Group Balalaika "Protesting Putinism: The Election Protests of 2011–2012 in Broader Perspective" by Graeme Robertson
Abstract Prepared by Jack Sutton
This article examines the political protests in Russia in 2011-12, surrounding the presidential election and Putin’s continued control of the government. The author weighs the two differing opinions regarding what this protest meant for Russia, and whether or not it changed or reflected potential change in Russian society. The one side suggests, optimistically, that the protest has signalled a positive change in Russia’s political landscape, and a new trend towards democracy. The other, more pessimistic side, does not consider the protests anything new in Russian society, and sees no reason to hope for positive change. The author believes the truth lies in between these two viewpoints. While not entirely ground-breaking, change has been seen in various different ways. The type of protests has changed in post-soviet Russia, from the direct protests of the 1990’s, to the more creative and symbolic expression of today.Protests have also moved, geographically speaking. As opposed to the more smaller, local protests, we are now seeing more action taken in Moscow, with the aim of catching the attention of the federal government. People are looking for change at the national level, as opposed to change in the smaller, local governments. This could be a result of Putin’s political consolidation. Lastly, the aim of protests has changed. While in the 90’s and early 2000’s (the immediate post-soviet era), most political activism and unrest was focused on economic issues, we can now see a desire for more advancements in areas like the justice system, anti-corruption, worker’s rights. Things that have all been left behind as the country rapidly develops and grows. While the recent protests may not seem ground-breaking on their own, when viewed and analyzed in a broader context, looking at the course of change throughout the entire post-Soviet era, we can see that the nature of political action and sentiments among the population has, indeed, grown significantly, and progressed in the direction of democracy, away from the traditional nature of protests found in autocratic regimes. When this is taken into account, it can be speculated that the size and style of the recent protests was a result of growing dissatisfaction among a much better organized population, with increasing experience in organizing political actions. This unrest and organization was necessary for the protests to take place. It is unlikely that repression will stop future protests now that this dissatisfaction and political organization exists.
This article traces the changes in political opposition within Russia during Putin’s time in power. It outlines different types of opposition: systemic oppositions function for their own purposes (i.e. environmental protest), but do not explicitly place themselves in opposition to those in power, while non-system oppositions do.
In the early 2000s, most oppositions operated in ‘niche’ markets, and were systemic. However, there was a ‘rebirth’ of political opposition partly due to modernization measures and liberal rhetoric put in place by Medvedev, opening the political sphere to opposition groups, and liberalizing aspects of the public sphere (media and internet). This led to the creation of opposition political parties, whose power was expanded in 2011 through ‘anyone but United Russia’ strategic voting, and talk of nominating presidential candidates.
This modern opposition was characterized by populism, as opposed to ideology – the public’s anger at corruption serving as a stronger recruiter than appeals for human rights. While such strategies were effective in expanding numbers quickly, many who joined for the early days of the protests were not committed to further engagement with political dissidence. This loss of momentum of public interest allowed for a crack down on opposition after Putin’s re-election in 2012, supported by a propaganda campaign. The creation of the Coordinating Council of the Opposition (KSO) was an attempt at a more organized and institutionalized opposition, but their meetings with the Kremlin did not produce any substantial results.
The populist aspect of the opposition created an environment in which internal disagreements prevented any consensus on presenting real alternatives, and a more institutionalized opposition lacked any real power. While there is frustration with the existing government, the primary difficulty for the opposition is turning this dissatisfaction into concrete changes, and support for a legitimate opposition (while the collapse of the regime may instead result in simply replacing it with another authoritarian one).
Group Cheburashka Questioning Control and Contestation in Late Putinite Russia
Abstract Prepared by Rebecca Rolo
Questioning Control and Contestation in Late Putinite Russia, deals with the new diverse political culture surrounding Russia after Putin regained presidency in 2012. This article looks at the responses to the rising political pluralism and how each side dealt with the new political management under Putin’s regime. For the most part, those in opposition to Putin and his politics were very vocal in their contestation to the on-goings they view within their society which has led to cross cutting alliances and hostilities. However, Putin and his government devised many different ways for dealing with such opposition including, but not limited to, cooptation, coercion, and even decompression/deconcentration. This article describes this type of politics between the two conflicting groups as one that feeds off each other making it almost impossible for a true breakthrough from either side, each of which, constantly evolve and adapt its modes of operation.
