Latvian daily compares views of authorities, opposition protesters in Russia

Sunday, Feb 12,2012, 7:35:19 PM

Vladimir Putin refuses to engage in public discussions with those who are competing with him over the job of the president - those who the regime have allowed to take part. We know, however, that he regularly publishes articles on his campaign homepage and in newspapers.

In the newspaper Vedomosti, Putin griped about the "systemic corruption" which exists in the country and about the fact that there is no public control over tax and customs services, courts, security institutions and other institutions. One might get the impression that all of these problems have nothing at all to do with his government and can be written off as something caused by the Medvedev presidency. Even more surprising thoughts could be read in Kommersant - Putin called for a political system in which "people can speak the truth." It turns out, too, that the awakening of the middle class from its slumber is "the result of our efforts." And yet it is evident that the central thought in all of these considerations is this - people must not yield before the temptations of "fictitious democracy." In other words, the much-discussed vertical system of power may be gussied up a bit in cosmetic terms, but it will remain firmly in place.

Views of Opposition

It is interesting to compare these thoughts with various ideas that are circulating in Russia's new protest movement and on social networks. One of the most distinguished protesters is the poet and publicist Dmitry Bikov, and he has argued that all of the "vertical systems" which have existed and been forced upon Russia are embodied by "supporters of the empire" and by "the high ranks of the regime." They have always treated their country as if they were aliens - they robbed natural resources, oppressed the people, and choked off talents, initiatives and courage, Bikov has written in Moskovskiye Novosti. He adds that the people of Russia have never been able to adapt to this vertical system of power and have even tried to flee it - something which explains why a Russian emigrant has become such a symbolic image.

And yet Bikov also argues that the main way for the people to save themselves and to protect themselves is to establish "horizontal structures" which are based on families, colleagues and other foundations. True, that is an archaic model with many shortcomings, but it has always ensured survival.

That is why there has always been a vertical system of power along with a "social horizontal" in Russia - one which has found unprecedented opportunities thanks to the age of the Internet and the social networks. This theory is valid at least in one sense - the opposition in Russia has been left outside Parliament and the official arena for political battles, because parties and presidential candidates undesirable to the regime have simply not been registered. The protests which began after the Duma election, however, proved that there is mass opposition. The aforementioned Bikov, as well as Aleksey Navalyniy and others, are not virtual rebels who hide on the Internet. They are real people. They are people of the type whom the regime tends to toss into prison, as happened with Boris Nemtsov. True, the idols of Russia's recovering civil society are not distinguished by much political correctness in the eyes of westerners (Navalyniy has been accused of "xenophobic" statements), but it is a reality which we are going to have to take into account.

Effects in Latvia

The most important issue for us is to make sure that this "different Russia" is more noticed and evaluated in Latvia, where the Kremlin and Putin have been the only points of reference in forming the relationship between the two countries over the past few years. The Kremlin and Putin, of course, are one and the same thing. It is possible to comprehend the fact that United Russia is a political and ideological guiding light for Harmony Center. The same is true of the fact that the way in which official propagandists in Latvia have been depicting the world - that has long since served the interests of certain business and political circles. What is harder to understand is the claim that the vertical system of power in Russia and the man who created it are irreplaceable, because others would be even worse, and there are a few experts who simply do not "see" who could replace Putin. The unanswered question, however, is why they do not "see" this. Did anyone "see" Putin before he ascended to the throne? This unusual logic has not helped at moments when the seemingly irreplaceable "guarantor of stability" suddenly becomes the cause for instability. What is more, a clear view about Russia is not just a foreign policy issue for Latvia. Instead, the issue is the measuring sticks that we use to measure ourselves and others.

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