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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Documenting the Horror of the Rise of the Neo-Soviet State

The mighty Moscow Times delivers a fearsome one-two punch at the solar plexus of the neo-Soviet Union, a perfect compliment addressing neo-Sovietism at the most mundane level of bureaucracy and the most abstract level of philosophy. We've reproduced it below in a special two-part post.


First, MT documents how the Soviet bureaucracy has been fully revived:


From inside the Kremlin's walls to everyday lives with endless paperwork, bureaucracy rules. Like the nation's economy, bureaucracy seems to be booming. Determining its exact size is difficult, much like navigating the mire of it. But by all accounts, the number of public servants today likely exceeds Soviet levels. And they are making substantially more money than their average compatriots. Sociologists have detected a growing inclination among young people toward jobs like customs officers or tax inspectors, despite widespread allegations of corruption and inefficiency.

While attempts to remedy the sprawling and sluggish state sector have yet to bear fruit, experts are baffled by how much bureaucracy Russians are prepared to tolerate. The official figure has grown by almost 40 percent in the last five years. While in 2001 there were 1.14 million employees in federal and local government, the figure for 2006 is 1.57 million, according to the State Statistics Service. In the last years of the Soviet Union, those numbers declined from almost 2 million in 1987 to 1.57 million in 1989, and the country then was much more populous than today.

Experts warn that Soviet and contemporary statistics are not necessarily comparable, for instance because functions today performed by the public service were in the past provided by functionaries in the then-sprawling Communist Party organization. Many are convinced that bureaucracy has ballooned, however. "The number of public servants has increased dramatically," said Yelena Panfilova, head of the Russian branch of Transparency International, a global corruption watchdog. The official figures, she added, probably understate the problem because they did not include employees at the municipal level. "I think that there are up to 3.5 million public servants in Russia today," she said.

The main reason for the expansion, Panfilova said, is the creation of seven federal districts in 2000, with which President Vladimir Putin brought in a "huge army of bureaucrats" working in a new middle tier of administration, sandwiched between the federal and regional level. Also the creation of new federal agencies boosted numbers, such as the Federal Drug Control Service, the Federal Agency for Registering Real Estate, the Federal Financial Monitoring Service and Federal Service for Financial Markets, Panfilova said.

Vladimir Rimsky of the Indem Foundation, a Russian nongovernmental organization devoted to fighting corruption, said many more salaries depended directly or indirectly on the state. "If you include staff at companies owned or controlled by the government, you get a figure around 10 million," Rimsky said. And pay is on the rise, too. On average, federal bureaucrats earned 21,300 rubles ($824) per month in the first quarter of 2007, well above the national average of roughly 12,000 rubles ($460) per month. In Moscow, federal employees are even making a monthly average of 27,700 rubles ($1,070), according to official statistics. With this in mind, it might not come as a total surprise that a survey of the Sociology Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences released in May found that the prestige of government jobs is climbing. Seventeen percent of 1,796 men and women between the ages of 17 and 26 said they rated a position in state service as prestigious -- much more than the 10 percent rating in a similar survey in 1997.

The state sector won much of the esteem lost by the legal and financial professions -- whose ratings dropped from overall 89 percent in 1997 to 60 percent 10 years later. "Prestige is no longer associated exclusively with high salary potential, but more and more with notions of professionalism and power," the survey's authors said. Rimsky, who has conducted a nationwide survey, said careers in customs, tax and financial authorities came up most frequently when he questioned students about their future plans. "There are big regional differences, but most young people seem to be driven by economic insecurity," Rimsky said.

On the other hand, many Russians still associate their public servants with the hallmarks of inefficiency -- corruption, inertia and negligence. In another poll by the Sociology Institute in 2005, 38 percent voted that bureaucracy in the present epoch is stronger than in any other in history. Twenty-two percent thought it was stronger under Yeltsin, 17 percent under Breshnev, 12 percent during perestroika, 6 percent under Stalin and 2 percent during tsarist times. The rest could not decide. And 57 percent of those 1,800 polled said the bureaucracy exerted a negative influence on politics.

A recent World Bank research paper on government effectiveness bolsters the claim of poor administration. The survey, released in July, showed that Russia's performance in key areas like rule of law and control of corruption was in the lowest quartile of the 212 countries and territories surveyed. It also recorded significant setbacks in voice and accountability -- a measure of citizens' ability to participate in government -- and political stability. And in a recent Levada Center poll, 29 percent blamed bureaucrats for economic stagnation, 28 percent said poor law enforcement was to blame, while 25 percent said the government was too weak.

