracy.” Pavlova argues that “it is already time to stop being surprised by the behavior of the world elite toward Kremlin policy. Here are involved not only business interests and weakness in the presence of big money but also a deep crisis in worldview,” one that precludes an accurate and honest assessment of what is going on in Russia today. “Such professional blindness to no small degree is explained by the successes of the Kremlin inventors,” Pavlova writes. Recently, she points out, there has been “a tendency to describe the Putin-Medvedev tandem as a unique prototype of the two-party system of power – as in America.”
Such “an idea can turn out to be extremely attractive for the Russian elite. Even in the essays of the more thoughtful authors, true still very carefully have begun to appear stress on the disagreements between the tandemocrats.” Among those who have done so, Pavlova writes, are Kirill Rogov and Dmitry Furman. The Grani writer continues that she “will not be surprised if before the elections, Putin and United Russia will position themselves as the chief state figure, calling for conservative modernization and respect for its predecessor Comrade Stalin. And Medvedev conversely will fulfill the role of the contemporary liberal politician appealing to the future.”
It cannot even be excluded that under Medvedev “will be constructed a new liberal party,” and this party will strive to win influence over the potential liberal electorate.” If that happens, it is perfectly possible that there will be “candidate debates” ahead of the 2012 elections in which the two will present what appear to be sharply contrasting positions. Such “pluralism of opinions” very much works to the advantage of the Kremlin, Pavlova points out. “The apologists of ‘a strong power’ will again unmask the liberals and reforms of the 1990s. And the liberals will do the same for the policy of the last decade,” a debate that will allow even commentators like Yuliya Latynina and Andrey Piontkovsky a place.
Moreover, she writes, “it is not for nothing that Kremlin political technologists have been studying the experience of the verbal battles between the Democratic and Republic Parties in the United States,” even as it has worked to marginalize and divide up the “extra-systemic” opposition and its advocates among commentators in Russia itself.
Indeed, Pavlova continues, “Vladislav Surkov is sufficiently satisfied with the results” of this effort, one that he and others in the Presidential Administration believe has pushed aside the threat of any “orange” revolution in Russia, that the Kremlin “intends to make life easier for foreign NGOs in Russia,” something that will win Moscow points abroad.
This entire “political technology campaign,” however, is taking place “not only under conditions of a strengthening of the police regime” in Moscow but also as part of “actions directed at the stupefaction of the population of the country and its atomization as far as is possible.” The Kremlin is able to “manipulate public consciousness” in Russia itself and to affect the way many Western experts view the situation, but, Pavlova insists, “it is not in a position to control the objective processes in the country.” And these processes, if examined honestly and dispassionately, point in a very different direction.
What is taking place, she writes, is “a broadening cap between the elite and the people, between the powers that be and society, between the rich and the poor, and between the capital and the provinces.” And she insists that it is these “objective processes” which are putting “a delayed action mine under the future of the country.” Of course, she says, everything could be different: “Give the people at long last a chance to organize their own fate! Make federalism as described in the Constitution a genuinely functioning principle. Return the elections of governors. Give the regions the right to have their own militia.” If that happened, “the country would slowly and with difficulty begin to change.”
But if Russia moved in that direction, the powers that be in the Kremlin understand, this would “lead to the reformation of the central power and to the loss of the position of the currently ruling corporation.” Consequently, she says, they will continue to strengthen “the police regime” and to attract people by what is in fact “imitation democracy.”