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Pluralism a la Cremlin


Russian political authorities, as we are told, are heartily devoted to ideals of pluralism. Any official in the Kremlin will in all honesty explain to you how important it is. Manufacturing contested elections, engineering public debate and so to say ‘letting a hundred flowers blossom’ or rather making them blossom, is their primary concern. They are counting flowers on the daily basis and get really upset when their number goes below one hundred.

There is no place for sarcasm. Do you think they are simply fooling our heads and mocking at us? Or maybe you believe they persist in this rhetoric to blandish the West? Well, neither of the two – it is their genuine position. Nobody intends to return to one-party system, and moreover, nobody even remembers today how that one-party system actually functioned. And today’s Russian capitalism is marked by divergence of business interests, confrontation of corporate groups and financial competition. All this needs to be considered and reflected in the state administration mechanisms. Bureaucrats have grasped that political life must be pluralistic and they work at it in the Kremlin. Waking or sleeping the Presidential Administration strives to provide the electorate with a range of parties of every scale and part of political spectrum.

They don’t always play it smooth, though. But why do we always shoot the pianist?! He is doing his best…

The Kremlin inhabitants’ problem is that they are trying to perform the role of the civil society. New political constructs that should in principle stem from the real life appear to be the result of their abstract speculations and modeling. Let’s say for instance the Kremlin bureaucrats know that substantial part of the Russian society has left-wing views. Thus and so, bureaucrats decide to create a left-wing party. All the more, that the ruling party has already been built up and it’s high time to start working on the opposition. I shouldn’t wonder if one day a Greens Party or a new ‘loyal’ liberal union would be initiated just in the same manner. Actually they may cover the whole political spectrum this way.

Unfortunately, genuine civil society develops in bottom-up way when political formations emerge through self-organization of social groups and free ideological debate. Russia goes through all these processes at the grassroots level just as any other country does. But bureaucracy simply can’t stand any spontaneity. Anything that develops without rigorous control from above seems dangerous and unacceptable.

It’s boring to observe endless dull monologue interrupted from time to time only by chorus of praising. Well, our political leaders get finally bored themselves, and they accept that polemic and dialogue are necessary for a good play. But there must be only one stage director, responsible for the text of the show as well. He will explain his role to everyone, he will formulate the meaning of the show and he knows in advance how it is going to end. Just in line with the Stanislavski system.

Kremlin’s top political architect Vladislav Surkov’s long ago graduated from the Institute of Culture in Moscow. Whatever was his specialization there, he and his colleagues mastered the basics of theater art to perfection. They also seem to have grinded Shakespeare’s ‘All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players’. But that was an artistic device – the world is not literally ‘a stage’. And besides, opposite a stage there is always an audience hall and the audience is not always passive – at minimum, people can leave if they don’t like the scene. But there is always a chance that they will disperse the actors and ruin scenarist’s plans.

As for the actors in the Kremlin’s theatricals they are far from perfect. They hardly withstand the director’s level, which is quite professional with well-done special effects (the latter are provided by very serious people from the Federal Security Service).

But, what about casting?

And I dare say, the play itself is poor. It lacks the intrigue.

The way things are the most skillful director won’t save the situation.

One can be sure that the ‘2007 Legislative Elections” show will end a fiasco. The main political objective is to create a docile Parliament for the 2008 elections, when a new (old) president will appear in Kremlin. For the time being the scenarists haven’t decided how the action will develop, who will be the protagonist of the performance – Putin or his successor. Putin himself seems to have strong doubts on that issue. And most evidently he will come with a resolution only at the very final point, like Yeltsin once did.

The play is poor because scenarists wanted to guarantee unambiguous payoff despite all possible external factors – they had to foresee this, to include that… As a result they got a brainteaser, in which the edges of the political spectrum are not clear, no comprehensible programs or distinguished actors or other landmarks can be found. All this, in Kremlin’s vision, must guarantee absolute responsiveness to command and step-by-step compliance with the scenario.

This promises to be a benefice performance for those actors who always wait for a prompt, i.e. for bad actors. I can imagine a sign on the Presidential Theatre door reading ‘Bad Actors Only’. And they will perform the ‘2007’ all right; they even might succeed in 2008. The question is what shall the Administration do with this brand-new Duma and nominally existing ‘political space’?

Organizing the succession of the throne is not all – someone appointed by the Central Electoral Commission and blessed by patriarch will sooner or later have to face country’s real problems that are in limbo in the pre-election race.

The State Duma compiled of pseudo-parties and phlegmy bureaucrats will in the long run turn out to be an embarrassment to the Kremlin.

But the Kremlin prefers to solve instantaneous problems, so come what may.

Copyright 2006

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