Russians Again as in 1989 Beginning to Feel that Fundamental Change is Possible, Solovey Says

File Photo of Kremlin Tower, St. Basil's, Red Square at Night

(Paul Goble – Window on Eurasia – Staunton, May 27, 2019)

A major political crisis in Russia is “inevitable,” Valery Solovey says, not because of the economic crisis but because of “a qualitative change in the mass consciousness” of Russians who once again have come to believe that radical changes are no longer precluded and that if they are so inclined they can achieve what they couldn’t before.

It may be, the MGIMO scholar says, that only one percent of the population will in fact take advantage of these possibilities; but as in 1989, that will be enough once the overwhelming majority has gone from acceptance to anger about what the powers that be are doing (etoonda.livejournal.com/2665087.html).

The symptoms of this looming crisis, Solovey says, are five: “a qualitative change in mass consciousness,” “the destruction of propaganda” as an effective tool, “the crisis in the personal leadership of Putin,” “the crisis in administration at all levels and in all sectors,” and “the attempt to organize a transition in this turbulent situation.”

The MGIMO scholar points out that he “did not say a word about the economy.” Its figures aren’t important; what is is how people view them. And in that regard there has been a significant change: people have lost hope for themselves and their children, and they are angry because they see no good future.

Some are emigrating, some are adapting as best they can, and some are now ready to protest via the ballot box or by means of more radical steps. The number choosing the last has increased radically over the last year, Solovey says.

“On the eve of the presidential elections, the main emotion regarding Putin was tiredness: People said: ‘we will vote for him, of course, but in the hope that this is the last time.” Those hopes were based on the expectation that Putin would try to restore the social contract he had had with the people.

But instead of doing so, Putin reappointed Medvedev showing he wasn’t going to take any steps in that direction and then backed the pension reform that he had pledged never to agree to. That was too much, Solovey says; and something snapped for a large number of Russians. They got angry and their anger began to grow over into aggression.

Just as in 1989 and 1990, Russians would vote for anybody as long as he wasn’t a communist, so now they will vote for anybody as long as he isn’t a member of the party of power, United Russia. And again as 30 years ago, when that wasn’t enough, they have become increasingly willing to protest in the streets.

But even that is not enough by itself to produce a political crisis, he says. What is necessary is the sense that the situation in which they find themselves is neither inevitable nor permanent. And that sense is growing as well, perhaps even more among those close to Putin than in the population as a whole.

The bureaucracy has viewed Putin as the man who controls the population so that they can get on with their thievery. But now there is evidence that he no longer controls the people as he did. His real support is “about 30 percent,” Solovey says; and “this is already insufficient to control society as a whole.” Consequently, they are considering their options anew.

Putin has made the situation worse in the regions by dispatching technocrats to serve as governors when what is needed are people with political skills who can interact with the population. The technocrats can’t or at least fear to, and the consequences are a decline in the quality of governance that ever more people can see.

The Kremlin might have been able to forestall these problems had it developed a propaganda machine capable of talking about Russia. But Moscow television talks far more about foreign countries than it does about its own – and consequently, people are making up their own minds, having turned to friends and the Internet, in ways the Kremlin doesn’t like.

The Kremlin’s response, naturally, is to try to take control of the Internet. And technically, it may soon be able to do so. But almost certainly it will be playing catchup and come on the scene in this regard far too late, especially given that the transition at the top will be taking place all too publicly.

Transitions are dangerous because they inevitably destroy the sense that tomorrow will be like today. They open the possibility that things can change and change radically and lead people to think that they can make their own future unlike earlier. Perhaps the number who will do so will be quite small, but Solovey argues, it will almost certainly be enough.

Revolutions, their apologists notwithstanding, aren’t made by majorities; they are made by ambitious minorities “who suddenly understand that they have a chance to do now what they could not do earlier. Remember this,” Solovey says. “Before you is opening a chance” – and it may be the only one in a generation.

“The future is no longer pre-ordained” in Russia, he concludes, “It has begun to change.” Consequently, he suggests, ever more Russian will think about the future as something different – and that is how revolutions begin.

[Article also appeared at windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/05/russians-again-as-in-1989-beginning-to.html]