The crisis of trust

Many political crises begin as a crisis of trust: as a lack of trust between partners in a coalition, between ruling party and the opposition, or between authorities and constituents.  Although it’s yet premature to call recent events in Russia a political crisis, if the current situation does develop into such, it will too emerge as a crisis of trust: the lack of trust between the Kremlin and those protesting the results of the Dec. 4 Duma elections.

The vast majority of protesters who filled the streets of Moscow and other Russian cities in December have no explicit political agenda: they don’t question the country’s domestic or foreign policy; they don’t demand unconstitutional changes in the country’s leadership.  The only thing they want at the moment is to have their outrage at the widespread vote falsifications to be properly addressed by the authorities.  Two specific demands are the dissolution of the 6th Duma, which the protesters consider illegitimate, and the resignation of Vladimir Churov, the head of the Central Election Commission, who in the court of public opinion is held personally responsible for the election fraud.

It’s disappointing that the Kremlin doesn’t seem to understand this.  True, the immediate dissolution of the Duma would be politically destabilizing and technically challenging.  But the middle ground has apparently emerged: calling for the new Duma election at the end of 2012, after the new law on political party registration hastily proposed by President Dmitry Medvedev was adopted and implemented.  Unfortunately, both Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin have outright rejected the idea of the new Duma elections.

Even less rational is the passion that the two have displayed for the “magician” Churov.  Regardless of Churov’s guilt or lack thereof, the resignation of a middle-level state official, who Churov is, would be a small price to pay for reducing the level of public anger.  The tandem’s very unwillingness to part with Churov creates an unsettling impression that the latter is going to play an important, perhaps, even indispensable role in achieving the Kremlin’s coveted objective: electing Putin the President of Russia in the first round of the vote on March 4.

Instead of directly addressing what the protesters want, the Kremlin chose to focus on who they are.  Speaking with journalists on Dec. 28, Putin disparaged the protest movement for the lack of “common platform and common position” and made it clear that he wouldn’t meet with the protesters until and unless such a “common platform” is formulated.

How do they say: be careful what you wish for?  Putin’s demand for “common platform” may well become a self-fulfilled prophecy.  For now, the protesters are just members of the “disgruntled urban class.”  However, should they realize that the only way for them to be heard by the authorities is to organize into bona fide political movement, the Kremlin will face completely different political reality.  The tone of the future dialogue will change, and its topic will go well beyond the results of the parliamentary and presidential elections.

One minor note: Medvedev and Putin should stop insulting protesters by calling them “foam” and suggesting that they are being paid by the West.  If the members of the tandem believe that they look tough, they are mistaken: in fact, they look mean and scared.  Another note: Medvedev should tell his prime minister that the clean and honest presidential election on March 4 is not a New Year gift from Santa Claus.  It’s something that Medvedev, the President of Russia for the next four months, must deliver as part of his constitutional duties.

Happy New Year!

About Eugene Ivanov

Eugene Ivanov is a PMI-certified Innovation Management Consultant who helps organizations increase the efficiency of their internal and external innovation programs.
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14 Responses to The crisis of trust

  1. Alex says:

    A weird form of a New Year post-card you had chosen, but can I sign under it, too?
    Happy New Year!

    If I were “them” – I would be glad that finally – finally!!!- at least some of the Russians stopped being тупой скотиной все еще надеюшейся урвать свой кусок пирога and, instead, they now want to help with running the country. Because – if I were “them” – I would have been terribly scared to be the only one responsible for everything, Because I know that no matter how “clever” I might be, the task is so complex that even one party is not enough to form an optimal strategy, least – one man.
    So i would’ev said: ” Братья и сестры …” and then – by the script. Something like : “you elected us, we represented your voice so far. We did many good things and some not so good things. Now you think the recent elections were fraudulent. I think they were not. But since I am here to do what you want (not what you think you want, but want you really want ) – let’s re-run them – in a year.” And , frankly, I would have jailed anyone who had been proven to receive US money to “support Russian democracy” , I know that it is not “democratic” .

  2. Alex,

    There is only one way to reply to your comment: Amen!

    If I were them too, we could have formed a great tandem:)


    • Let’s take Mark in too. It will be a triumvirate for a change. He will represent CAPUT (the “right”wing) (you will be the center and I am , obviously, the left).. Besides, his past comments about pelmeni & especially, a dialog about the governor, surely qualify him for MENSA club membership.

      • marknesop says:

        I’m so in. I’ve always wanted to be part of a despotic triumvirate, except when I dreamed about it I was always playing lead guitar. Loud.

        I’m still interested in this concept of ordinary people “wanting their voices to be heard” and to “take a greater role in the running of the country”. It’s certainly not the first time I’ve heard those sentiments, and certainly not always Russia. Also, it’s not the first time I’ve heard the triumphant shout “you can’t treat us like cattle”, and again, it wasn’t always Russia.

