Like a crime story

Producers of the "Successor" reality show that incessantly surprises both the Russian audience and the critics seem to have borrowed the idea and the plot from classic detective stories. In the beginning, they made audience closely follow the rivalry of two candidates – Sergey Ivanov and Dmitry Medvedev. To add an intrigue and in full conformity with the rules of crime writing, they let drop a hint (it was a member of the cabinet who "gave out" the information) that there would be another contender, an incognito for that moment. For a change, they drew our minds from the issue, but only to make us believe by the mid-summer that the deal was fixed with Sergey Ivanov being the front-runner. Later the media ridiculed this "expert miscalculation". It goes without saying that the experts did not calculate anything they merely retranslated the information that the presidential aids fabricated. Here again, according to the rules of the genre, the fabrications served mostly to fuel the intrigue: the producers couldn’t let the audience have an impression that they know the result and through this lose interest to the show. Soon Viktor Zubkov came to be as another twist in the plot – an incognito without political background (just as they had promised us several months ago). Daria Dontsova and Aleksdandra Marinia, authoresses of extremely popular in Russia crime series, are in creative knock-down, while Agatha Christie must be sending her congratulations to talented producers…

For all that the show must be on the air (and with high ratings) for at least another five months. And they can’t let the audience get surfeited with the monotonous plot and lack of any intrigue. President Putin is perfectly at home with his part in the show. The plot thickens when the president announces that there are five candidates for the presidency but holds back the names. There is nothing for it but to follow the intrigue on TV.

Experts are panic stricken – all possible patterns of analysis are ineffective in the current situation. New twists of the plot only undermine positions of the authorities. Back in 1999 it was the foul play that made a low-key official head of the state and the presidential campaign was held against the background of the Second Chechen War and apartment bombings in Moscow and Volgodonsk. Now that the political background is more stable, marketing a new political leader to the nation within five months seems next to impossible. But perpetuating uncertainty for another five months is really suicidal. All the more that another crisis of the global economy is looming, this might cause Russia troubles of the same kind as we’ve got in 1998.

Under the circumstances, telling stories about five mysterious candidates and keeping the nation and the bureaucrats themselves in the dark are irresponsible and testify Kremlin’s inability to control the situation. From the political point of view the situation is critical. But as a reality show the "Successor" project is quite successful: all the high-rank officials are deep into the game and their thrill ads drive to show.

It is not improbable that neither Putin nor his administration know the outcome of the show: they make it ad lib, savoring the public’s abashment.

The "Successor" project has one feature that makes it a case apart. Consider, for instance, the Russian reality show "Dom 2" – we can send sms in order to support our favorite participants and influence the outcome of the contest. But the "Successor" show doesn’t provide for this option – its very idea is to nominate a winner without free election. Producers of the show want themselves to award the prize to one of the contenders. Otherwise the rules of the show would be different.

There’s no doubt that this way of making a president will work in Russia. The lack of political alternative (and other components of political life) will define the outcome. When there is no open political debate, no political platform for opposing social forces, there is no difference what candidate wins. For the Russian people any candidate nominated by the Kremlin will do. But people need to know the name and the reasons why.

While nominating a person to presidency is not a big deal, it is quite an issue what the new president will do with all his powers. Neither the Kremlin masterminds nor the citizens seem to be far-sighted enough to ask this question. People hope that everything will be as it was under Putin.

So far we’ve had a "technical premier" in Russia, now we will have a "technical president". It is not that the new president will preserve Putin’s place before his third term. Putin himself was to a large extent a technical president. But only now that the bureaucrats have finally given up their political ambitions, it will become evident that the managerial body of the Russian corporation is the Kremlin and the "technical presidents" may come and go.

You may ask me what does it all have to do with reality shows and crime stories. Well, these are the key elements that lack of any political sense.

What will be the new president’s social policy? What is his program of action during the global economic crisis? What is his vision of the relations with Europe and the U.S.? Are you waiting for the reply?

It turns out that the president of the Russian Federation is not a policymaker responsible for the political course; he is not even a skipper laying our course on the map of global politics. At most, he is an engine driver responsible for stoking the fire and maintaining the mechanism. The incumbent driver has done his part of the job and need a sober, healthy and smart shift relief. As you see no particular qualities are demanded.

Should the train continue its way along the habitual track, the new authorities will have no serious problems whatever the name of the president. But should the train run off the track, it won’t be the driver to eliminate the damage. Boris Kagarlitsky is Director of the Institute of Globalization and Social Movements September 25, 2007



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