20 years under Putin: a timeline

In this week’s roundup: Alexander Baunov writes that defending property rights was the central issue of the May 14 protests against the demolition of Soviet-era apartment blocks in Moscow; Maxim Trudolubov argues the opposite, pointing out that property protests can peacefully exist in authoritarian regimes; three more experts weigh in on the issue in Novaya Gazeta; Grigory Yudin and Ilya Matveyev contend that Putin is not a real populist; and Alexander Rubtsov analyzes yet another manifestation of the Putin regime’s political narcissism. If you are interested in receiving this weekly roundup in your mailbox every Friday, let us know at info@imrussia.org.


On May 14, 2017, about 20,000 people took to the streets in Moscow to protest against the government's plans to tear down Soviet-era apartment blocks. Photo: Artyom Korotayev / TASS. 


Carnegie.ru: Ungrateful Apartment Blocks: Why the Government Met with Protests Where It Least Expected. 

  • Author: Alexander Baunov, editor-in-chief Carnegie.ru
  • Just a month after the plans were released for Moscow mayor Sergey Sobyanin’s $60 billion relocation project, which seeks to demolish thousands of Soviet-era apartment blocks and relocate up to 1.6 million people, protests ensued, becoming one of the most significant anti-establishment movements of recent times.  
  • Research undertaken on residents of these areas failed to identify protest-prone, active members of the Russian middle class living in these blocks. Neither the mayor nor the State Duma really had any idea that was the case.  
  • Such a wide and democratic protest by private owners unwilling to give up their property is unsurprising. What is surprising, however, is that the authorities did not see it coming.  
  • The idea that people in these buildings sleep on old Soviet divans is another prime example of how out of touch the authorities are with the lives of average citizens.  
  • The pressing question for the Kremlin now is to get through the upcoming elections without protests in order to show that the current government is stable and competent.
  • The protest raised one of the fundamental points of the pact between the state and the people: no dissent in return for the right to own private property.  
  • There is only one way for the government to extricate itself from this legal and constitutional mess: they must return to the legal question of private property, which concerns private interests and can only be resolved through an equitable agreement.  
  • Baunov argues that such unification between urban communities across Russia that until recently would not have known one another is unprecedented. This new movement is intense, and is spreading fast through the internet and local media.  

Carnegie.ru, Неблагодарные пятиэтажки. Почему власть столкнулась с протестом там, где не ждала, Александр Баунов, 15 мая 2017 г.


InLiberty: It’s Not About Property

  • Author: journalist, political commentator Maxim Trudolubov.
  • Trudolubov argues that the conflict between the Moscow authorities and city residents over the urban renovation program is not about property.
  • The 2011-2012 protests resulted in both the authorities and the public drawing conclusions, establishing new political rules (new restrictive laws) and adjusting to these rules.
  • Participants in the recent protesters, including those who are against the demolition of the old residential buildings, try to underscore that their demands are not political—one of the lessons learned six years ago.
  • The authorities understand that they need to contain the protest and narrow it down to resolving a concrete issue: improving the demolition program or tweaking the Platon toll system. Any public request to change a certain law is then repackaged by spin doctors as the authorities meeting the protesters’ demands and making great concessions.
  • Trudolubov notes that a similar mechanism operates successfully in China, where tens of thousands of protests are held annually; as long as they are not political (i.e. not against the ruling party) and are limited to resolving a concrete issue, the authorities can efficiently address the public concerns.
  • China’s experience also shows that protests that are centered on the issue of property rights can also be resolved without any threat to the authoritarian governing system.
  • Within the Russian political culture, it is hard to accept a private citizen’s full right to anything, as it is perceived as an attempt to escape the state.
  • Therefore, the authorities create various types of imitative (fake) social groups and subject them to state control. The Moscow authorities act within the same vein by inviting Muscovites to participate in its Active Citizen project, just one of the manipulation instruments in the Kremlin’s toolkit. This toolkit will undoubtedly be expanded.

InLiberty, Дело не в собственности, Максим Трудолюбов, 17 мая 2017 г.


Novaya Gazeta: A “Non-Political” Demonstration Against Renovation: What Actually Was It?

