30 November 2007

Russia: dead men winning

The news item about the death of Former KGB chief Vladimir Kryuchkov - one of the instigators and leaders of the failed putsch against Gorbachev in 1991 - didn't occupy a central place in the media. However, there is some symbolism in this death. Kryuchkov has joined the ghosts, but the ghosts seem to be more and more active in the gray fog that is surrounding the internal Russian politics.

If "politics" is the right word for that unique mix of mafia style ruling structure, corruption of gargantuan proportion, permanent infighting for the place closer to the trough.

A person grown up in relatively innocent and sheltered Western Europe or North American environment is usually unable to grasp the bewildering country, where:

  • One percent of population is living in luxury hitherto unseen in many developed countries and normally thought of in connection to Saudi prince or other oil dignitary.
  • A cup of coffee in the capital costs about the same as the daily income of many citizens.
  • Democratic constitution hasn't prevented the government moves to take over most of the mass media, including all TV channels.
  • A policeman during the day turns into a blackmailer at night ("werewolf" in local lingo), if he wants his family to have a semblance of normal income.
  • Soldiers are growing vegetables near their barracks to survive, while new weaponry of highest sophistication and destruction power is being developed and produced with enormous expense.
  • Corruption has become so integrated in the daily life that the funny mention by Douglas Adams of "rival police gangs" came true with vengeance, when rival FSB (the KGB child) departments shamelessly fight their turf wars for the rights of collecting graft.
  • Scientists are arrested on false charges of selling the secrets of Motherland to a foreign power.
  • Alcoholism is killing off the men so early that the average life span for men dropped to 56-58 years (depending on the source). Poor diet and health care contribute their fair share too, of course.
  • The negative growth of population, on the other hand, is contributing to the growing problem of taking care of old and disabled...
  • Democratic institutions are reduced to sock puppet of the president.
  • And people clamor for the man who is overseeing all this, looking at him as a savior and begging him to stay more at his post, that by now looks more and more as just a job for an aspiring tyrant...
So what it is that makes this strange mechanism tick? The "sovereign democracy" - does this perverted idea work? And what will happen when (and if) Putin, the "leader of the nation" leaves his post next year? For how long will the huge natural resources of the largest country in the world keep its people at a minimum level above poverty?

To understand better the powers that be in Russia, it is worth to look for the motivating force.

It is not ideology: the main political party, created by the oligarchs initially to support their interests and now used by Putin and his circle of trust, is far from being ideological. Aside of few vague patriotic slogans and the overwhelming parliamentary majority (that is going become even more overwhelming after the coming elections), the party does not have any ideology to speak of.

It is pure greed. The river of money, generated by the country's seemingly inexhaustible natural resources, is channeled to few small distinctive groups: Putin's clique of oligarchs that have replaced the ones that were too unruly for his taste, the bankers, the so called "siloviky" - the power structures, such as FSB, the army, the police and, of course, the various shades of mafia type groups - not always easily distinguished from the oligarchs. Not to forget the politicians of different ranks that toe the party (Putin's) line. And of course, the masses, the great unwashed are kept in their places by the "siloviky".

To make it all happen without complications expected in any really democratic country with free press and independent judiciary, the oxymoron of "sovereign democracy", that perversion of evolution of human society and human values, was invented. It is mistakenly called "managed democracy" in the West, to help the ready and willing fellow travelers to swallow the pill. Interestingly, there is an entry in Wikipedia on the sovereign democracy, but only in Russian.

Sovereign democracy is the term originally imposed by Kuomintang government of Taiwan to describe their current political system.

This term was, in the Taiwan rulers way of thinking, supposed to stress, on the one hand, Taiwan's sovereignty, its independence from the central Chinese government, but on the other hand, formally democratic, multiparty nature of the Taiwanese political system, as opposed to mainland China, tightly managed by the CPC.

In the early XXI century, the term got a new meaning in the political rhetoric of official Russian Federation. Originally, the term was used on February 22, 2006 in the program speech by Vladimir Surkov before the activists of the United Russia party.

According to the ideological paradigm "sovereign democracy", Russia as a sovereign state reserves the right to determine the timing, form and methods of the movement towards democracy. Building on the concept of managed movement to democracy allows to classify sovereign democracy as a form of simulated democracy.

It could be interesting to sidestep into the fascinating life story of the inventor of the "sovereign democracy", one Vladimir Surkov, but it can wait for another opportunity. Now, after reading the above, you can see how far he and his boss took the Taiwanese definition of sovereign democracy from its origin and how far is this "idea" from the "managed democracy" that some fellow travelers will try to sell you. Precisely like the Soviet version of "mature Socialism" was a harbinger of the future shining peak of the coming communism, the "sovereign democracy" is a precursor of the (here it is, see it?, it is coming!) real democracy to come.

It is necessary to notice that, like in any pyramid structure built around one man, the upcoming retirement of Putin is already causing tremors and "dog eats dog" squabbles for succession of various cushy positions. But these are only the first temblors, and the real bloodletting is still to come, when Putin leaves and his heirs and enemies start the war for inheritance.

Now, of course, the big question is whether Putin will indeed leave. For two years he repeated his promise to retire. For the last several months his buddies are feverishly seeking a way to get him another term, however there clearly is no legal way to do so, Putin's promises notwithstanding. He may try to get "elected" to the PM post and to gradually acquire, via his pet party, the necessary powers that currently belong to the president, but it is a long and difficult way and his ex-friends and enemies will do their best to tear him apart while unprotected - as hyenas do.

So another possibility - that of inventing new, meanwhile vaguely defined, post of a "leader of a nation" is being broached in some circles. The necessary background, such as "spontaneous" mass demonstrations begging Vladimir Vladimirovich to stay put, anti-Western hysteria which Putin was very careful to nurture for the last year or two, clumping down on the pro-democracy leaders and the (already weak and dispersed) opposition parties, the very worst of nationalist demagoguery - in short, every weapon in the arsenal of the good old KGB is being drawn from the warehouses and getting used.

Still, it seems that Putin will go, at least for a while. He will try to promote his chosen successor, of course, he is already putting forward claims to the leadership of his party (a new one, since up till now, the United Russia was only a compliant vehicle for his moves), and he increases the volume of anti-Western and especially anti-US rhetorics. Just look at Pravda:

United Police States of America grows mad because of strong Russia
Putin: Russia not to tolerate foreign meddling
US advised OSCE not to send observers to monitor Russian elections

There is hardly any need to go deeper than these headlines. For me, the most worrying is the language of the incendiary articles, so reminiscent of the worst examples of Soviet propaganda hacks. It all looks so painfully familiar...

And the economic outlook does not bear any good news. Even the rivers of money that are accumulating today in the oligarchs' coffers and trickling down to the great unwashed will become insufficient to cope with the nearing housing crisis, with the growing percentage of the pensioners and crumbling health care system, with the outdated and insufficient infrastructure, with the moribund industry and with ever growing imperial pretensions. Coupled with the trend to nationalize the big businesses and corruption that makes these same businesses to crash, the outlook is really bleak. Whoever will be at the helm of Russia, in a few years he will have to cope with a real economic disaster.

And then the country will be really at the edge of an abyss. And the ghosts of the past, aided by the ready and willing wannabe tyrants of the present, will have a real field day. It is impossible to know what monster will come out of the fog. But it's easy to see what is in stock for the nation that has had only a brief glimpse of democracy for a few years, and decided that it is not what it needs.

Cross-posted on Yourish.com.