Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Friday, May 15, 2015

Don't pay any attention to the man behind the curtain

Maxim Trudolyubov, a Russian journalist (not a fan of President Putin) who writes for The New York Times thinks that there's some sleight of hand going on in Putin's leadership. Can you find evidence to support or contradict his thesis?

BTW: Do you know what peristroika was?

Putin’s Grudging Perestroika
There is a widespread view in the West that Russia’s aggressive actions in Ukraine and confrontational policies toward the United States and Europe are an attempt to revitalize aspects of its lost Soviet glory days. But if we look at some of the Kremlin’s domestic policy initiatives, we see a country struggling to become less “Soviet” in its actions and reform its decrepit institutions before it’s too late.

Many of the reforms now underway reflect Moscow’s long-overdue recognition that the Russian state simply cannot afford to maintain costly Soviet-designed structures, such as free higher education for all students or an oversized military based on mass mobilization. Though many of the current changes are forced by dire necessity rather than any grand progressive vision, they are reforms nonetheless…

But now that President Vladimir Putin’s patriotic propaganda has managed to distract popular attention from dismal political and economic conditions, the reforms, haphazard though they might be, are going forward. The irony is that the leaders who have been trumpeting Soviet grandeur on the world stage are presiding over its retreat at home…

Today, a few years into the reforms… the overall picture remains bleak. Moscow has been giving regional governments incentives to close inefficient, duplicative and deteriorating hospitals and health centers, trim the medical work force and improve efficiency in exchange for more funds for modern equipment, renovation and better pay for health workers…

Rural areas are bearing the brunt of the disruption. More than 17,000 towns and villages once served by small health clinics now have no medical services at all. Between 2005 and 2013, the number of health centers was cut from 8,249 to 2,085, and the number of rural hospitals plunged from 2,631 to 124…

Maria Gaidar, head of the citizens’ rights group Social Demand, told me. “They want to avoid public commotion. It’s all being done at the regional level so that in case things go wrong one can blame the governors, not the Kremlin.”…

Education reform has also been haphazard… reformers have introduced uniform exams (not unlike America’s SATs), aligned the higher education system with that of Europe, and started to build new research institutions… as Western sanctions and plunging oil revenues sap the national budget, the Kremlin has announced sweeping cuts in funding that will affect tens of thousands of state employees, from teachers to museum guards to theater ushers.

Efforts to revamp the military are arguably the most successful of the government’s reforms. The Kremlin seeks to replace the unwieldy Soviet structure with smaller, more efficient modern armed forces…

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