Staunton, July 17 – Most analysts assume that Vladimir Putin and his system are strengthened by every recrudescence of Soviet values, but that may not be true, according to the editors of “Nezavisimaya gazeta,” who point to the return of “uravnilovka” – the notion that no one should be much richer than anyone else – as an obvious exception.
In a lead article today, they point out that today, 47 percent of Russians, the latest Levada Center poll finds, are against millionaires because they “do not believe that in Russia is it possible to earn that much money legally.” And “eight percent are against such incomes even if they are earned legitimately” (ng.ru/editorial/2015-07-17/2_red.html).
In 1996, the editors continue, the shares of Russians expressing these views were lower. Only 33 percent then said that you could not become a millionaire in Russia except by dishonest means, and only seven percent were opposed to such wealth as such. Eighteen percent then said they had “nothing against those who earn millions.” Now, only 11 percent share that view.
The paper suggests that this comparison with the 1990s is significant. In the 1990s, people lived less well than today, but despite that “according to the findings of sociologists, hostility to the wealthy was not as much expressed then as it is now.”
This may reflect the fact that in the 1990s, “people still believed in the possibility of enrichment but have gradually lost this faith.” Or it may point to the fact that the mechanisms of enrichment haven’t changed, and they are increasingly viewed as unjust. But despite this, support for the powers that be has increased.
That might appear to be “a paradox,” the editors say, but “everything is explicable. In the 1990s, however difficult they were, the way out of the uneviable situation was seen in private initiative and entrepreneurialism.” Consequently, “a wealthy individual” was a model, someone to emulate rather than to disdain.
This changed, “Nezavisimaya gazeta” suggests, “when the state gained the chance to provide and extend social guarantees” and when the authorities exploited “leftist” attitudes by employing “anti-oligarchic and anti-privatization rhetoric,” when the political authorities suggested they had controlled the oligarchs of the 1990s with taxes, jail or exile.
Because of the way in which government-controlled media report, most Russians “know far less about the new billionaires than they did about Berezovsky, Abramovich or Khodorkovsky,” and thus, “the popularity of the authorities is explained by the fact that in the eyes of the dependent electorate, [the authorities] have restored justice.”
Justice in this new paradigm is viewed not as providing mechanisms for enrichment but rather “as pressure on the wealthy” and support for those less well off. “Guarantees have become the basic value and goal, including for young people,” the editors say, and if they meet with the president, they talk about regulation or protection rather than opportunities.
In the short and medium term, this may secure support for the Putin system as long as it is able to maintain its image as a defender of the population against the wealthy, as “Nezavisimaya gazeta” suggests. But in the longer term, this return of “uravnilovka” is very much a threat to that system and to Putin personally.
On the one hand, many of his closest supporters are that precisely because he has allowed them to enrich themselves. Any steps which threaten their opportunities would cost him their backing. And on the other, Russians are likely to recognize that no one has enriched himself more than Putin personally, a recognition that will cost him support and possibly more than that.