The growth of bureaucracy has worried political analysts and independent experts both inside and outside the country. In November, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development warned that the trend of expanding the state into the private sector was slowing down the economy. Increasing state control over sectors like oil and aviation was "disturbing" and made the economy more prone to corruption, the OECD said in its sixth biennial report.

Some scholars have accepted big bureaucracy as a basic part of life. "It is not just a post-Soviet phenomenon but has been typical of the Soviet and tsarist eras as well," said Marvin Kalb, a lecturer of public policy at Harvard University. He said big government administration would help offset insecurity in a country stretching from Europe to the Pacific, while at the same time there had always been "enormous amounts of corruption" in Russian bureaucracy. Kalb also said staff numbers in public administration had risen substantially under George W. Bush's presidency in the United States, too. "Both presidents are increasing the number of government servants to increase their own power base," he said.

Yet experts on administrative reform said some things in Russia have been moving in the right direction. "The bureaucracy is not very service-oriented, but it is undoubtedly more efficient than in Soviet times," said David Fawkes, a British economist who leads an European Union-funded project aimed at reforming public service in Russia. "I think there is a strong understanding of the need to improve efficiency and to improve the quality of services to the public," he said. Among the biggest obstacles is not so much bureaucrats' complacency but the people's apathy, he said. "It is difficult to convince the public to demand better service," Fawkes said. "It is actually difficult to get people to complain." Fawkes also said Russia had a comparative disadvantage versus other East European states with regard to administrative reforms. "They were forced to adapt in order to qualify for EU membership -- Russia never had to do that," he said.

Real changes will not be achieved quickly, Fawkes said. "What you need is a mentality change and that is very difficult and takes a very long time," he said. The impetus, he stressed, had to come from the citizens and civil society.

Then, columnist Lilia Shevtsova (pictured), a senior associate at the Carnegie Moscow Center, exposing the "new" Russian national idea, seething hatred of all things Western. That's about as new an idea in Russia as fur hats.

The Russian political elite has long dreamed of finding a national idea capable of rallying the people. Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev tried to consolidate the country with his idea of socialism "with a human face." Former President Boris Yeltsin roused the people around anti-communism.

And President Vladimir Putin came to power under the unofficial slogan: "Let's put an end to the Yeltsin-era chaos." Now the elite is pushing a new national idea to rally the nation. It can be stated as follows: "We will protect the country from external enemies and establish a new global order to replace the one that so humiliated Russia in the 1990s." To put it more simply, Putin's motto is: "Russia is back!"

The closer we come to the end of Putin's second term, the more the Kremlin needs to find an idea that would preserve everything it has achieved during the past eight years. Searching for enemies and casting the West in the role of the principal foe has turned out to be the most successful method for rallying the people. Russia has adopted an aggressive foreign policy rhetoric; Putin's fiery Munich speech is a classic example. Anti-Western sentiment has become the new national idea, and national revival has taken the form of revisionism.

The arguments supporting the new national idea are plain and simple: "The West is interfering in our domestic affairs and attempting to weaken Russia. By promoting democracy, the West is really advancing its own interests."

It seems that even pro-Western analysts are trying to convince themselves and the world that Russia should play by its own rules, and that the responsibility for the crisis in Russian-Western relations lies with Western capitals. Some of them even believe that NATO expansion, U.S. President George W. Bush's export of democracy and Washington's plan to install elements of anti-missile batteries in Europe is the main -- and perhaps even only -- reason for the failure of Russian democracy. Yesterday's moderates and pragmatists today have joined with professional anti-Western political analysts -- such as Vyacheslav Nikonov and Alexei Pushkov, the host of a popular analytical television program -- in singing the same song. Being pro-Western in Russia today is not only unpopular, but also dangerous because it necessarily means being anti-Russian.

What is behind the new national idea? Anti-Western ideology has become an important factor that legitimizes the highly centralized state. The Kremlin has to offer some kind of explanation for the concentration of authority in so few hands, the elimination of political pluralism, the expansion of the state's role in the economy and the redistribution of property. The search for enemies and the cultivation of a "siege mentality" have always been used to justify "iron-hand" regimes in Russia. To be sure, the Kremlin also has created smaller enemies, such as Georgia, Ukraine, and the Baltic states. In addition, liberals and certain unpopular oligarchs serve as convenient adversaries. But a great power should not be shooting at sparrows with a cannon or focusing so much attention on "small fries," as one Russian analyst said. The West, and especially the United States, has proven to be the most convincing enemy.