  • Novaya Gazeta spoke to three political scientists for their views on the May 14 protests against the demolition of thousands of “khrushchyovki”, Russia’s five-storey Soviet-era apartment blocks.
  • Yekaterina Shulman: No demonstration can be non-political. The people who turn out to demonstrate, regardless of what is written on their placards, are first and foremost coming out to defend their interests. This is in itself a political demand. A “non-political” rally is simply a demonstration without demonstrators.  
  • Konstantin Kalachev: A “social” demonstration is one in which people are ready to cooperate. A political demonstration is one in which people demand a change of government. Politics is first and foremost a struggle for power, whereas on May 14 people were simply demanding for their social needs to be heard.  
  • The organizers declared from the start that their intention was to distance themselves from radicals and conduct the event as a social protest. What happened was an amusing type of social protest, with elements of a political one.  
  • Dmitri Oreshkin: Any demonstration is a political campaign. Russia is now undergoing the same thing that the developed world went through 100 years ago. People have property and want to receive a just settlement for that property. They protest because they don’t want others to make decisions on such issues without their permission and they want to improve their circumstances in comparison with what came before.  
  • I am seeing a conscious attempt to put pressure on the government, which, from its position, is behaving rationally. The mayor said that all requests from Moscow citizens will be taken into consideration. This means that the government recognizes the right of the people to uphold their interests. The psychology of those in power has changed, and so has that of the people. After the Bolotnaya protests in 2012, Sobyanin does not want to cross the people of Moscow.

Новая газета, «Неполитический» митинг против реновации: что это было?, Юлия Репринцева, 15 мая 2017 г.


Republic: A People-less Politician. Is It Correct to Call Putin A Populist?

  • Authors: Grigory Yudin, professor at the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences; Ilya Matveyev, associate professor at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration.
  • The authors argue that calling Vladimir Putin a populist would be a mistake.
  • It may seem that Putin enjoys wide popular support that allows him to act as an autocrat and give empty promises to the masses, exploiting their political ignorance and irresponsibility.
  • There is a view that following Brexit in Europe and the election of Donald Trump in the U.S., the West may be falling into the same trap.
  • The authors underscore that populism essentially suggests a division between the people (masses) and the establishment (elites). A popular leader is defending the interests of the common folk against the “fat cats” among the elites.
  • Populism is a phenomenon inherent to democratic regimes, not authoritarian ones, because the people lie at the center of this conflict between the masses and the elites.
  • Still, populism is a symptom of a crisis inside the system of political representation: conventional political forces lose support of the base, while a popular leader manages to reach out across the barriers.
  • Given all the above, it is clear that Putin is not a popular leader. First, he is not an outsider, as he was a creature of the Yeltsin elites; second, his feud with the oligarchs was not for the sake of the Russian people, but the state, and it subsided once the oligarchs pledged allegiance to Putin.
  • Third, and most importantly, Putinism—as opposed to populism—is based on the de-politization and de-mobilization of the people. Putinism doesn’t need active citizens—on the contrary, it craves indifference and non-involvement.
  • Finally, the Russian elites are not just anti-democratic, they fear their own people. Revolt is their worst nightmare, something that needs to be prevented at all costs. Putin’s much publicized 86-percent approval rating conceals the regime’s Achilles heel: the people are both its support base and its main threat.
  • Recall Putin’s inauguration when his cortege was driving through an empty Moscow. Can a populist be a politician without people?

Republic, Политик без народа. Верно ли записывать Путина в популисты? Григорий Юдин, Илья Матвеев, 12 мая 2017 г.


Forbes.ru: Political Narcissism in Russia: Victory and Aggression

  • Author: Alexander Rubtsov, head of the Centre for Philosophical Study of Ideological Processes (Russian Academy of Sciences).
  • Rubtsov continues his series on political narcissism. In his latest installment he focuses ion the Putin regime’s aggression, suspicion, spitefulness, and hypersensitivity to criticisms.
  • Heightened aggression is usually the result of a certain pathology or the lack of proper defense mechanisms. A narcissist is so involved with the self that all external relations are diminished, there is no empathy or even politeness in communicating with others.
  • When this psychological notion is applied to the country (Russia), it is clear why the rest of the world (or the West, for that matter) tries to distance itself from the regime that is constantly rattling the sabres.
  • As the West realized that this military rhetoric is mostly addressed to the domestic audience in order to boost the regime’s ratings, it started to ignore Russia’s attention-seeking behavior, which, in turn, caused the latter's so-called “narcissistic rage” (a term coined by Heinz Kohut).
  • Rubtsov notes that the “rage” is also the result of an “early trauma” in Russia's relationship with the West. The honeymoon period of the early 90s ended abruptly as the Kremlin started to roll back democratic reforms and restrict civil liberties.
  • The trauma, or the “narcissistic injury,” comes as the result of the external devaluation of the narcissist’s self-worth. An insult is added when the narcissist’s true “self” is being exposed: e.g. Russia being deemed as a weak regional power.
  • The rage emerges as a self-defense mechanism aimed at restoring one’s high self-esteem. Any method, any tool appears worthy of employing to achieve that goal, whether it’s the memories of the WWII victory, the Immortal Regiment, or the perfectly staged and televised Victory parade.

Forbes.ru, Политический нарциссизм в России: победа и агрессия, Александр Рубцов, 13 мая 2017 г.


 Nathan Andrews helped compile this week's roundup.

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