The post-Soviet Russian Federation has turned out to be a kind of Bonapartist or presidentialist authoritarian state. The incipient democracy that followed the collapse of Communism has been steadily rolled back. Putin has established state control over most media, and replaced the elected provincial governors with presidential appointees.
And so far as we can tell from here, nobody seems to mind very much. At any rate, other than nationalist rebels like the Chechens, nobody seems to be protesting or bucking the system. There was a rash of public demonstrations this year against the government’s decision to slash pension benefits, but in hindsight that was just letting off steam; nothing came of it.
Have the Russian people simply lost interest in democracy?
I was going to post something similar. Russia has been descending back into authoritarianism for a while now.
Last week Putin’s economic advisor resigned, saying this:
This guy was one of the leading reformers in the country and close to Putin. He’s given up.
The big question is what this all means. Russia is a pretty small country, economically speaking, but it has clout because of nuclear weapons and its willingness to be an arms broker to anyone who needs whatever it is they have to sell. A dangerous combination.
It’s not a loss of interest, it’s a demonstrated failure. The life of your average Russian citizen (assuming you don’t want to be politically active) is a lot worse than it was. People are longing for the days when there were breadlines, because that meant there was bread. They are looking for any government that can shut down the organized criminals and street thugs that now rule them. It’s hard to really overemphasize how bad things are there.
Yes, you certainly can overstate things. You just did. Russia’s economic growth has been exceeding estimates for the past seven years, and it’s growing at almost twice the rate of the U.S., and about four or five times the European average. Rusians have a PPP now of about $10,000/yr, which is higher than the world average, but on the low side for industrialized countries.
There’s no doubt that Russia had a really hard time of it in the 1990’s. The country completely collapsed and had to be rebuilt. But the free market reforms were working.
Wage growth has been good, especially in the cities, and much of it is underreported because it occurs in the grey markets. Unemployment has also declined from 13% to 8% in that period, inflation is down from 84% to 12%, exports have doubled, imports have increased 30%, and the government is now running budget surpluses after revenues increase almost 50% due to the growing economy.
So things were improving just fine - but all that’s in jeopardy now, due to Putin’s turn back to authoritarianism.
If I read your post right, you were attributing Russia’s economic growth to “free market reforms.” And Putin, for all his dictatorial tendencies, is not even moving towards re-nationalizing or re-socializing any parts of the private economy – is he? (Authoritarianism is one thing, totalitarianism quite another.)
My point was, they seem to be putting up with it all very quietly, for the most part. And they have the power to rebel if they really want to, they proved that in 1991 and how could they have forgotten already?
Ummmm…1991 wasn’t much of a rebellion. It was more of the final passing of an illusion among a long disillusioned people. It wasn’t a quest by strong leaders to make a better life. It was a collective agreement to stop pretending. Politically, it was enabled by the higher ups realizing that it was time to cut their losses, divide up state resources, and find something more productive to do.
The people certainly did not rebel in 1991. I don’t want to make guesses about Russian culture because I don’t know it. But it’s like Guinastasia says: very few Russians are old enough to remember the country as it was prior to the USSR. Those who were born after 1991 don’t have much political power and I doubt they remember real democracy - they’d be more used to a political system that was just in major flux. While I doubt many Russians are happy with what Putin is doing, I’m not sure they would know how to go about advocating democratic reforms and they may have more pressing concerns.
Iran is sometimes cited as a country where democratic revolution is inevitable because of a young, dissatisfied population. If Wikipedia is correct, Russia’s population is actually aging and declining. That may be another factor.
On economic improvement: it has hit some people much more than others, and some regions much more than others. Big cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg, and younger people who are better able to adapt to the new systems, fare much better than small rural areas or retired people dependent on miniscule state pensions.
Actually, they’re dying off at an alarming rate. Here’s just the first article on the subject I found on google; there are tons more. The birth rate is low, abortion is high (and leading to ever greater infertility), the life expectancy has been shrinking, alcoholism and suicide are rampant, huge swathes of the interior of the country are being abandoned. It’s incredible.
Even before the USSR, the Tsars were absolute monarchs. There was a parliament, the duma starting in 1905 but it didn’t have much power and when they forced the Tsar to abdicate in 1917, they had a provisional government that was overthrown by the Bolsheviks shortly afterwards.
So there wouldn’t be anyone alive who’d remember any kind of democratic system, so perhaps it’s a case of not being able to care about democracy, since they don’t know what they’re missing?
Right, but I’d think that even an absolute monarch in a pre-industrial country would afford a greater degree of individual freedom than the Soviet government that followed. Not by choice so much as by circumstance.
I think Russia was never a good example of a rising democracy… and its becoming less so.
They aren’t alone though in being dissapointed with democracy. Polls in Latin America indicate that a simple majority of people would accept a more rigid political regime that brought prosperity instead of democracy that doesn’t bring prosperity.
(Yep… while Bush is talking about democracy in the Middle East he has all but neglected Latin America which is one of the biggest in Democratic countries. Democracy is failing to provide or charma in the American “backyard”.)