‘Giving people money is good, but suppressing any point of accumulation of discontent preventively is a much more reliable method’

Leonid Radzikhovsky about political results of the coronavirus half of the year

‘Giving people money is good, but suppressing any point of accumulation of discontent preventively is a much more reliable method’
Photo: facebook.com

It’s already been six months since the authorities in Russia officially announced the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic to Russia and began to take serious measures to avoid its spread. Some restrictions — especially on mobility and travel with protective equipment — are still causing irritation and discontent among some Russians, but the authorities have gone through the coronavirus half of the year politically — without protests and campaigns. In an interview with Realnoe Vremya, famous political expert Leonid Radzikhovsky explains why the authorities managed to do it and why the situation will be calm even during the second wave of the pandemic.

“Russian society switched to a regime of total stagnation and complete hibernation a long time ago

Politically, the coronavirus half of the year in Russia was calm unlike in some European countries and the USA where mass campaigns against restrictions due to the pandemic took place. One could see a lot of discontent on the Internet linked with mask and glove wearing, with authorities’ urge to “stay home”, their decisions to close most crowded places and so on, but Russia’s citizens were fine, except for Vladikavkaz maybe where there was a protest of citizens who are annoyed with the measures. How can this political discipline be explained?

This means absolute political apathy of the population — Russian society switched to a regime of total stagnation and complete hibernation a long time ago. As for politics, it divided into several factions. There is a faction of “active national patriots” who actively shout that Putin is a betrayer, betrayed Russia to America, that it is necessary to seize Ukraine, send in troops to Belarus and so on, but it is a tiny, closed group of people who represent nobody, a group that just entertains and frightens many on the Internet.

Rabid radical democrats are another group: it is the same thing, the spitting image, but the other way round, like tomorrow Putin will start terror, execution, certainly will send in troops to Belarus. This group is quantitatively bigger, has some mass media — Echo of Moscow, Dozhd, but it is also a closed group. Both groups are kind of self-professed experts, laymen grunting on the Internet who can do nothing. And the simplest proof is the attempt on Navalny’s life. There wasn’t found a single person across Russia, and I emphasise that, who would go out with a banner “Investigate the Crime!”, for instance, in front of the prosecutor’s office (Editor’s Note: according to mass media, this is wrong, there were protests, for instance, in front of the FSB’s building). If we see such a reaction, it means in Russia we have more groups of online grumblers, online chatterboxes.

At last, there is the third group of the population — it is people who absolutely stopped caring about any politics: they very sluggishly watch Solovyov’s “series” and Skabeyeva’s “salivary operas”, they stopped believing in them a long time ago, they don’t care about them, but it’s like a background for them. Though the third group doesn’t believe in anything positive in their life from Putin but they do believe in negative. Americans are anyway scoundrels — they insult us, attack us.

Photo: Rinat Nazmetdinov
Russian society switched to a regime of total stagnation and complete hibernation a long time ago

Why does this apathy, indifference come from? Neither it is Newton’s binomial — people can’t take actions on their own, separately, there must be an organisation, organisators for this purpose. If an organisation in Moscow said they were organising a procession in honour of Navalny, the people would join it somehow. As there is no organisation, nobody will take to the streets — nobody wants to risk their own name. Organisations were destroyed, oppressed, forbidden, demoralised, repurchased, since there is nobody who could shout: “Communist, go ahead!”, everything is logical, as Bulgakov puts it: “You have nothing wherever you look”. As there isn’t one thing, there is nothing.

But if we talk about the six months of the pandemic, did any other factors favour the calm situation? Did perhaps Putin’s addresses calm people down?

No, I don’t think so, Putin’s ratings are falling. If his addresses entered somebody’s soul, his ratings would be rising but they are falling: just enter the website of All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center and have a look at closed surveys with questions about trust in politicians (“Do you trust Putin (Zhirinovsky, Zyuganov and so on)?”).

Putin’s rating is about 38% now — it is a very high percentage for a western and democratic leader and very low for an authoritarian leader, it is a very low percentage for a dictator like Lukashenko who has been ruling for 26 years in a row.

But there is also a question “Name the politicians you trust”, and here Putin has only 17%, while it is a “western” rating of a ruler, which can be considered a catastrophe for a politician, considering that 1,5 years ago his rating was 1,5 times higher. You know, it would be a miracle if the president’s rating didn’t reduce — the quality of life doesn’t improve, though Putin isn’t guilty of the coronavirus, people need somebody to pour the irritation onto and they pour it to their boss. And Putin has nothing but effective tricks for the citizens — he has already run out of them.

Photo: kremlin.ru
You know, it would be a miracle if the president’s rating didn’t reduce — the quality of life doesn’t improve, though Putin isn’t guilty of the coronavirus, people need somebody to pour the irritation onto and they pour it to their boss

But the messages included orders to pay families with children under 16 years 10,000 rubles of benefits, businesses received tax deferral, a reduction in insurance premiums.

