Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Not Election Fraud but Elite Privileges May Now Drive Russians Into the Streets



Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 13 – Russians are unlikely to go into the streets over election fraud this time around because for almost all of them, Putin’s election is a foregone conclusion and one that they aren’t ready to challenge because to do so would call into question their own decisions to back him in the past, Moscow experts say.

            But at the same time, the Social Chamber in its annual report says that “Russian citizens are increasingly angry about what they see as growing “social inequality” and the special privileges in all walks of life that members of the Putin elite have given to themselves while ordinary people suffer.

            Such views among the Russian population could spark protests in the coming months, particularly if the Kremlin does something like the 2005 monetarization of social benefits that people perceive as directed against them even as the Kremlin continues to protect the well-being of the well-off.

            Yesterday, Deutsche Welle reported that few Moscow experts think that there will be protests over the election as such. Everyone expects Putin to win, and the biggest issue will be the size of participation, something the authorities may manipulate but without affecting the outcome (dw.com/ru/выборы-и-протесты-ожидать-ли-россии-второй-болотной/a-41742509).

                Dmitry Oreshkin says that many of Putin’s supporters will be among those not going to vote because of “the cognitive dissonance” many of them feel.  We have “’risen from our knees,’” the president tells them “but we haven’t begun to live better.” At the same time, they won’t vote against him because that would call into question their past support of the president.

            The Moscow analyst says that he expects the real level of participation in the March 18 elections will be “about 50 percent.”  The authorities will manage to boost that via administrative means to about 60 percent.  But that won’t make people angry or lead to mass protests the way violations of election law did in 2011.

            Yury Krupnov of the Moscow Institute of Demography completely agrees. He says that “the opposition is divided with its leaders fighting among themselves; and therefore, they do not represent any consolidated force.” 

            But Aleksey Titkov says that protests could arise anyway if the authorities make a serious misstep, something like the monetarization of benefits in 2005.  He says, however, that he is “not certain that in the next four months before the elections, something similar will be done.” As a result, protests now seem unlikely.

            But the annual report on civil society by the Social Chamber suggests protests could come from another direction, not so much the management of the elections themselves than growing popular anger about increasing social inequality where the rich get richer and the poor poorer, Yekaterina Vinokurova of Znak reports (znak.com/2017-12-12/obchestvennaya_palata_uvidela_chto_rossiyane_silno_nedovolny_privilegiyami_elity).

                “Sociological studies of recent times show,” the report says, “a growing social demand for justice. No one considers unjust wealth that people have earned by their own efforts.” But many are angry about wealth that has come to people less because of what they have done than because of the loyalty they have shown to the Kremlin.

            Already, the report continues, “citizens are protesting against such state-created strata in numerous places from medicine to justice and against privileges which give someone the chance to avoid the general rules and ignore established norms.”  And polls show that those at the top not surprisingly think the social situation is far better than those at the bottom.

            And the Social Chamber report notes in conclusion that “the absence of dialogue between citizens and the authorities is leading to social tensions and the radicalization of protest.”  In short, if Russians do go into the streets, it is less likely to be about voting than about the ways in which the Russian elite is taking care of itself at their expense.

Under Russian Constitution, Federal Laws Don’t Always Take Precedence Over Republic Ones, Tsyplayev Says



Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 13 – Sergey Tsyplayev, a former presidential plenipotentiary in St. Petersburg and now dean of law at the North-West Institute of Administration of the Russian Academy of Economics and State Service, says that under the Russian constitution, federal laws don’t always take precedence over republic ones, as far too many claim or assume.

            In Vedomosti yesterday, Tsyplayev who participated in the drafting of Russia’s constitution in 1993 says that the most obvious “contradiction” between that document and “the traditional administrative culture” of Russia involves an understanding of just what federalism entails (vedomosti.ru/opinion/articles/2017/12/12/744909-federalizm-iz-konstitutsii).

            (The Vedomosti article is a slightly reduced version of his blog post (echo.msk.ru/blog/tsuplyaev_s/2109648-echo/). The discussion below follows that post rather than the shorter published article.)

            Russia has traditionally had an administrative system “in the form of a command hierarchical vertical,” the legal specialist says; but “the task of federalism is exactly the opposite,” originating as it does in a recognition of the complexity and variety of social life in the country.

