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Political scientists look back on first 100 days of Putin’s presidency

August 14, 2012, 16:13 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

Today is the 100th day of Vladimir Putin’s third presidency. Russian political scientists say that the policy of democratization is continuing and, despite certain “tightening of screws,” the authorities will manage to refrain from openly repressive measures against so-called dissenters. However, in their opinion, the middle class, which accounts for a quarter to one-third of the country’s population, emphatically disagrees to exist in the political and economic system that the president has created and is trying to preserve. Society is split into the active minority and the tacit majority, and the authorities will have to conduct a dialogue with both parts, which have been drifting ever further apart.

“Possibly, the sole really important piece of news over the first 100 days of Putin’s presidency is nothing fundamentally new has been said or done,” political scientist Leonid Radzikhovsky told the daily Rossiiskaya Gazeta. “There has been no resetting. We have seen no Putin version 2.0. All talk (and screams!) about a “crackdown” has in practice been confined to cautious mending of holes – a stitch to the left, a stitch to the right. We have before us the very same president we all know very well. The very same great doser and great balancer.”

The director of the Applied Politics Institute, Olga Kryshtanovskaya, is quoted by the electronic daily VZGLYAD as saying the logic of Putin’s action points towards democratization. “A colossal number of measures was outlined in the pre-election articles. Democratic institutions continue to be developed. The election legislation is being polished. The direct elections of governors are back. The multi-party system has been restored. And even United Russia has carried out internal democratization,” Kryshtanovskaya said.

The political scientist believes that society has developed a split. “There is the quiet majority, which is for Putin. It does not fight for him, but it offers sluggish support - not so much for him personally as for the status quo. And there is the raging minority of the opposition, which stops at nothing in a bid to do away with Putin,” she speculated.

Against this background, Kryshtanovskaya believes, the signing of the laws on rallies, NGOs and slander are Putin’s most important steps. “There is a string of very important and rather tough laws, which are expected to stem the revolutionary process,” she said.

The general director of the Center for Political Information, Alexey Mukhin, is certain, that “the country and the political system will steer clear of openly repressive measures against the so-called dissenters and protesters.” “Almost everybody had suspected Vladimir Putin would do this sort of thing. It has happened otherwise. That’s nakedly clear. The policy towards relative liberalization has been largely preserved,” he believes.

An expert at the Institute of Humanitarian and Political Research, Vladimir Slatinov, is quoted by the portal NEWSru.com as saying the fears about the “tightening of crews” have come true.

He recalled that soon after Medvedev’s “liberal” reforms there followed measures to harshen a number of laws, which obviously looks like a political counter-reform. Besides, the climate in the country is more confrontational, the political scientist said.

“In Russia there has emerged a mature middle class, ever more aware of its interests, which is categorically reluctant to exist in the political system that Vladimir Putin has been trying to preserve,” Slatinov said. In his opinion, while the Putin majority is still a fact of life, about 25-30 percent of Russians “demand fundamental political change,” and the format of the proposed political reform is not exactly what these people would like to see.

The attempts to establish contact with the middle class have failed, senior lecturer on political theory at the MGIMO University, Kirill Koktysh, has told the RBC Daily. “The previous addressee – the middle class that was the authorities’ prime target audience early last decade, has obviously fallen into disfavor. The authorities demonstratively ignore it.”

“The one hundred days that have elapsed since Vladimir Putin’s inauguration, were neither senseless nor repressive. His purpose is to stabilize the political system after the election cycle and to prepare the country for a new quality of government.”

The protest movement was a challenge, to which Putin offered a clear, certain and stern answer: the non-systemic opposition is a strange phenomenon, which emerged after a series of restrictive bills in the middle of last decade must cease to exist. Everyone who has something to say in the broad sense should have this opportunity in any form – from individual pickets to mass rallies, from municipal assemblies to the State Duma. If “each” citizen, organization or party observes the legally established procedures, nobody and nothing should prevent them from doing so.

In response to this strategy by the authorities the “irreconcilables” started to play without rules, with the net effect of a qualitatively new, “Bolshevist” style protest. Insufficient resources, first and foremost, a weak electoral base, is the real reason (in contrast to the declared one) why the radicals prefer to stay outside the system. “The normalization pact” (the package of laws on rallies, on the NGOs, on the control of the Internet and on slander the State Duma adopted recently), according to the political scientist, is not an act of intimidation against the whole political class. It is against the “Bolsheviks,” who seek the illegal seizure of power.

“In relation to active society Putin has been conducting a moderate systemic policy. He clearly distinguishes between society that requires change, and the radicals that undermine stability,” says political scientist Sergei Markov in the daily Moskovsky Komsomolets. “To that part of society which wishes to have a greater say in politics he offers laws on the direct elections of governors, simpler registration of political parties, a triple increase in the financing of the NGOs, and a role for the public in controlling fair elections. And those who dream of seizing the streets and showing the weakness of the authorities will lose freedom as a result of firm demands by the authorities to observe law and order. If you hit a police, like some did on May 6 – go to a prison cell. If you indulge in politics on foreign money – go and have yourself registered as a foreign agent.”

“This binary policy towards society will go on. More opportunities and freedom for active patriots and strict laws for foreign agents and radicals,” said Markov. “The authorities demonstrate the political will and thereby consolidate the elite and society.”

The Pussy Riot affair has proved a major test for Putin, the political scientist remarks. Society once again was split into active minority and tacit moral majority. “Apparently, for years to come the authorities will have to pursue two lines in the dialogue with both parts of society, which keep drifting further away from each other on many issues,” Markov said.

Moscow, August 14