INSOR Russia: Institute of Contemporary Development
Updated April 18, 2019

No Simple Solutions

December 22, 2011

The future requires more than simple solutions. The authorities, both today’s and tomorrow’s, lack an integrated strategy

The title of INSOR’s report Attaining the Future published last April as it now turns out precisely reflected the main demand of Russian society as expressed in the recent elections: it not only wants to know its future, it also wants to influence how and where the authorities are directing it. The problem here lies in the fact that the authorities neither wanted to nor were able to sense and hear this.

The essence of our position was and remains: if modernization is not merely a figure of speech for political bosses but rather Russia’s historical choice, then the active part of society must believe in and take part in the processes of renewing and humanizing all aspects of economic, social, public and political life – we call this the coalition for modernization. These people are the driving force behind the changes which constitute progress. It is within this coalition that the agenda must be formulated and revised for the authorities, whose legitimacy is wholly derived from free and fair elections.

Recent events have shown that such a coalition is spontaneously formulating, and the authorities are not trying to disrupt this. The present situation is not the result of ill intentions or misfortune. It is the natural outcome of the fact that the political system has become inadequate for the social and economic realities of the present and the challenges of the future. It is not within the scope of this article to discuss whether Russian authorities recognize the possibility of their removal via elections. What is important, however, is the fact that fearing their removability, authorities have with their own hands deprived themselves of instruments for change and accountability. In this worldview – with all its ‘tandems’ and job switching – society is left with but one function – to vote in ‘favor’ to the accompaniment of Nashi’s drumbeat. Voting ‘against’, an organic component of any true democracy, is perceived as practically promoting a ‘new revolution’.   

In late November, 51% of those polled by the Levada Center thought that the elections would be ‘only an imitation of competition while the seats in the Duma would be allocated according to an decision by authorities’, 46% expected ‘manipulations and doctoring’ and 42% supposed the elections would be ‘dirty’. On the night of December 4 and 5, the active portion of the population became further convinced that the irremovability of authorities is one and the same as its immutability in everything that has and continues to anger citizens. 

This is why such solidarity of citizens appeared on Bolotnaya Square. A common interest remains elusive or, more accurately, various citizens want various things. But they clearly know what they do not want: they do not want others to decide for them who should rule the country and toward which ‘bright horizons’ it should be led.

The future requires more than simple solutions. The authorities, both today’s and tomorrow’s, lack an integrated strategy. There are no well conceived responses to the risks and challenges in the economy and social sphere. In particular, there is no link between these solutions and the changing configuration of Russian politics, and the inclusion of the active part of society and, above all else, the middle class in implementing modernization endeavors. All state institutions and mechanisms intended for interaction with society are constructed in the manner of a leadership monologue or imitated pluralism. They need either be fundamentally redefined or created again from scratch.  

We would like to hope that based on this recent experience the authorities have recognized the need for a real re-launch of the mechanisms of political competition as a guarantee of the gradual and sustainable development of the country. The president calls for ‘more decisive steps toward removing the accumulated restrictions concerning political activity’; the prime minister sets out a task ‘to strengthen the political system, improve the foundation of democratic institutions and modernize all aspects of our lives’ and speaks about a gradual return to the election of governors and senators and the simplification of the registration of parties. These are the exact same proposals for which INSOR very recently was forced to endure an onslaught of well-coordinated criticism. But the time for even the very best words not backed by action has already passed. It is time to fill in the details and build roadmaps for structural reforms aimed at creating public political mechanisms for gradual and uninterrupted evolutionary development based on institutions of a qualitatively new level.

There are also no simply solutions for those protested on Bolotnaya Square. It is clear that the protest against the belittling and infringement of citizens’ right to choose should be harnessed for its constructive potential. Thus the coalition for modernization must become a player in the political life of the country, perhaps by acquiring the form of a Russia-wide roundtable which could formulate its own agenda.

We do not rule out that sooner or later the existing parties will find a renewed format or that new ones will appear. And the more natural this process is, the more substantive it will be. On Bolotnaya Square there was in essence a public assessment of the condition of the political institution of elections. Not all conclusions have been made (and not by everyone). Authorities loath to decrease the amplitude of their aggressive narcissism. Roiling passions sometimes even overshadow the substantive issues of March 4. And the lack of discussion of such issues, i.e. future financial sustainability, the investment climate, pension system, science and innovation, the condition of public education and healthcare, corruption and the legal system, etc., raises the risk that authorities will not be obliged subsequently move in the direction sought by society.    

At the same time, the common future of civil society, of business and of the authorities begins today. And our confidence in this future will depend on the depth and intensity of mutually respectful relations, with regard to current and future decisions by the state, among all of those affected. A new era is arriving in Russia, one of the key aspects of which will be society’s open and constructive assessment of that which is hindering its progress. INSOR has been working on this since its inception in 2008, and we remain in this position today.

Igor Yurgens, Yevgeny Gontmakher, Boris Makarenko, Nikita Maslennikov