Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Friday, October 07, 2011

And the precedents are...

Nick Hayes is a history professor at Saint John's University in Minnesota. His expertise is in Russian history and politics. Here is his analysis of the Putin-Medvedev dance. I'd add that what Hayes describes as Russian politics is a classic example of a Potemkin Village.

Putin sends Russia's liberals a message
The last week in Russian politics brought an end to one of the more phony chapters in recent Russian history…

And so the political charade of the Medvedev presidency came to an end.

Putin's announcement did not come as a shock. There were two aspects to the story, however, that were a bit outrageous even by his standards. First of all, Putin told the party meeting that his decision to run for the presidency had been made "several years earlier" in consultation with Medvedev.

If so, what was behind the spinning of the Medvedev story in the past two to three years?…

Putin has planted both his feet firmly in the past. There was an antecedent for Putin's gesture three years ago of stepping down from the presidency after his two constitutionally allotted terms, assuming the nominally secondary position as prime minister, and deferring in public to the authority of the new president. During the 1920s, 1930s and heroic years of WWII, it was not, as we tend to remember, Joseph Stalin who was the head of the Soviet state. In actuality, from 1919 to 1946, the nominal head of the Soviet state was the forgotten Mikhail Kalinin. Stalin served as the head or general secretary of the Communist Party, which was the actual seat of power and controlled the vast apparatus of the state, just as Putin over the past three years controlled the ruling United Russia Party and the Russian state bureaucracy. Medvedev was Putin's Kalinin.

Putin has also reasserted a tradition from the tsars. The autocratic power of the tsars rested in the person of the tsar, not the institutions of the monarchy. Putin orchestrated the Medvedev story to make a mockery of the Russian constitution, its offices and its legislative assembly, or "duma," and to emphasize that his personal power trumped legal institutions.

Putin has also resurrected an ominous symbol from the tsarist past as if to send a message to Russia's liberals that things could be worse. During the past year, Putin has led a highly public campaign to honor Pyotr Stolypin, one of tsarist Russia's most ambiguous political figures who served as tsar Nicholas II's prime minister from 1906 to 1911.

Stolypin oversaw sweeping agricultural reforms that transformed rural Russia and a political crackdown on the left that expedited the prosecution of real and suspected radicals. Executions by public hanging were so commonplace during the Stolypin's regime that the noose earned the nickname of "Stolypin' s necktie." His assassination in 1911 has not deterred Putin from publically identifying with the Stolypin legacy. Putin organized a national campaign to build a monument to Stolypin to commemorate the 100th anniversary of his assassination, which occurred on Sept. 18.

Russia's liberals get the message. They will have at least another 12 years of Putin. However, his regime could be worse. He could have been or could be another Stolypin…

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