        Seriously – what do these people envision their future role in the nation’s governance to be? When there’s an election, you go to the polls. You vote. You find a way to go on living if your candidate didn’t win. That, really, is pretty much it.

        Are we to assume that all these shouting people want to form their own political parties? No? Because that’s how you participate in governance. You join a party, and stand for election. Do all those people really have time for that? I know I don’t. I never thought before how downtrodden I am by my government. But I go to the polls. I vote. That’s it. Sometimes I write angry letters to the editor when something winds me up. But I imagine Russians are quite capable of doing that already, and I’m sure it’s allowed.

        So no matter how this shakes out, those people are not likely going to have any greater role in the running of the country than they have right now. Would a Zyuganov government put every decision to a public referendum, and not go forward until every citizen had made his will known? A Yabloko government? A Navalny government? Anyone who thinks so doesn’t understand how government works.

        Most people don’t have the time to run the country – they have families, and they need to work. Most people don’t have the issue knowledge to decide, if they were asked, China shorted us $100 million on their first pipeline contract with us – what do we do? Quite a few probably wouldn’t know what you were talking about. It’s a nice idea that government transparency extends to the government explaining everything until every citizen has a clear picture – but then nothing gets done because you spend all your time explaining.

        I’m oversimplifying, of course, but I’m sure you see what I’m getting at. The protesters don’t really know what they want, but it isn’t a greater role in government, because there isn’t one in a hundred that’s going to go into politics. And aside from voting, that’s the only way citizens are going to make a direct contribution to governance.

        • Alex says:

          Yes, Mark, you are oversimplifying. People, of course, understand that about the only way they can and want to participate in the governance is by appointing a proxy to represent their opinion. They are ready to accept imperfections of the “democratic” averaging of their preferences during a popular vote process in return for the opportunity not to need to think about Chinese swindlers and oil pipelines. What they are not ready to accept – anymore – is the government which, apparently, sees nothing wrong with appointing itself. Apparently, perpetually and without even bothering to ask what people think about this idea. Just like the text says on this photo Well, now they heard – I hope.I am not sure they listened, though.

          BTW, the reaction of the Russian government to the first reports about “deviations” during the vote was telling. Just imagine that some of your colleagues at work tells you that an hour ago a burglar had stolen some of your family silver. Will your first reaction be to start shouting (or Twitting to everyone) that nothing can possibly be stolen? Or will you call the police?

          • OK, guys, you intrigued me with your proposals of a tyrannic democracy. Before that, I was more like a fan of enlightened, moderately violent, monarchy…

            Mark, you put it superbly by saying: “When there’s an election, you go to the polls. You vote. You find a way to go on living if your candidate didn’t win.” The only way to find that “way” is to be sure that your candidate lost in an honest competition. But if you feel that the victory was stolen from him/her, finding such a way becomes problematic.

            I agree that the vast majority of people in Russia aren’t interested in politics. I even agree that the majority of protesters aren’t either. What they want is choice. First, they need elections to show this choice. And what did we see during Medvedev’s presidency? Laws to make these elections less frequent. Plus, elimination of elections of majors in some regions.

            Second, they need political leaders they trust. True, it’s a horrible choice to choose between Zyuganov and Yavlinsky — to say nothing about Kasyanov and Nemtsov –but every time someone tries to create a new party, the Kremlin intervenes, and nothing happens. I know next to nothing about Navalny and would never vote for him today for pretty much any office. But let him have his own damned party, if he wants one. Let me read his party’s charter and program, and then I decide whether he’s a jerk or a genius. And I don’t need Surkov — or his replacement — to assist me.

            Such a choice — originally derived from free market of political ideas — is something we take for granted in Canada, Australia or the US — regardless of whether we personally utilize this choice or not. Let the Russians first have such a choice too, and then ask them to suck it up when their favorite candidate loses.

            Alex, for such a lover of Putin’s quotes like you, something special:

            “I think that for those engaged in politics – like myself today – the most important thing is not a position; the most important thing is people’s trust.”

            Best to both of you,

            • marknesop says:

              I hope you’re exaggerating the Kremlin’s meddling in this. It’s quite true that PARNAS probably should have been allowed to go ahead; their procedural infractions were minor and did not constitute actual fraud, and at least one of the legal challenges was simply made up, if accurate information was posted at A Good Treaty at the time. But seriously – does this actually happen every time there’s an attempt to start up a new political party? If so, it’s foolish; splitting the vote puts United Russia in probably less jeopardy than other challengers. And PARNAS would have been lucky to get one seat; they had no base at all.