            “If one reads the Constitution carefully, then it becomes clear” that it enshrines federalism with its “horizontal” links rather than any power vertical, that it divides power rather than unifies it, and that it encourages officials at all levels to be “responsive to their electors rather than to their bosses,” as a vertical system requires.

            The constitution specifies, the legal expert continues, that some powers are the exclusive province of the federal government, some are shared between it and the federal subjects, and that all not enumerated on either of these lists belong to the federal subjects and the Russian people, the ultimate source of sovereignty.

            It is thus “untrue” to claim as some do “that federal laws are always higher and more important than regional ones and that they can regulate the latter” however Moscow wants, Tsyplayev says.

               Those who support the idea of “a power vertical” view power as flowing in every case from the top down with the top being “the source of power” rather than the people. “But the Constitution proclaims that ‘the bearers of sovereignty’ and the single source of power in the Russian Federation is its multi-national people.”

            Among the many things that means, Tsyplayev argues, is that the federal center cannot appoint and remove governors at its discretion or because a governor has “lost the trust” of the Kremlin.  “A governor receives his mandate from the hands of the people and is responsible to them.” The center’s ability to move against him is strictly limited by the Constitution.

            Violation of the constitutional norms by the center, he continues, “is worse than theft” because it keeps power “in a closed hierarchical pyramid” and because “people with initiative cannot exist” and develop “an independent character and leadership potential. The result is what we already see – stagnation and ‘nothing more.’”

            Many Russians may find centralization of power comfortable, but they have to recognize that with it comes “a concentration of responsibility” which in turn means that “when the carrots run out,” there is only one place and ultimately one person who can be held responsible. What that leads to, he says, is “what we observed in the case of the USSR,” its collapse.

            “The Constitution of the Russian Federation provides the necessary legal opportunities for a wise decentralization of power and responsibility. Its potential for the development of the country not only is not yet exhausted; it hasn’t even been made use of,” Tsyplayev argues. He urges promoting “a new zemstvo” movement as a start.

            The constitutional law specialist then turns to the current proposals to rewrite the constitution, proposals that he says tend to arise whenever “the political temperature goes up.”  But he warns that those calling for these things should remember that it is easier to start this process than to end it and that it entails risks to the rights and freedoms of Russians.

             What is needed, he suggests, is not a rewriting of the country’s basic law but rather addressing “the significantly more complicated and long-term task – the rearrangement of the political culture” of the Russian people and its governments.  The questions thus are “do we want to grow?” or do we want to stagnate as we are now?

Russian Health Ministry Admits It’s Significantly Understated Number of HIV-AIDS Cases



Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 13 – A new survey which found that 1.5 percent of the Russian population is infected with the HIV virus has compelled the Russian health ministry to acknowledge that officials have been significantly understating the number of cases there. The ministry has been saying that only 0.7 percent of the population is infected.

            Russian statistics have always been problematic, but sometimes the gap between claims and reality becomes too great even for Moscow to continue to assert things that aren’t true. That has happened in this case as a result of a program which 25,000 Russians in 24 regions were tested for the HIV virus (ura.news/news/1052316385).

                That program found 375 infected, roughly 1.5 percent. The figure for the Russian Federation as a whole, officials now concede, is likely to be roughly the same and not the 0.7 percent they have claimed up to now.  That means more than two million Russians have the virus (life.ru/t/здоровье/1069704/zarazhionnykh_vich_okazalos_v_2_raza_bolshie_chiem_pokazyvaiet_ofitsialnaia_statistika).

            Because the regions involved, including Moscow, St. Petersburg, Irkutsk oblast, Sverdlovsk oblast and Primorsky kray, have long been rumored to have far higher rates of infection that elsewhere, it is possible that the projection of 1.5 percent for the country as a whole may overstate the share. But it is certainly closer to the truth than the 0.7 percent.

            Some officials are pointing to that possibility and calling on everyone to refrain from drawing conclusions until the final results are published next year (http://nsn.fm/society/vyvody-prezhdevremenny-minzdrav-o-prevyshenii-mnogoletnikh-pokazateley-po-vich.html), but even now it is likely that Russia is suffering more new cases of HIV infection than any other country.