Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Kremlin Now Telling Russians They Face a Fallling Standard of Living for Years to Come, Shelin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 27 – “For the first time in the 21st century, the [Russian] regime is seeking to accustom its citizens to the thought that a worsening of living conditions is not the result of ‘temporary difficulties’ but rather a [new] norm of life,” according to Rosbalt commentator Sergey Shelin.

            Although official statistics are anything but trustworthy, he continues, and although the government deploys them selectively in order to make itself look as good as possible, the following pattern is obvious: production is rising slightly but because of regime policies, ordinary Russians are paying for that by taking a serious hit in their standard of living (profile.ru/pryamayarech/item/118101-luchshe-uzhe-ne-budet).

            It is increasingly obvious who is paying for Russia’s current economic difficulties, “the exhaustion of oil dollars, the upsurge in military and security spending, sanctions and counter-sanctions.” And “it is no less obvious who will be financing the two or three percent growth in the economy” the Kremlin likes to talk about it.

            It will be financed by the Russian people, who thanks to all this and to the regime’s failures, are having to pay higher prices for communal services, not getting inflation adjustments in their pensions, and thus giving without the regime acknowledging it a forced “loan” by the people to the regime.

            Worse, Shelin says, with each passing month, “the ordinary individual must pay more but will receive the same or less” because “even if there is some growth in the economy,” little of it will be distributed to him.

            “For the Russian 21st century, this logic is completely new,” the commentator continues. “From the end of the 1990s to the beginning of the 2010s, the level of consumption in Russia rose (according to official calculations) more than two and a half times.” Even if one allows that some of this is exaggerated, this “jump” was the greatest over more than the last century.

            “Without this, one cannot possibly understand the Putin regime” and the support it has received up to now, Shelin argues.  “For three decades, ordinary people had suffered first stagnation and then growing poverty. And here finally was a miracle.”  But that is now in the past, and the people are going to pay for what the regime has done and is doing.

            Given Moscow’s failure to create “free and competitive capitalism,” there is no possibility of “major private investment.” Who else can make the needed investments? The state, and where will it get the money? “From its subjects,” who will also be forced to be satisfied with domestic goods of far lower quality than imported ones.

            “Is growth possible in such a feudalized economy?” Shelin asks rhetorically and says that yes, “modest growth is possible.” But it will be so modest that the population will get little or nothing or even less than now once “the siloviki, the lobbyists, and the bureaucrats” take their whack out of what comes in.

            Russians increasingly understand this, despite their well-earned reputation for putting up with whatever those in power do, the commentator argues. Among the signs of change on the part of the people are strikes, admittedly not too successful but enough to make the regime fearful and willing to make what concessions it feels it can and must.

            Demonstrations and protests are no longer just events in the capitals but “in hundreds of other cities” where people are prepared to assemble “again and again,” despite the efforts of the powers that be to intimidate them and keep Russians from taking part lest they lose their jobs or land in jail.

            And repression, always the default setting for the current regime, is increasingly ineffective because it is increasingly transparent to the people what is going on; and they are angry: “Even in their parallel reality, the bosses recognize that the anger of ordinary people is growth literally from month to month.

            This new reality from below is forcing the regime to change course and to try to accustom its subjects “to see in the growing poverty they are living with normal.”  That attempt, Shelin says, should be “sent to the museum of administrative utopias” because like all similar projects it is doomed to fail sooner or later.

Business, Civil Society Promoting Belarusianization Even When State Isn’t, Mozheyko Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 27 – Businesses interested in profits and civil society institutions that see language as key to the future of their country are promoting Belarusianization even when the government, fearful of offending Moscow is not, and that ranking – business, civil society, and only then the state works to the country’s advantage, Vadim Mozheyko says.

            That is because, the specialist on culture at Minsk’s Liberal Club argues, because that means Belarusianization is gradually building strength and cannot be easily stopped by the government. Were the regime more involved, that alone might offend some and limit progress (udf.by/news/kultura/158590-ekspert-ostanovit-belorusizaciyu-uzhe-budet-slozhno.html).

            Mozheyko says that “the state in  the best case stands in third place after civil society and business in promoting the growth in popularity of the Belarusian language,” although in recent years, it has in some cases promoted it and in others “not interfered” with business or civil society.

            While it would be wrong to speak of Belarusianization as an accomplished fact, the use of the national language in Belarus has “become fashionable or even a trend in certain portions of society.”  Business has played a major role: Over the last seven years, the number of Belarusian language brands have increased more than 150 percent and the number of Belarusian advertisements by more than 300 percent.

            A major reason that business has played this role is that it “thinks not about how to relate to Belarusianization but rather about how to work with it. And if it sees that Belarusian language communication, the use of the language and the advancement of Belarusian culture really works, then it accepts this and uses it in its business activity.”

            And that is the case even though many in the intellectual elites who have promoted Belarusian culture “continue to deny or to be afraid to recognize that this soft Belarusianization already has happened.” They note that there aren’t enough real Belarusian language teachers to transform the educational system.

            Within the Lukashenka regime, there are many people who would like to support Belarusianization but remain frightened by what they assume would be the reaction of Moscow.  That is why there is no reason to expect the state to pursue a consistent language policy anytime in the near future.
            But paradoxically, the fact that the state “is not playing first chair in popularizing Belarusian” has its positive side:  Many intellectuals would be suspicious of what the current government is doing if it pushed Belarusian anytime soon and would assume that Minsk would just as quickly change course if it felt it had to, thus undermining any effort.

            So for the time being, Mozheyko says, “the initiative lies on the shoulders” of business and civil society. But that means that even the Belarusian government will find it ever more difficult to stop, whatever fears it may have about Moscow’s possible response. 

Monday, June 26, 2017

Internet More Influential in Russian Regions than in Moscow, Schulmann Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 27 – Although the Internet came first to Moscow and the major cities, Yekaterina Schulmann says, now, “people in Russian regions spend more time on the Internet and on social media than do residents of Moscow and St. Petersburg,” exactly the opposite of what most people in the Russian capitals think.
            The senior scholar at the Presidential Academy of Economics and State Administration says on Radio Sol that “in the regions, the audience is larger than in the capitals and it spends more time there as well,” largely because “in the regions, there are many fewer means of obtaining information or finding entertainment” (salt.zone/news/8089).

            And in this absence of numerous public spaces, Schulmann continues, “precisely the regional user” – especially in northern parts of the country – “is becoming more attentive, selective and thoughtful,” again exactly the opposite of the image of Russia beyond the ring road in the minds of Muscovites and most Western observers.