Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Thanks, but no thanks

Why would the beneficiaries of Russia's economy protest its politics? That doesn't happen in other countries, does it?

Boosted by Putin, Russia’s Middle Class Turns on Him
Here is the rub for Vladimir V. Putin: The people who stood outside the Kremlin on Saturday, chanting epithets directed at him, are the ones who have prospered greatly during his 12 years in power.

They were well traveled and well mannered; they wore hipster glasses. They were wonky (some held aloft graphs showing statistical deviations that they said proved election fraud). In short, they were young urban professionals, a group that benefited handsomely from Moscow’s skyrocketing real estate market and the trickle-down effect of the nation’s oil wealth…

It is a paradox, but one that has been documented by social scientists: the residents of Moscow and other large cities tend to express greater frustration with Prime Minister Putin as his government has helped make them wealthier. One explanation is the high level of public corruption here, which threatens new personal wealth. A second is a phenomenon seen in Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s Chile, that economic growth can inadvertently undermine autocratic rule by creating an urban professional class that clamors for new political rights…

It must be frustrating for Mr. Putin that those now protesting have enjoyed growing wealth while he has been the country’s predominant figure, first as president and now as prime minister. From 2000, the year he assumed the presidency, until 2008, wages, adjusted for inflation, grew at an average of nearly 15 percent a year. But while salaries are still rising, they are increasing much more slowly today — at an average of 1.3 percent per year since the onset of the global economic crisis in 2008, according to data compiled by Citibank.

And as they become wealthier, residents of cities are prone to venting their frustration with the political system…

If there was a single catalyst to the recent events, it was probably Mr. Putin’s unilateral announcement in September that he would run again for the presidency, in effect swapping places with Mr. Medvedev. Some Russians now snidely refer to this as “rokirovka” — the Russian word for castling in chess, the move in which a rook and the king are moved at the same time, to shelter the king…

In addition to the New York Times report, Dr. Thomas Remington, Goodrich C. White Professor of Political Science at Emory University, wrote in The Monkey Cage blog about the Russian middle class.

If you assign this to students, be sure to point out the irony and sarcasm in parts of Remington's commentary.

Russia: Middle Class Rising
Press reports in both Russia and the US of the large-scale protests against election fraud in Moscow and other large cities are characterizing this movement as the political mobilization of the Russian “middle class.”…

Kremlin [insider] Vladislav Surkov understands this point well. Earlier this year he attempted to breathe life into the crumbling Right Cause party by recruiting oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov to head it. But Prokhorov’s refusal to limit his electoral ambitions to the small share of the vote Surkov was willing to concede to him wrecked the project. A few days ago, after the fiasco of the Duma election—the poor official results for United Russia, the widespread and well-documented use of ballot-stuffing, manipulation of absentee voting certificates, and after-hours revisions of local vote tallies—Surkov again pointed out that Russia needs a political party for the “disgruntled urban communities” that believe in quaint ideas of political rights and fair elections…

But are we seeing the rise of the middle class?… Big cities contain clusters of educated, internet-savvy, self-aware, and politically engaged citizens. As if testing the classic Verba-Schlozman-Brady model of political participation, they have the grievances to motivate their involvement in civic protest (“because they want to”), they have the ability to communicate (“because they can”), and they summon one another to turn out for rallies and collective acts of protest (“because someone asked them”).

There is a proto-middle class in Russia, but it is divided straight down the middle between those in the private sector and those in the budget [public] sector. The recent election protests are not the revolt of the middle class, but a result of the gradual establishment of a real civil society with growing self-confidence and an awareness of its rights that is taking on board the opportunities for mobilization granted by the new communications technologies.

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