              I understood that Medvedev had already pledged to go back to election rather than appointment of governors.

              But this brings us back to the advance polls; long before the election that started such a fuss, more than 50% of the electorate indicated they would vote for ER. They ended up getting less than that, but some of that decline could be attributed to an eleventh-hour “Anyone but ER” blitz by Navalny, and disaffected western journalists like Julia Ioffe who suggested it was pointless to bother voting. How, pray, is ER rigging the advance polls? If a new political party is successfully started and can’t get anywhere, are its supporters going to howl that they were cheated because their candidate didn’t break the threshold (no matter what it is eventually adjusted to), even though advance polling suggested that was exactly what would happen?

              Lastly, I will be far more supportive of broader representation when voters start taking responsibility for the idiots they elect to office. In my personal opinion, there is a good deal of outside pressure on Russian elections to get the candidate of choice elected, just as there was in Yushchenko’s favour in the ramp-up to the Orange Revolution. Yushchenko was a horrible failure for Ukraine, whose situation worsened considerably during his leadership. But you’d be hard put to find anyone in Ukraine today who admitted to voting for him; it just “sort of happened”. All the Orange Revolution boosters left are in the west, and that’s because they remember the giddy days when their campaign worked, and Yushchenko was swept to power; they didn’t have to live in Ukraine under his leadership.

              Russians would have to realize that if they got what they say they want (and a substantial minority of them, at that) and it turned out to precipitate a mess and another round of privatizations that resulted in Russia losing control of its resources, they would have to put up their hands and say, “That was me”.

              • Mark,

                With all due respect to honest attempts to find a “correct” (“consensus”) number describing the extent of the election fraud, I think we’re long past this point. Politics is not about numbers, even not about facts; it’s about perceptions.

                Take the Orange Revolution you mentioned. There was a widespread election fraud on both sides: by the Yushchenko team in Westerns and Central Ukraine and by the Yanukovich team in Eastern Ukraine. The so-called third round of the vote was a total travesty: no one was counting votes at all; the voting precincts were simply writing 100% for “their” candidate. But the Yushchenko/Timoshenko team did better job in painting Yanukovich as a perpetrator. And once Maidan was set, there was no more reason to even discuss the numbers.

                There is a widespread perception among the Russian “disgruntled urban class” that the election results have been falsified. Go now to Moscow and tell the protesters that they’re wasting their time because the pre-election polls closely mirror the official results. Their response may include words that can’t be easily found in common dictionaries:)

                The perception is that the Kremlin has stepped over the line. The Russian voters have demonstrated a lot of patience when watching how the authorities have been bending the rules over the past 5-6 years. They watched the threshold going to 7% and the registration protocol becoming prohibitively restrictive. They watched 47 of the 82 UR election lists headed by the people who had no intentions to seat in the Duma: governors, federal ministers, Medvedev himself. They watched state officials openly campaigning for UR using their official resources. They watched (and still do) Putin having the People’s Front logo on his website, which is explicitly prohibited by the law. And then, they watched the authorities raping their own rules by blatantly fixing the election protocols in favor of UR. This was simply too much.

                And when they hit the streets, Putin and Medvedev called them foam, bandar-logs, condoms and paid agents of the West. Mark, it’s not about numbers anymore, even not about elections. It’s about respect (or lack thereof) that the authorities have for their citizens. It’s about trust (or lack thereof) that the citizens have in their authorities. That’s why I called the post “The crisis of trust,” not “The crisis of vote counting” and not “The crisis of pre-election polling.”


  3. marknesop says:

    С Новым годом, Zhenya!!!

    With the greatest respect, caving in to the protesters and giving them what they “demand” today will only magnify both the size of the demonstrations and the list of demands, until the government has to step down; this was amply demonstrated in Georgia and Ukraine’s colour revolutions, in which the governments offered concessions and the offers were instantly portrayed as desperation and weakness. If opposition parties truly felt there was significant fraud, they should have refused to take up their mandates. They did not, and they do politics for a living; I think they understand a trade-off better than a bunch of protesters.

    Also with the greatest respect and affection, the west is not helping at all with this “crisis of trust” by egging on the demonstrators and making this out to be the groundswell of a revolution. Most western sources make no effort at all to be impartial, and are already clinking glasses to “the end of Putin”. You know that is not likely going to happen, and he will likely remember the rough ride he got from the western press when it comes time to remake foreign policy.

    If ordinary Russians want to get involved in government, fine. Lesson one: the election fraud that got Boris Yeltsin re-elected was orders of magnitude greater than this one, and Yeltsin nearly wrecked the country – where the hell were you then? Angry shouting people waving boorish signs were conspicuous by their complete absence. Are you so sure that if you run this government out of town on a rail, the transitional government that takes its place is not going to wreck the economic stability that is much more fragile than it looks?

