A Soviet propaganda poster. The Russian-language slogan on the left says: "All power to the Soviets!" The slogan on the right says: "We will achieve victory of Communist labor!"
Most Russians have associate democracy with the problems of the 1990s, but this is not the only reason why so many of them are prepared not only to accept Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian order but to try to “associate themselves as close as possible with the authorities,” according to Kseniya Kirillova.
In an essay posted on Radio Liberty’s portal yesterday, she writes that there are three other even more important reasons why this is so and concludes that until the economic situation of the majority of Russians becomes unbearable, it will continue to be so well into the future.
The first of these, Kirillova suggests, is that a system of arrangements allowing the individual to be “relatively independent from the state” has not emerged in Russia. “Even in the relatively free 1990s, there did not arise real inviolability of private property, independent courts [or] a culture of respect for the individual.”
Instead, and in marked contrast to conditions in Western democracies, Russians remained as they had been under communism at risk of arbitrary and unpredictable actions by the authorities. “Even the most ‘patriotic’ Russia in the depths of his soul understands that in his country anything can happen to anyone.”
Under those conditions, she writes, “the only possibility (although even that is not a guarantee) to avoid this is loyalty to the state.” The average Russian simply “does not see any other means of defense of himself.”
The second reason for this acceptance and support of authoritarianism, Kirillova argues, is that when a Russian encounters corruption, “it is practically impossible for him to defend his interests by ordinary legal means. But if he engages in active protest, then he will automatically find himself in the ranks of ‘enemies and traitors.’”
Thus, the Russian authorities “do not leave people chances for compromise.” Instead, the Russian citizen is faced with the choice: “’all or nothing.’ Either you must unqualifiedly accept everything that the authorities do … or you will automatically become an enemy and a traitor” with all the negative consequences of that.
And the third factor, Kirillova suggests, is this: “Russian propaganda for several years already has actively insists that any dissatisfaction with the authorities will end in bloodshed.” By promoting and then exploiting this fear, Putin has linked “the guarantee of stability to his person.”
As a result, many Russians accept the following train of thought: “Putin is the only chance to preserve the normal existence of the country in extreme conditions,” with the notion that the country is in these extreme conditions being created by “militarized propaganda … about foreign enemies. Thus, for many, “Putin is the only one who can save the country.”
“The creation of the illusion of ‘a besieged fortress’” also has the effect of underscoring the conviction of ordinary Russians that they have no ability “to influence major events;” and thus, “the only way to maintain an internal emotion tie with Russia, many see in support of the course being carried out by the authorities.”
As a consequence, Kirillova concludes, “as long as economic problems do not become truly catastrophic, the majority of Russians will hold on to the appearance of state defense and propaganda surrogates to the last, and this means that they will continue to show their loyalty to those in power.”