Thursday, December 08, 2011

Party of Swindlers and Thieves

[Update two days later: Medvedev announces an inquiry into election results.]

[Update a day later: The demonstrations in Moscow and around Russia were well-attended and largely peaceful. Best slogan so far: I didn't vote for these bastards. I voted for the other bastards. Sums it all up adequately. Very few people seem to think that Zyuganov (Communists) or Zhirinovsky (Lib Dems) is a viable alternative to Putin. (The rest of the opposition is comprised of midgets.) This is all about the process of sending a message and making sure it is received and, most importantly, processed adequately. It's this last bit that bears watching (sorry about the bear pun).]

Russia has recently held parliamentary elections, which were, by most accounts, riddled with fraud. In the aftermath of the election, protests have erupted in Moscow, St. Petersburg and other parts of Russia. In the run-up to the elections, Putin's United Russia party was characterized as "Party of Swindlers and Thieves," known for phenomenal levels of corruption and for enshrining a new, untouchable bureaucratic aristocracy, bloated on siphoned-off oil and gas revenues, who refer to the commonplace bribes as "gratitude." In polling prior to the election, United Russia was garnering only some 15% of the vote, behind both the Communists and the Liberal Democrats. But thanks to rampant ballot stuffing, vote miscounting and other types of forgery, often carried out quite openly, it came in with a majority. The number of votes for United Russia was roughly doubled. Now it seems that the fraudulent tallies will be disputed in the courts. The word "revolution" is being bandied about only half-jokingly.

United Russia
Public disillu­sion­ment with Putin was already quite profound before the elections, but the en­su­ing protests are some­thing new in Russia's re­cent po­lit­ical expe­ri­ence: people who were not likely to protest up until this point have decided to turn up. Many of them have clearly decided that enough is enough. But I feel that they are be­ing mis­read, both in Russia and in the West. In Russia, commentators from the official media are eager to paint them orange: they are stooges propped up by operatives and money from the US State Department, which wants to strip Russia of its sovereignty and turn it into another Libya. Western commentators, meanwhile, seem to believe that Russia is, variously, about to revert into the USSR, or to go through another revolution. All of this is pretty much nonsense. Whether their demand is voiced in exactly these terms or not, what will make these protesters go home, and then peacefully show up and vote the next time, is full and immediate enforcement of Chapter 141 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation: "Obstruction of voting rights or work of election commissions: ...punishable by a fine from 200 to 500... [minimum monthly] wages... or correctional labor for a term of one year to two years, or imprisonment for up to six months, or imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years." The operatives in the field would get a stiff fine, the middle-managers of this election fraud extravaganza would get to cool their heels, and the masterminds and orchestrators of the fraud would get five years in the slammer. This would placate the electorate, and also make a replay highly unlikely.

The Communists
But just how far gone is Putin's government? The evidence so far is that they are still feeling invincible, and are willing to resort to repression in order to make the election results stick. But the Russian people want to express themselves; they want to be heard; they want those who hear them to make the required changes in response. Immediately after the election Medvedev was quick to start talking about coalition-building, but then the inertia of the party apparatus took over. Everybody wants to keep their seat, votes be damned. And now arrests are being made, troop carriers are rolling in and helicopters are circling overhead: these are not the right moves for opening a dialog and offering to make amends. Tomorrow, 10 of December, is likely to see large demonstrations. Perhaps it will turn out to be a date for the history books. Or perhaps the government will come to their senses in time, and start clawing back the legitimacy they have so foolishly squandered.

Liberal Democrats
If they fail to do so, they would be setting the stage for, if not a rev­olution, then at least a rebellion. The out­raged but well-meaning and peaceful crowds of protesters of today would, over a pe­riod of months or years, morph into a surly, implaca­ble, vicious mob ready to drown the govern­ment in their own blood. In due course, their instinct for self-preservation will become suppressed, as other, opportunistic, idealistic or heroic motivations move to the forefront. The progression is the same everywhere: first the people ask, then they demand, then they come and they take. For now, talk of revolution is restricted to those, both in the West and in Russia, who use it to justify their budgets for fermenting or suppressing revolt, respectively. They are, in both cases, a waste of public money.