But the crisis in Russian-Western relations is not purely based on a fundamental lack of shared values and principles. After all, communist China has much less in common with the West than Russia does, but U.S.-Chinese relations are quite friendly, and, in the economic sphere, they resemble a strong mutually beneficial partnership (notwithstanding the numerous difficulties). China, in seeking out its own prosperity, has chosen to pursue a policy of rapprochement, successfully making use of the West for its own modernization. Russia's ruling elite has taken a different path, trying to establish its global role by distancing itself from the West.

Russia's elite uses the anti-Western national idea because it believes it is giving the people an attractive ideology. But, at the same time, Moscow wants to pursue a partnership with the West for the sake of its own development and global integration.

The attitude toward the West has become a litmus test of loyalty to the authorities and the system. Verbal attacks have become synonymous with patriotism. As a result, the numerous so-called "liberal Westernizers" of the 1990s dwindled down to a tiny group. Only the most desperate, such as Garry Kasparov, still attempt to voice their liberal sympathies. Everyone else understands that it is not advisable to show too much reverence for the West. That would be considered as unpatriotic behavior.

Let's consider the most popular cliches of the new national idea:

• "Russia has recovered from the humiliation of the 1990s."

But why must this be achieved by spoiling relations with the West? Germany and Japan overcame their postwar humiliation by transforming themselves into great economic powers and by integrating into the global economy and adopting liberal-democratic values.

• "Russia has the right to pursue an independent policy."

If Russia takes this desire to its extreme, it would have to withdraw its membership in and application for all Western clubs and international organizations that place limits on its sovereignty, such as the Group of Eight, the Council of Europe and the World Trade Organization.

• "Russia is an energy superpower and Europe's dependence on its energy will increase."

This dependence cuts both ways. One of the most humiliating forms of dependence is an exporter's dependence on the importer, and the Kremlin has yet to fully understand this.

• "Russia wants to be integrated into the West on its own terms."

This is music to the patriots' ears, but they don't explain how they can be equal partners when Russia is building its society on anti-Western principles.

It must be admitted that the proponents of the anti-Western ideology succeeded at their goal of preserving the interests of the ruling class. This is a case when the West, which does not entirely understand events in Russia and does not have a strategy for dealing with a "revisionist" Kremlin, has allowed itself to be used as a "negative" factor in Moscow's drive to mobilize the people behind an aggressive national ideology.

The anti-Western ideologues are joined by the pragmatists -- the pundits who until recently had independent political positions but today support the new national idea. They advise the West by saying: "Accept Russia as it is and base your policy on mutual interests, not on values." Perhaps they sincerely believe that realpolitik will lead to future rapprochement between Russia and the West and will help build Russian democracy.

But then why has Western realpolitik resulted only in a crisis in its relations with Russia? Don't these "realists" understand that they are encouraging the West to build relations with Russia according to the same model that the West pursues with China?! If this is indeed the case, then Russia must leave the G-8 and the Council of Europe, whose membership is conditioned upon adherence to democratic principles and institutions.

Russia's ruling elite has let the genie out of the bottle and it will be very difficult to put it back again, especially because there is no resistance to anti-Westernism even in intellectual circles.

Fortunately, the majority of people have managed to avoid getting caught up in the anti-Western hysteria. Polls show that 70 percent of Russians still consider Europe to be a partner. But there are definite consequences to the Kremlin's heavy anti-Western propaganda. The elite, which has built a political and foreign policy program based on anti-Western ideas, cannot easily switch back to the opposite position. That is the legacy Putin leaves behind -- a legacy built by everyone who today shouts with such enthusiasm, "Russia is back!"

It's true -- Russia is back. But it has only returned to the past.

1 comment:

Steam McQueen said...

So Russia's patriots are going to reject everything Western? Does this mean that they will be trading in thier Mercedes, BMWs, Maybachs, Ferraris and other foreign cars on Volgas and Ladas?

I don't think so.

Will they stop wearing Gucci, Armani, Chanel and other designers and return to the Russian-made clothing and shoes?

I don't think so.

Will they ever understand that no matter how much money they have (or where they got it) it does NOT make them better than anyone else, nor does it give them class or taste.

Sadly, I don't think so.

Russia could be so great... if they would just pull thier heads out of thier collective asses but you know something....


... I don't think it's going to happen. Not soon, anyway.