Despite the size of its audience, the station cannot pretend to have much sway over Russian society, which is, in the main, deeply apolitical and immensely more supportive of Putin than it ever was of Yeltsin or Gorbachev. Masha Lipman calls this Putin-era phenomenon the country’s “non-participation pact”: the public agrees not to meddle in politics in exchange for the chance to take part in the consumer benefits of the Russian energy boom.I never quite bought Lipman’s theory.
And now that the market and petro-rubles are a-tumbling despite the cushion of Russia's surplus, how does the "non-participation pact" hold up? Are dissatisfied Russian masses hitting the streets?
The always convoluted and occasionally insightful Boris Kagarlitsky says "nope" in the Moscow Times, while stubbornly trying to find a silver lining:
Russians have been largely silent on the country's financial crisis. This is not so much tacit consent as it is concealed anger. Whatever it is, Russians haven't voiced their concerns. Attempts by opposition groups to rally the masses on Oct. 25 by organizing protests on the so-called Day of Outrage were a resounding failure. The event's organizers showed up on the appointed day, but the public stayed home…But as Eric Hobsbawm recently reminded us on the BBC, the European Left certainly didn’t benefit from the Depression of the 1930s, despite the fact that Marxist analyses seemed more cogent than ever. And with Russia's entrenched and possibly-rising nationalistic mood, I don’t think we should imagine that the boat of imaginary post-Soviet opposition will be setting sail anytime soon. It's just as likely that something more ominous is on the horizon.
When the flag-toting political activists show up at these protests, mainstream Russians felt uncomfortable in their presence.
But despite their attempts to avoid politics like the plague, leaders of these social groups repeatedly discover that they cannot fully escape it, however hard they try. Their challenge is not how to remain outside of politics, but how to formulate policies that can better promote their own interests in political and organizational circles. This kind of political savvy only comes with experience, however, and experience comes from making a long string of painful but edifying errors.
Now, all that is left is to hope that the crisis will offer useful, albeit painful, lessons. It will force society and the political system to initiate fundamental changes -- whether they want to or not.
(Another hat tip to shirts vs. skins for bringing Hobsbawm’s interview to my attention.)