Of course, people like receiving money — no questions here. But this doesn’t change the general attitude to the authorities. Yes, people are content but at the same time people are ungrateful too: people don’t feel any tender emotion — they take this money and say afterwards: “Your help is little!” But it goes without saying that this money is the social cushion that helps to keep social moods up. If there was no cushion, of course, the moods would have been much worse.

Now it is very hard to imagine a situation when people don’t receive any help. They would have gone broke, and what would they have done? Gone hungry and eaten each other? It isn’t 1930.

Nobody feels a tender emotion here — people have another level of social expectations, while low insurance premiums are just a safety cushion. But is this safety cushion reliable? No, it isn’t reliable — it just helps to soften the situation but doesn’t solve the problem.

Dou you mean the discontent has been postponed?

The discontent has spread — we see a fog of discontent. Giving people money is good, but suppressing any point of accumulation of discontent preventively is a much more reliable method. Vladimir Putin, as it is known, studied in a Soviet institute, summarised Lenin there and remembered the leader’s thought that there is no spontaneous discontent, that it is necessary to organise this discontent through an organisation (the organisation of working class in the case of Lenin). And Putin learnt this well. Consequently, any organisations need to be suppressed preventively, but at the same time it isn’t necessary to strangle everything, here Lenin’s another thought comes in handy — “liberal Balalaikins are absolutely harmless for power”. The Balalaikins gather at Echo of Moscow, so welcome. Might the elderly deal with bullying.

Photo: Rinat Nazmetdinov
The discontent has spread — we see a fog of discontent. Giving people money is good, but suppressing any point of accumulation of discontent preventively is a much more reliable method

“Fine, Navalny will go back to Russia, so what? He won’t become a centre of protest”

The voting on amendments to the Constitution took place in late June-early July. Though it was postponed from April, it was feared they shouldn’t hurry with it and the pandemic didn’t weaken yet for the plebiscite. Nevertheless, this idea of the voting in June didn’t irritate people, also, the results weren’t awful for the authorities even if we say there could be violations. People grunted because of Putin’s reset term, but the Constitution was adopted.

The result provided a firm nuclear pro-power majority — those who always vote the way the authorities will order: public workers, militaries, functionaries, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and pensioners. Plus, Putin’s major power isn’t social measures, not fear but inertia, that’s to say, the absence of an alternative, while in the absence of a rival the victory is given to the only participant.

Remember, there wasn’t any propaganda against the amendments in the mass media, while not so many people visit political websites that had it. This is why people had some fog in their heads. Yes, the majority assumed that the voting wasn’t held for Putin personally (like he wants to rule eternally or stages something else). On the other hand, “what’s the matter?” thought a person if he heard that the amendments read the state’s intention to help dogs, cats, pensioners, the Homeland, veterans, it was said about spiritual values, Pushkin and so on. If you love Pushkin, vote! And only American spies and people bought by Americans if not spies can be against. And the person voted in the end, like “everybody wins — cats, dogs, veterans, I will vote, nothing will happen”.

One of the strictest measures was taken during the coronavirus half of the year in Moscow — it is known that Muscovites are more active in expressing political discontent than others in the country. This could be expressed in the irritation about the restrictions, but they withstood. Did this perhaps happen because Moscow is “full”? Or did it understand?

Moscow isn’t very full. I live in Moscow and can’t say that my income increased. On the contrary, prices are growing, while incomes aren’t changing. Moscow isn’t full but well-cared — now I am pleased to walk in Moscow and the city calms me down: Moscow don’t have disorder, mud, crimes, I see few homeless people, while this calms many down, regarding the Moscow authorities as well. In general I think that Sobyanin is a good mayor, also, I don’t have complains about Putin’s intelligence. I have more questions for those who name the Russian president Chikatilo, somebody else, and this causes disgust.

Photo: Maksim Platonov
People had sщьу fog in their heads. Yes, the majority assumed that the voting wasn’t held for Putin personally (like he wants to rule eternally or stages something else). On the other hand, “what’s the matter?” thought a person if he heard that the amendments read the state’s intention to help dogs, cats, pensioners, the Homeland, veterans

Can we say that the next months, even though they will be called the second coronavirus wave, will be calm for the Russian authorities in general?

I don’t see any reasons for something to change dramatically — the treasury has money, it means the population will receive help. It is undoubted, while anti-power, anti-presidential organisations won’t appear if the social situation doesn’t get worse because such organisations don’t exist. Fine, Navalny will go back to Russia, so what? He won’t become a centre of protest because nobody went outside to require investigation on the crime committed against him, while Russia doesn’t have other centres of protest.

People will perhaps ask the government for something bigger if the situation is complicated, but nobody will go to extremes in this respect. To get something bigger, there must be an organisation that will fight for this. Nobody will go anywhere with requirements in everyday life — there is no organisation, there is no idea, what are we talking about?

This is why the second wave of the pandemic will be the second wave of the same political indifference, the same existing apathy.

Interviewed by Sergey Kochnev