    If that’s what the people genuinely want, then that’s what they must have. But I hope they will not expect any sympathy if their passions “to be heard” merely enable the state’s dismemberment, because little will be forthcoming.

    Anyway, although we sometimes disagree, I respect your opinion and value your friendship. I wish you a 2012 filled with prosperity and contentment; you too, Alex.

    • says:

      Happy New Year, Mark!

      “..where the hell were you then?” – growing up, probably – to compensate for the whole generation of “intelligentsia” forced (economically) to emigrate (and then work with … as …).. Have they grew up sufficiently? dunno. Maybe. Looks like some sufficient number did.

  4. И тебя с Новым Годом, Марк!

    Here is my first New Year resolution: the moment you and Alex agree with everything I write, I close this blog:)

    Four points. First, I’m not talking about jerks like Nemtsov and Kasyanov whom the protests gave — quite unfortunately — yet another license for life. I’m talking about the vast majority of the protesters who — for the moment, I agree — only want their VERY SPECIFIC concerns to be addressed. Churov is very small price to pay for public calm, IMHO. Unless, of course, he’s indispensable for “magic” counting the votes on March 4. It’s not the “opposition”, it’s Kremlin who is radicalizing the protest movement by refusing to hear them. And speaking about “color revolutions,” a point can be made that they were eventually successful not because the authorities caved in, but because they were stupid enough not to make “easy” concession right away. Incidentally, in 2005, the Kremlin showed a capability to fix mistakes before they went too far.

    Second, as far as this “crisis” goes, I’m not considering the KPRF, LDPR and JR as bona fide opposition. Instead, they are part of the system trying to preserve their (suddenly increased) loot. Actually, they were skilful enough to use the protests to extract some concessions from the Kremlin (like the second “first vice-speakership” for the Communists), and they are fine for now.

    And here come my third point, where I agree with Alex. Comparing 1996 and 2011 is unfair. Take a look at the profile of the protesters: almost all with college education, employed and well off. This is the middle class that — ironically enough — has been created as a result of Putin’s prosperity and stability. This was absent in 1996. And Putin is making great mistake trying to treat them as lumpen proletariat.

    Short fourth. I don’t care what the “West” writes about Russia at the moment. I have so low expectations for these guys that they consistently meet them:) But I agree with you: the negative perception against Putin may seriously complicate the foreign policy conduct. But then again, it didn’t come as a surprise, and Putin must have expected that.

    Looking forward to a great year of discussions with you guys! Happiness and prosperity to you and yours!


  5. Alexander Mercouris says:

    Dear Eugene,

    This time I have to agree with Mark. Calling on Churov to resign and agreeing to hold new parliamentary elections in a year’s time would be totally destabilising. It would undoubtedly be seen as an admission of fraud, which would discredit the government and the whole political system. So far from amelioratiing the situation making such concessions would actually create a crisis where at present there is none. Unless one actually believes that the extent of fraud was so great as to render the new Duma entirely illegitimate, which I do not, such demands should be resisted. By the way I do not get the impression of an overwhelming groundswell of opinion demanding new elections. As I have repeatedly argued elsewhere one should not be blinded by two demonstrations in Moscow. Outside Moscow the protest movement, such as it was, appears to have largely faded out. By the way I do not know what opinion polls say about the subject. The only one I have seen suggests that only 27% of those polled wanted new elections, which is substantially less than voted for the opposition parties, but as I think I saw this poll on RT I am inclined to distrust it.

    On the subject of Putin’s and Medvedev’s comments about the protesters, these have been moderate in the extreme compared with what some at least of the protesters have been saying about them. Again as I have repeatedly argued elsewhere the government has in my opinion handled the protests sensibly by letting them pass off unhindered, ensuring that they are properly policed and, if accounts I think I read in the Daily Telegraph are true, even arranging through the Mayor’s Office for tea and snacks to be provided to the protesters who demonstrated on 24th December 2011. Overall the government’s response to the protests has been measured and to expect the government to avoid firing the odd verbal potshot in the protesters’ direction seems to me to expect too much.

    • Dear Alexander,

      You and I are struggling over the problem doctors around the world deal with every single day: the “illness-treatment” dichotomy. One approach to this problem would be admitting that the patient is sick and then prescribing a modest dose of medication — to prevent further complications. Another approach could be to say that the patient is absolutely healthy — or at least healthy enough to need no medications at all (“the cure is worse than the disease”).

      Both approaches are valid, and for as long as the disease diagnostics remains more an art than a science, the only way to say which approach is better in this particular case is to wait and see how the patient/disease progresses. So let’s do the same: wait and see how the events in Russia develop.


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