20 years under Putin: a timeline

On July 21, the latest Kremlin political creation ‘People’s Front’ (“Narodny Front”) started the preliminary voting, or the so-called primaries, for the ‘United Russia’ party elections’ lists. It is expected by the Kremlin that this project will improve the falling ratings of the party by involving a larger number of population in the voting process. It is planned that eventually it will become a part of Vladimir Putin’s political platform if he decides upon a glorious comeback as a president in 2012.


Vladimir Putin is introducing the idea of People's Front in Volgograd


In the hot times during the parliamentary and presidential campaigns it becomes more obvious that the gap between the population and the government is growing with a threatening speed. The latest poll by Levada-Center, an authoritative Moscow-based NGO, has shown that only 40% of the Russians believe that the country is moving in the right direction, while 43% think that it’s not (17% were undecided). Only a year ago the ratio was 50% to 29% (21% were undecided). A different poll by the ‘Public Opinion’ Foundation, a Moscow research organization, has revealed that in the last six months population’s trust in the United Russia party has decreased by 7% (from 50% to 43%), in president Dmitry Medvedev -- by 11% (from 57% to 46%) and in prime-minister Vladimir Putin -- by 10% (from 63% to 53%). Those are some of their lowest ratings of all times.

It is also obvious that these figures were not acceptable for the elites. The decision to improve the situation and to reform the negative agenda was made. As many analysts point out the idea of creating ‘People’s Front’ within the framework of the ‘United Russia’ party by bringing in trade unions, regional, youth and other social organizations was a logical, politically motivated and quite a timely step. Some of them don’t doubt, though, that the Front is just another artificial political body created to manipulate public opinion and to once more legitimize the regime.

Prime Minister Putin announced the creation of the Front in the beginning of May at the party congress in Volgograd. Hundreds of the organizations loyal to the Kremlin joined it within just one month. As it happens sometimes in current Russian political environment, some organizations were registered without letting their members know, let alone getting their consent (like Union of Composers, or Union of Architects). Some of these members publicly criticized the Front's activists and accused them of using unfair and illegal methods. Still, once the registration rules were slightly altered to let individuals to be registered as well, dozens of no less loyal opinion leaders, celebrities, ministers, governors and even ordinary Russian citizens followed. At least, that’s what was daily repeated on TV and shown on the website of the Front. When the primaries started on July 21, the official figure of the ‘People’s Front’ was over 4700 registered members. By August 25, when the primaries are scheduled to be over, 600 candidates for the United Russia elections’ lists will be chosen.

But with the cheerful accounting of the official numbers and optimistic slogans (‘Russia, go ahead!’ or ‘Together, we’ll be victorious!’) some major points of the Front’s existence were left behind. First of all, ideology of the front is very vague. So far, nothing concrete has been said about the policies that the Front is going to pursue, except that it’s supporting the “Strategy-2020”. Secondly, nothing has been said about the acute and regularly, even in the government, discussed topics, like struggle with corruption, developing national idea, overcoming social and economic disparity, etc.  Thirdly, it is not clear yet who is financing the newly created organization. The explanation given by Prime Minister Putin was just as vague. He just mockingly mentioned that among the Front’s members there could always be found ‘fat cats with the money’ ready to spend an extra penny for a good cause.

Since Mr. Putin came into power, Russian politics is excavating more ideas, tools, methods and pathos from the recent Soviet period. And as consequence, some historical moments are doomed to be rewritten and rescored. For example, the name of the new organization – ‘People’s Front’ – is also withdrawn from the first part of the XX century when it used to signify people’s struggle with the fascism during WWII. And the Front’s website design (narodfront.ru) makes an immediate reference to Soviet constructivism a-la Rodchenko which is supposedly underlining the Front’s importance and grandeur. But the difference here is that in previous times people’s fronts would have been created to fight a very real and very dangerous enemy -- fascism, while in modern Russia there’s no such kind. In fact, ‘United Russia’ is dominating in all the regions, political opposition and the media are subdued by Putin’s regime, the population is tired, indifferent and therefore silent. So there comes a question, who Mr. Putin is going to struggle with? If there’s no enemy in the view, a scapegoat has to be found. Thus, the pre-election ghost-hunt has latently begun.

In policy theory it’s a well-known fact that the politics of the rigid, non-transparent and corrupted regimes, much like the one established in Russia, who limit freedoms and intellectual creativity and kill competition, in the end become dumb and self-destructive. In the end these regimes lose touch and sense of reality and completely disconnect with the interests of their own population. In fact, it’s already happening in Russia. As another poll by Levada-Center revealed, 54% of the Russians never heard about ‘People’s Front’, while 30% heard something but still don’t know what it means. In the light of all this, the word ‘people’ in the name of the Putin’s new project looks like a double mockery.


Olga Khvostunova