My previous post was blessed with a number of thoughtful comments made by folks whose opinions I deeply respect. Our discussion revolved around the meaning of “stability” in Russia. I insisted that the current emphasis on “stability” as a political endpoint is misplaced; my interlocutors argued that given the situation in the world, there was nothing wrong with Russian voters longing for “stability.” As one of the commenters nicely put it, with the “world spiral[ing] into the gaping maw of another global financial collapse, ‘stability’ may be looking pretty good.”
Well, I have nothing against “stability” per se – if understood as an opposite to “chaos,” “anarchy,” or, worse, “violence.” I largely subscribe to a popular point of view that as the second president of Russia, Vladimir Putin prevented the collapse of the country and, having ushered a decade of “stability,” ensured impressive growth of living standards of ordinary Russians.
Yet, it would appear to me that just a few years ago, Putin and his team didn’t consider “stability” as an end in itself; instead, they used it as a mean to promote prosperity and economic growth. As soon as some “stability” was achieved, Putin & Co. began pushing for structural economic reforms. Characteristically, when the United Russia party Chairman Boris Gryzlov – hardly a radical liberal, to say the very least — addressed the 6th congress of the party in Nov. 2005, the title of his speech was “From Stability to Development.” And it was obviously Dmitry Medvedev who during his first presidential term has completely parted with the slogan “stability” and replaced it with another: “modernization.“
“We can’t risk the stability of our society and undermine the security of our citizens for the sake of abstract theories…We’ve had this in the past. It’s the reforms for the people, not people for the reforms. At the same time, those who are completely satisfied with the status quo – those who don’t want changes and are afraid of them — will be disappointed. There are going to be reforms. Sure, they will be gradual, measured and stepwise – yet, imminent and steady.” Dmitry Medvedev (“Russia, forward!” Sep. 2009)
What then has happened between September 2009 and November 2011 that forced Russian political elites to reverse the course and return to “stability” as the major ideological platform? Has the need to modernize Russian economy and political system evaporated? Nope. Has Medvedev’s presidency been a total disaster for the country? Nope. Has Russia’s economic and security situations deteriorated to the extent that its very survival is at stake? Nope. Then what?
The only plausible reason that I see for the sudden switch to “stability” is Putin’s decision to return to presidency. Unwilling to pick up the flag of “modernization” – otherwise, he would have to explain to the Russian people the real reason of why Medvedev isn’t running for the second term – Putin was looking for something familiar, recognizable and proven to work. Bingo! Here comes “stability:” worked before, will work again.
Sure, there are many folks in Russia supporting “stability.” There are retired people and state employees for whom “stability” means constantly increasing pensions and salaries. Then there are low-ranked government bureaucrats who viewed Medvedev’s “modernization” as a threat to their ability to milk the state. Then there are those in the top echelons of power who would replace Medvedev’s “modernization” with anything – and “stability” would certainly do, why not?
And for those who believed that “modernization” was indeed the beginning of long-needed reforms – and who now feel betrayed by Medvedev – there is always an argument that things are getting worse. Hence we have Putin speaking of “Russia entering a period of dangerous volatility.” Hence we have Medvedev himself talking about imminent threats to Russia’s security.
And then, there is always a threat of terrorism coming from the North Caucasus. Should a terrorist attack strike Russia before the next year’s presidential election – God forbid! – count me as the first proponent of “stability.”