Putin may only become the real alpha male when he reduces the bureaucratic omnipotence. He has to, just as Peter I once did, shave the boyars’ beards.
Recent presidential elections in Russia only confirmed what had been expected. Having swept to a clear victory over the rivals in the first round, Vladimir Putin returns to the position of the head of the state. Despite a great deal of reluctant voices to the new “old” president, the comeback does not have to be all bad.
The elections are not worth being discussed extensively. With over 60% of the votes, the odds-on favourite celebrated his triumph. There have probably been some electoral frauds, which are one of the reasons for the opposition activity in the last few months. The electoral frauds, which drew the attention of the foreign media, rather stemmed from the zeal of the electoral commission members than a top-down reaction to the alarming results during vote counting. The credibility of the election results can be proven by the fact that the Levada Center – independent of the Kremlin and using reliable research instruments – claimed in the pre-election polls that Putin would get 66% of the votes.
One might ask – where does all the support come from? The data quoted in the article by Waclaw Radziwinowicz in “Gazeta Wyborcza” (Dlaczego Putin nie może odejść, 3-4 March 2012) serve as the answer to the above question. The table in the article shows very clearly that Russia of 2011 is strikingly different from Russia of 2000, that is, during Vladimir Vladimirovich’s time: approximately a five-fold increase in GDP, extension of life expectancy, almost a ten-fold increase of the average salary and over a ten-fold increase of pensions, gold and foreign exchange reserves jumped from 19 to 511 billion – this is the summary of the last eleven years. There is also some data with less positive overtones, like population decline, increasing the dependence of the budget on energy exports and an increase in certain prices – the latter, however, in combination with a significant increase in salaries is not particularly dramatic. Even with the potential objections to the methods of vote counting, the Russians have better lives during Putin’s time.
The electoral victory involves enormous challenges, though. Vladimir Putin cannot afford to continue to run the country like he has so far. His present role is of no significance now. This role looked like this: after Gorbachev had broken the structure of the country and Yeltsin had completely destroyed it by introducing reforms that Russia was unprepared for, Putin came and started to undo the damage bit by bit. Resources needed to undertake the reconstruction of the country came generally from one source, which resulted in supporting the budget by the export of energy raw materials (approximately 53% of government revenue; yet taking other raw materials into account, it is much more). Today Russia has reached the safe limits of its development. The barrel of oil would have to cost several hundred dollars in order to boost Russian economy. That is nonsense. “Putin 2” can choose only one way: carry out the procedure that they have never experienced in Russia – tap into the citizens’ energy.
All they will have to do is to give people the freedom of production. Today small businesses generate only 13% of the Russian GDP. In Europe it is about 70%, in Poland – even more. In China, where everything has been controlled by the government until recently, it is over 50% now. But in Russia the financial colossi, the remnants of Stalinist industrialization, are still in existence. What is important, these are the small enterprises that bring about progress and modernization. They give people creative freedom. According to the Levada Centre research, 88% of the Russians are afraid to start their own business. They fear to get blocked by the bureaucracy. Since every initiative may be stopped by a government official any minute, why would they invest their money and take out loans? Officials wait for bribes and can take away everything and, to top it all, they can put anyone in prison.
In Russia it is still a closed source of development – it needs to be open, just as it happened in Poland and many other countries. Yet it requires the restructuring of the entire legal system – both in theory and in practice. Contrary to common belief, it is not against the Russian nature, which is alleged to be genetically unfit to function in all but dominant and oppressive conditions. The example may be the outburst of trade in Russia in the early 90s. Moscow was jam-packed with stalls. I got to observe it as I was the ambassador at that time. And although it was dispersed by the authorities, it was the proof that the Russians can make it. Another example is the collapse of the Soviet collective farms (kolkhoz). State ownership of land and its inefficient management left villages in total ruins. Everything was stolen. Meanwhile, a change of ownership relations in the short, three- or four-year period led to the fact that Russia, first an importer, became an exporter of grain. As this area was successful, why not try to conquer the others. However, the Russians, not only Kremlin and Putin, are reluctant to having foreign standards imposed on them. They have been debating on their identity for ages. Please take a look at their literature, religion, pride of their greatness. Democracy and Western style, as most of them think, are getting in through the backdoor, not by the front door. Moreover, they appear to be the only possible ways of growth and civilization or even the values in themselves. But the Russians have their own values, as many of them think. They even invented the peculiar notion of “sovereign democracy”. These are the civil liberties that brought the development to the Western Europe. The Chinese model would work in Russia if Russia was resided by the Chinese as Gorbachev once said in an interview when he was no longer a president.
Putin wants to be perceived as an alpha male – and so he is portrayed. He is an alpha male to some extent as he comes to be the only one in Russia who is the driving force. Bureaucracy, the Army, secret service, the state apparatus in general, are subordinate to him. The apparatus is essential to carry out the reforms. Putin may only become the real alpha male when he takes on the challenge and reduces the bureaucratic omnipotence. He has to, just as Peter I once did, shave the boyars’ beards.
This is what the protesters in Moscow and St. Petersburg expect. They do not want their state to be a stumbling block in realizing their ambitions. Stability that Putin has been providing so far has increased the Russians’ living standards considerably. Now it is not enough. They want to develop their ideas for life and want to participate in the public life. I have no doubts that Kremlin, with Putin at the helm, understands it. That is what he wrote in his pre-election articles and declarations. But will he pluck up his courage? Will he use his alpha male power in the right way? And does he really have this power? In the Russian language, just like in the English language, there is the saying pożiwiom, uwidim – only time will tell.
Noted by Stefan Kabat
Translation: Adam Intrys