The Future is Ours!
But if this dynamic were allowed to develop, then much more would be lost. Under Putin, Russia has become more stable and more prosperous. The cities have become more vibrant, and life has become better for many people, not just the ones at the very top. In striking contrast to the USA or the European Union, Russia is solvent rather than bankrupt. Putin gets the credit for these achievements. The slogan of his "United Russia"—"The future is ours"—is overweening and pompous (and, inadvertently, reminiscent of the Third Reich!) but, in some part thanks to his efforts, Russia does have a discernible future in a way that the US and the EU do not.

The Future is... Oops!
Giv­en that this is the case, one would expect the more thoughtful people in the US and in Eu­rope to simply stand back and watch, hop­ing to learn some­thing. Yet mindsets are slow to change, and some of them are still op­erating with their illu­sions of impe­rial power intact. Some of them are seeing orange, and thinking that there might be an opening to smuggle a neocon like Gary Kasparov into the Kremlin. But to a great many Russians their ruse of promoting "freedom and democracy" is already transparent: what they want to do is to destroy Russia's sovereignty. They almost succeeded in destroying it in the 1990s; they won't get that chance again. Now is not their time to try to influence Russian politics; now is their time to shrivel up.


Kevin said...

Since you've previously pointed out that Russia is already a collapsed society, I suppose this sort of blatant electoral corruption is what we can look forward to in the USA - even worse than in 2000 and 2004, it would seem - only without the economic benefits provided by an excellent domestic supply of oil and natural gas.

I didn't realize Kasparov was a neocon. Hitherto the articles I've seen on him present him as a desirable alternative to Putin.

Bryce Hardy said...

"In striking contrast to the USA or the European Union, Russia is solvent rather than bankrupt...Russia does have a discernible future in a way that the US and the EU do not..."

In reality, through demographics, disease and diet, Russia does not have any discernible future of any kind, since it literally is dying out, with a consistent and no-end-in-sight excess of deaths over births. Within not much more than fifty years from now, nearly everything east of the Urals will belong to either China or the central Asian Islamic states, and even the European portion south of Volgograd is up for grabs. All of these interesting issues of peak oil and such will be meaningless in a country that simply no longer exists.

Unknown said...

I don't know where the previous "caller" gets his data, but Russia's birthrate has been steadily on a rise since 2004 - A higher level of living and State sponsored programs must be paying off.

As far as "up for grabs" goes - nothing new in this world, it comes and goes periodically. Last time somebody jumped into conclusion and decided to nibble on that tasty resource-rich territory he got a sniff of Joe's ... well you know the story.

sergio said...

just how far gone is Putin's government? The evidence so far is that they are still feeling invincible, and are willing to resort to repression in order to make the election results stick

Not invincible, rather cornered. The thieves are not gonna fine and imprison themselves, and Putin, being a hostage of his own "vertical of power", can't order them to do so, that would be a suicide for him. So they'll promise investigations, try to distract the people with real or imaginary "Western influence", maybe promise an (unfunded) raise in wages/pensions -- and just hope that this messed up election will somehow fade and go away.

And, most likely, it will. Duma never meant as much in Russian lives as the president's executive powers. So the real battle is going to happen next year, over the presidential election. But the opposition has to unite and come up with a single candidate.

Paul said...

Unknown2, I think The Onion may have had a hand in the second post - the one you just responded to.

I sense the customary trolls who always turn up when this kind of honest analysis is published, were being parodied by Unknown1. And a brilliant parody it is, too, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the window into Russian society! I was aware of a lot of public support for Putin because he was able to help the Russian people in general, apparently in part by suppressing some of the oligarchy and by restoring the rule of law and helping Russia stop being a doormat for the western elite. But having been denied a visa (for the same reason) and unable to travel there since about nine years ago, I've lost touch with the sense of the average person there.