Questions Prepared by Maxim
Is the fear of a systemic breakdown of democracy in Russia justified in any way?
How might Russia be able to strengthen the power of its democratic institutions in relation to that of the regime?
What are the perceived dangers of opening up to Western markets?
To what extent can Russia’s paternalist economic system be changed without social upheaval?
What might a Russian mean by “Western Political Exports?”
What repression tactics do we see used in Western countries, if at all?
Key Concepts Prepared by Christopher
Regime power is operational via "soft power" such as propaganda which is reinforced by discipline against officialdom and society at large A lack of hegemonic normality allowed Putinist eclecticism and centrism to thrive No modern ideas of class, ideology, or institutional resources can flourish, instead many partial ideas combine to create an explicitly self referential milieux Putinism is consistency in constructing binaries between those who defend Russia and those who "are willing to sell themselves to the highest Western bidder" Putin gained power in 2012 by remaining centrist, pandering to traditionalists, not offending liberals, thus creating an non unified group of supporters
The Regime's response to protests included: -- Liberization Returning to regional elections for constituents Easier for parties to register... etc -- Coercion Fines for unsanctioned rallies Raids on activists homes -- Constraints NGOs receiving foreign funding must be registered as such USAID to close for meddling
Group Kremlin Ch. 7 of Karen Dawisha’s book Putin's Kleptocracy, Who Owns Russia: “Russia, Putin, and the Future of Kleptocratic Authoritarianism”
Abstract Prepared by Heather Burdett
This chapter explores the phases that Putin’s Kleptocracy has undergone and the effects it has had, both within Russia and the world. The first section focuses on corruption, society, and the economy within Russia. The author notes a number of issues that Russia has been facing in the 21st century, from decreased birth rates and increased mortality rates to poor workplace standards; problems of domestic violence, suicide and homicide rates, high alcoholic consumption are issues that continue to plague the country. The author draws a link between the current socio-economic situation and corruption within the Russian state. In addition to rampant corruption with large capital projects, bribery is rampant within the Russian state. Dawisha places the blame for it on the political elite, despite the Kremlin and state media framing Putin and his leadership as superior to the West. The gap between the rich and the poor is Russia has only grown while political liberties and civil rights have gone down hill. Dawisha suggests that Russia’s economy is at risk of the “Dutch disease” because of its increased reliance on one type of income, oil and gas extraction. The second section of the chapter details Putin’s role within the Gazprom gas company. Gazprom has been called “a money making operation for the Kremlin” in a U.S. Embassy cable, and Putin has met with Gazprom’s chief over a hundred times. This example leads the author to conclude that “Putin alone decides who and what will be profitable” and that “there is no more important rule in today’s Russia.” The third section of the chapter is about the development of this Kleptocracy, with the fourth section detailing Russian Corruption and the International community, implicating the West for enabling the kleptocracy within Russia to continue. The author writes that the Russians have extensive experience with hiding money abroad, especially because they, including Putin, know where the West’s weak spots are. The fifth and last section of the chapter asks “What now?” of Putin’s kleptocracy, stating that the risk is increasing that the country will become even more authoritarian. The chapter finishes by concluding that the Russia of today is one of Putin’s making and that the Russian people deserve better.
Questions Prepared by Miriam Harrison
1. Dmitriy Oreshkin stated that this wave of Russian emigration is different from others in the past in that these young people could still come back because they are alienated from the regime, not the country. Why is this the case?
2. Do you think that the issue of income inequality in Russia will be resolved before it reaches the point of causing a revolution, as it did in the nineteenth-century? How do you foresee this being handled?
3. The author states that the logic at the core of Putin’s system is that “profound access to riches is provided in return for absolute loyalty.” What would it take for this system to fail? Is it likely to happen in the future?
4. What are some of the factors contributing to the development of the kleptocracy since Putin came to power?
5. Have you noticed any effects of Russian corruption in Western society, governments, corporations, etc.?