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Russia Must Restore State By De-Privatizing It – OpEd


The privatization of the state into the hands of the elite and the failure of both to meet even minimal social demands has become unsustainable as a result of the economic crisis, sparking not only anger but demands that the state be de-privatized and restored to something like its ostensible purpose, according to a Moscow analyst.

This process, Aleksey Kuzmin, head of the National Prospects Foundation, says, is taking place in many countries now, but it is particularly intense in Russia because the privatization of state power went so far and because, until the recent economic crisis, the population itself was happy enough to be left alone by the state (

“The split between the society and the elite in Russia was formed in the middle 1990s, but at the start of the 2000s, it became impassable,” Kuzmin points out, adding that “in the Near East and Central Asia,” this division occurred at “approximately the same time” and in much the same way because “the causes are universal.”

“Economic liberalization in the form it took after the 1970s,” Kuzmin continues, spread to Russia and the other post-Soviet states in the 1990s. “It meant the following: the elite and the state threw off from themselves the function of ‘the servant to society,’” an idea that had always involved a certain amount of hypocrisy but now became blatant.

As a result, this “mimicking” “disappeared and the state began to be concerned about economic effectiveness, sometimes proudly call this its ability to compete.” But such an approach benefited only the top of the social pyramid, and everyone else “moderately or immoderately” was thrown to the winds of their own devices.

Everywhere, including in Russia, “the elite privatized the state; that is, the interests of the state began to strictly correspond with the interests of the elite and ceased in any way to correspond to the interests of the entire rest of the population, of that which could be called society.”

In this way and on one and the same territory existed simultaneously “a state together with the elite” and everyone else. “Normal communication between them” ceased to exist. “Vertical mobility” declined to almost nothing. “And the social elevator began to carry [most people] only downward.”

For a time in Russia and so other countries, the population nonetheless displayed a kind of “negative loyalty,” either because its members were being bought off in one way or another or because the institutions of the state no longer interfered in the life of the population and allowed its members to act independently of it.

In this situation, Kuzmin continues, “a very strange social contract is arising: the elite, of course, does not fulfill its basic social obligations but the masses in general relate to this very peacefully. Because each is out for himself with one God for all.” And such an arrangement at least a decade ago seemed stable and sustainable.

However, with the onset of the economic crisis in 2008, it “became obvious” to everyone” that the elite was no longer in a position to “fulfill even those minimal obligations” which it had promised, the Moscow analyst says. And as a result, anger and tensions between the population and the elites have begun to grow.

A particular feature of this situation is the role played by the media. “The television plays a role of mediator in communications [between the elite and the population], one which forms in a unilateral way that picture which the elite needs. But people see not that which is shown on television.

This does not mean that “the importance of the Internet as a space for communication” should be overrated. There are many “real social networks” independent of the Internet which today “operate with a high degree of trust,” much higher in fact than the Internet enjoys, Kuzmin argues.

As a result and in a way many do not yet recognize, he says, while “television is a substitute for communications of the powers that be and the people,” “the Internet is a remarkable substitute for communication among various pieces of society,” a reflection of the atomization of society that liberalization has produced.

But as conditions deteriorate, there will be a demand for “solidarity,” something that will emerge, Kuzmin suggests, first in nominally apolitical institutions and then become political as was the case with Russian trade unions, although just where these clusters will be in the future is uncertain.
“To the extent that all elites are completely delegitimized,” Kuzmin continues, “the so-called political opposition is located in exactly the same position as the powers that be.” It “does not have social support or if it does, it does not have the corresponding social and political skills” to make use of it. But then neither does the state, he adds.

“Today,” the Moscow analyst says, “we are at the point either of the continuing collapse of statehood or at the early stage of social and state genesis.” In many countries, people “are creating from scratch the society and the state,” even in countries like the United States as the Tea Party movement shows.

Up to now, “the basic function of the state is the monopoly on force,” Kuzmin points out, but today on the territory of any state are arious forms of force, including structural force” which almost anyone can gain access to. “The state looks on this situation and gives the impression that nothing is happening.”

But a lot is, and the future in Russia and elsewhere is likely to reflect the working out of the complex processes of “de-privatizing” and thus rebuilding the state and reforming society on the basis of broader and deeper forms of trust.

Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

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