Anonymous said...

"Unknown" at 4:21 PM EST might want to check his own data again. According to the site he links to, the Russian death rate per 1000 has consistently been higher than the birth rate.

Russian births have risen, to about 11 per thousand. But deaths have simultaneously risen to around 16 per thousand, currently. As long as more people are dying than being born, that's a declining population.

I agree that the original "Unknown" was heavy on the hyperbole, though. A nuclear arsenal tends to discourage big invasions.

Anonymous said...

Dima - It is no surprise that the West thinks it knows best; now is it? Our hubris is larger than life. The talking heads (including those of the current administration) should find a hole in the ground and stuff them. sandy

Anonymous said...

Arguing with my incredibly cynical Russian wife, who lived in St. Petersburg in the early 90s till she emigrated to Germany, she says that if Zugyanov (KP) or LDP's Zhirinovsky's parties get to power then the situation would be catastrophic both internally and in foreign affairs.

I personally am reminded of Berlusconi as a typical clown mishandling everything as opposed to a sensible "anybody else" modern (European) politician. A former KGB operative running a superpower where democracy is about as well understood by the man in the street as in Germany and Italy in the 1920s-1930s seems a perfectly reasonable way to avoid WWIII.

That said I am all for real democracy, only I don't see mature parties in Russia (or in the USA anymore for that matter). Put a Czar back in power after Peak Oil collapse and people can go back to their potato gardens and ignore the whole politics thing.

Paul said...

In any case, if Russia's birth-rate is in decline, it's hardly likely to be worse than ours will be in Europe, in pretty short order, however beneficently things pan out for us.

As for the Land of the Free, Home of the Hungry... it already has a pitiful, third-world infant-mortality rate. This goes a long way towards explaining it:

Cuba, on the other hand, has one of the most admirable.

Allie said...

Thanks for writing this, Dmitry. I was looking forward to your insights on the election.

Hope all is well. Take care.

AngryAlex said...

Kevin-вы не правы-Каспаров наберет максимум 2 процента даже на самых свободных выборах.

Anonymous said...

It is my opinion that the protests actually are being sponsored and motivated by the US, and that the goal is to replace Putin's party with one that is unlikely to come to the aid of Iran when the US & Israel choose to invade Iran.

suzannedk said...

I have a suspicion that Putin with his years of inside knowledge, KGB experience, years of an increasing web of world power is a better leader/tzar for Russia as it faces encirclement by the US/Israeli/EU/Nato colony war empire. The dance between him and Mediev seems necessary to keep Putin close enough to supreme Soviet power to be able to stay connected to it's levers.

Any liberalisation of state functioning would allow the empire tentacles to suffocate Russian sovereignty. Sadly, I think that accession finally to the World Trade Organisation, so changed from when Russia first applied, will mean the entrance of those tentacles into the heartland full force, end of sovereignty. A inevitable trade off? I think not. A country cannot join these mafia without being swallowed whole. As is noted in the comments, the birth rate Is less than the death rate. With the punishing WTO rules, the self sufficiency of Russia produce, so deteriorated because of the thousands of empty farming villages that import costs are increasing, and will become worse when a member. More farms will be shuttered. Am probably wrong to think Putin the only leader who can protect the nation the best under the present so long in power can get bring in stumblingly large rigidities. But real land power is being siphoned quickly from the US and the EU. A new Rus president would have illusions, which could be worse than stiff knees. Suzanne

Chaucer said...

In Australia we get to choose Tweedle dum or Tweedle de. As voting is compulsory, I always vote for the ones with the biggest boobs. If they are pretty. I am not sexist.

Paul said...

"Hitherto the articles I've seen on him present him as a desirable alternative to Putin."

With that, Kevin, I feel sure Dmitry rest his case. 'Nuff said.