Boris Kagarlitsky about IT Ombudsman: 'I don't see any sense. We're heading for disaster, there's nothing we can do'

The well-known sociologist considers the Russian experience of introducing human rights commissioners to be unsuccessful

Boris Kagarlitsky about IT Ombudsman: 'I don't see any sense. We're heading for disaster, there's nothing we can do'
Photo: Maksim Platonov

Another ombudsman may appear in Russia by the end of the year, this time an 'IT' one. Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, speaking on the sidelines of the international forum Kazan Digital Week, proposed to introduce a new commissioner for rights to return IT specialists to the country. According to the authors of the idea, this allegedly 'will help create favourable conditions for doing business in this area'. However, there are opinions that the existing institutions of 'ombudsmanship' in Russia are ineffective — they (both the business ombudsman and the children's ombudsman) have either exhausted themselves or in principle did not meet expectations. Boris Kagarlitsky, the director of the Institute of Globalisation and Social Movements (Moscow), Candidate of Political Sciences, in the author's column for Realnoe Vremya, told why he considers the ombudsmen 'simulators', why they are needed by departments, and how the state, 'privatised' by individuals, is no longer able to 'digest' Western institutions.

“They turn out to be just simulators”

I personally do not see any sense in introducing the institution of another ombudsman. But our problem, in fact, is not even in the ombudsmen, but in the fact that, in principle, we do not have civil society institutions that have real influence and the ability to control the state in any way. Therefore, the creation of various kinds of posts and positions does not change anything at all. They turn out to be just simulators.

The attempt to continue the development of the ineffective institution of ombudsman by the Russian authorities is connected with the so-called “departmental logic”: officials think like this: “If some department has their own ombudsman, then why shouldn't there be one in our department”? There is no more sense in this creation of ombudsmen.

The more positions, posts of all kinds, statuses there are — the better for the department it is, as they believe. Moreover, this leads to that they have rather big budgets as a result.

But our problem, in fact, is not even in the ombudsmen, but in the fact that, in principle, we do not have civil society institutions that have real influence and the ability to control the state in any way.

“The problem is that we will soon have no state”

Civil society in Russia (even if it appears) cannot appoint anyone and cancel anything in the Russian government system today, they are not able to do this. And they will not be able to eliminate the ineffective institution of ombudsmen either. Only the authorities can do this. Moreover, not the government in the state sense, but the government as a number of certain officials, who, strictly speaking, are also not the state. These are just specific people who, in various ways, for various reasons, at one time privatised the authorities.

The problem is not even that we do not have a civil society. The problem is that we will soon have no state in the usual sense of the word.

Civil society in Russia (even if it appears) cannot appoint anyone and cancel anything in the Russian government system today, they are not able to do this.

Why the government should not appoint ombudsmen independently

Perhaps, in the regions, there may be successful examples when certain officials choose popular bloggers or public figures to control certain industries… But this is also wrong! What does “the government chooses” mean?!

A good official will choose a good blogger, a bad official will choose a bad blogger! This is a sign not only of the impotence of civil society, but also a sign that our state has been “privatised”.

The level of state management of today's Russian authorities is like in the days of Germany in the era of the Thirty Years' War, when there were no state institutions, but there were certain people with power who made personnel decisions without any rules, norms and standards!

The problem is that even if an official in Tatarstan choses a good blogger for a certain post, this is terrible. Officials should have nothing to do with this at all. There should be — for officials as well — very strict rules that cannot be circumvented. Remember the famous story of the Decembrists, when Emperor Nicholas I said to one of them: “You know, I can pardon you!” To which the Decembrist replied: “That's the trouble, Your Majesty.”

There should be — for officials as well — very strict rules that cannot be circumvented.

In the West, democracy has degenerated — in Russia, it simply does not exist

I will also note that it is impossible to transplant certain institutions from Western soil to Russian soil today. We need them to grow up on their own, first of all. And second, Western civil society is also being in crisis, and it is problematic to take the West as a model now, to put it mildly!

But if we see a degenerated democracy in the West, then we simply do not have any. If democracy is simply degenerating in the West, then in Russia all the conditions for its existence are consistently eliminated.

What can I offer in response to a specific one? Of course, it is necessary to change the entire system of institutions — but we will not do without a disaster. We're heading for disaster, there's nothing we can do. Well, not the first time and not the last time this has happened in Russia. Personally, I don't see any other ways anymore.

Boris Kagarlitsky, interviewed by Sergey Afanasyev
Reference

The author's opinion may not coincide with the position of the editorial board of Realnoe Vremya.