For Russian Authorities, Reforming is Risky; Not Reforming Even More So, Gontmakher Says

File Photo of Kremlin Aerial View, adapted from .gov source

(Paul Goble – Window on Eurasia – Staunton, November 13, 2018)

Polls show that an ever larger share of Russians want radical change, something that is unwelcome news for the core of the ruling elite, Yevgeny Gontmakher says, because any change carries risk to those who launch reforms; but it also carries even greater risks for those who assume they can do nothing and survive.

At present, those in favor of doing nothing in this core group of fewer than a dozen people have a majority, as one might expect, given that they are all people who spring from late Soviet time, the Moscow social commentator writes in Moskovsky komsomolets today (

They expected at the start of their careers and they expect now that the Russian people will do what they are told, grumble perhaps but do nothing to threaten the powers of the powers that be. “However,” Gontmakher says, “real life shows that over the almost 30 years of the existence of a new Russia, something all the same has changed in the broad popular masses.”

Many of these people and more besides have believed that the television can compensate for the refrigerator and that government propaganda can overcome any objections of the population. But it has turned out that “‘the refrigerator’ has remained alive, and the popular masses, “all the same want European-style wellbeing” however glad they were to take Crimea.

The first decade of this century convinced Russians that real progress was possible; the second has called that faith into question and with it, faith in the rulers who are supposed to guarantee them a better life. All they hear from those rulers now is “stability, stability and still more stability.” That is no longer enough.

In the months since the presidential election, Gontmakher says, and especially as the government has reduced payments to the population in various ways and most controversially with the pension reform, “the majority of the popular masses have suddenly understood that the current troubled times are serious and for a long time.” And they don’t want to put up with that.

“In these circumstances,” he continues, “the ruling ‘ten’ if it follows logic and good sense has no choice: the only option is reforms initiated from above,” including of the government, the courts, and law enforcement, the decentralization of power and the transition to real political competition, a reduction of the state’s role in the economy, and more social spending.

Such a package could be “a program minimum for the period up to 2024, when the country will face (I hope [Gontmakher adds]) the next presidential elections. And before this, it would be possible to create conditions for entering a new political reality through the series of regional and local elections next year and the Duma vote in 2021.”

If things move in that direction, the Moscow commentator says, “there could occur a peaceful, evolutionary, and final transformation of all social institutions into a new system corresponding to the challenges of the 21st century.” The currently ruling ten perhaps could expect to retire quietly.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to believe at least so far that this could happen. But if it doesn’t, it is fairly clear what will: another cataclysm like 1917 or 1991 with crowds in the street throwing up new people even as they oust the old. And that will usher in yet another time of troubles “with the most severe consequences for the existence of Russia as a state.”

“All the same,” Gontmakher concludes, “I hope that this anti-utopia will not be realized. The instinct of self-preservation and good sense more than once in world history has helped a ruling elite to stop in time. That happened, for example, in many countries of Latin America, in post-war France and in Italy at the start of the 1990s.”

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