June 11, 2009 (the date of publication in Russian)

Alexander Sotnichenko


Recipes of national consolidation: anti-corruption campaign; unity at the face of external threat; restoration of monarchy

Part 1:


External threat helps a nation to consolidate in tough times. For Russia, the niche of the outside adversary is usually filled with the United States of America. However, canalization of the population's sentiment into defensive energy, directed against Washington, seems problematic, as the adversary, under pressure of its own economic problems, may abstain from active political moves at the Russian borders.

The first moves of Barack Obama's administration express rather peaceful intentions. Obama deliberately positions himself as an alternative to the militant Bush. A number of gestures like approval of Georgia's and Ukraine's entry in NATO, and active involvement in Central Asian affairs, don't correspond with the pacifist rhetoric that enabled the new president to fascinate the voters. Rejecting the earlier warmongering approach, Washington opened its diplomatic office on the base of the Swiss embassy in Tehran; at the same time, Obama promised to withdraw troops from Iraq within two years; neither Georgia nor Ukraine eventually received an invitation to NATO. The White House is concentrated on solving its own long-accumulated domestic problems, being naturally interested in a quiet international situation.

The US-Russian relations are likely to remain tense, but this tension is unlikely to aggravate to the extent in which America's image is hostile enough to spark national consolidation against its policy. Washington is broadly regarded not as an enemy, not as an aggressor but rather as a negotiable rival. In order to concentrate negative energy around the image of Washington, the Russian establishment would have to give up associating itself with the West, as it was done by Latin American regimes and Iran. But Russia's ruling class will hardly make this choice.


Corruption has become not only the curse of the contemporary Russian society but and object of careful attention from the powerhouse. It is presently condemned at almost every session of the Russian Government, but the administrative system creates perfect conditions for its persistence. Particular decisions on problems of individual are made by a small executive official, while the federal and regional legislation contains gaps that make these decisions arbitrary, depending on a chosen interpretation of laws. The Criminal Code treats financial crimes mildly, and officials don't fear punishment. It is widely believed that the larger is the bribe, the more immune is the bribe-taker. Kickbacks and bribes are common on all the levers of decision-making, as there are no ethnical obstacles for this practice.

The problem is not new: it was similarly common in the Shah's Iran. Random palliative measures, like selection of particular scapegoats in the federal and regional executive bodies are inefficient, as immunity is generally regarded as a derivate of administrative loyalty.

According to a poll, conducted by All-Russia Public Opinion Institute (VTSIOM) in September 2008, 74% of Russians regarded the extent of corruption as high or very high, while 75% estimated anti-corruption efforts as inefficient. The results of the poll correspond with the estimates of Transparency International that regarded the level of corruption in 2008 as the highest during eight years.

In the conditions of crisis, the federal Government is likely to declare a real war on corruption. Studying the dynamic of public opinion, government analysts cannot help noticing that corruption is becoming the major subject of popular concern. According to VTSIOM, eradication of corruption is desired by the population stronger than the end of the crisis.

A well-advertised campaign of multiplication of scapegoats among executive officials on the level of the federal and regional powers may bring significant political dividends to Kremlin. As far back as in 1994, a popular saying suggested that in case Russia ever gets a national leader, this fame will be deserved by a person who throws then-Property Minister Anatoly Chubais into jail. Since that time, Mr. Chubais successfully changed three posts, presently chairing the board of the Russian Corporation of Nanotechnologies.

For the purpose of maintaining political stability and avoiding massive protests, the Russian establishment may sacrifice a dozen or two executives with odious reputation, regardless from pretexts. Acquiring experience of political oppression, Kremlin would demonstrate its ability to "tighten the screws" to skeptical elements in the society and mass media. Life-air confiscation of illegitimately appropriated money and their distribution for social needs of particular patients, orphans, or pensioners, is likely to bring a highly efficient result.

In case anti-corruption struggle takes a really massive extent, the scale and frequency of economic crimes may really decline for a certain period. However, in case these measures are undertaken in the same legislative and administrative environment, this effect is not going to be durable, as corruptioners are going to be fought by other corruptioners. In a miniature, this phenomenon was already obvious in the particular case of banker Alexei Frenkel, convicted for alleged involvement in the assassination of Central Bank's Deputy Chair Andrey Kozlov. In his series of open letters from the custody, Mr. Frenkel exposed a conglomerate of murky group interests behind his selection for the role of a scapegoat.

Involvement of young political activists from the recently established pro-Government organizations may turn unpredictable implications. For this and other reasons, the campaign is going to be superficial and decorative, and thus unconvincing. Besides, the purge of the bureaucratic apparatus and a temporary improvement of social policy are unlikely to distract the public opinion from the crisis. Meanwhile, the apparatus itself is not going to be changed.


Undoubtedly, the ruling class recognizes necessity of a state ideology. Political alternatives are being elaborated. The political experience of 1990s has proven that simple reproduction of Western recipe is unworkable, and therefore, the basis of the ideology is to be different. At the same time, it has become clear that Russia is never going to be perceived as an equal partner in the EU, NATO or any other Western alliance of nations or institutions. Being humiliated with "begging for favors at the European threshold", the Russian establishment is forced to elaborate an ideological line of its own that would satisfy the population and the upper class, not much irritating Western powers. During over 20 years, such a kind of alternative has been developed in the image satisfying all sides – namely, the Russian Empire before 1917.

"The Russia we lost", a simulacrum comparable to Wagner's old Pagan Germany, the Caliphate of the Talibs, Suleiman the Magnificent's Ottoman Empire for Turks, Rzechpospolita for Poles and other versions of a lost paradise, was raised and nurtured in movies of Stanislav Govorukhin, Nikita Mikhalkov, and finally, by Andrey Kravchuk who poetized Admiral Alexander Kolchak, one of the monarchist leaders of the White Army executed by the Bolsheviks. The population was deliberately fed with pulp fiction portraying a pastoral flourishing land ruthlessly and unexpectedly ruined by the terrorist Bolshevik crowd emerging allegedly from nowhere.

Myths should not be underestimated: after all, European nations were often built on the cinders of ancient myths, and smoldering memories sparked new wars. The myth about international terrorism as a global evil that overshadowed the Evil Empire of the USSR enabled US military industrial corporations to decimate their incomes, and politicians to steer the army into Iraq and Afghanistan. These precedents may serve as an additional pretext for the effort to build new Russian statehood on the legend about "The Russia We Lost".

The myth of a flourishing Russia of 1913 is so multiform that anybody may find a particle of his own in its image. This myth perfectly satisfies the establishment of today, as the political system of late XIX Ц early XX century guaranteed inviolability of private property without questioning the privileges of courtiers.

The hereditary transfer of power protected the establishment from pressure from beneath Ц a mechanism that would be appreciated by today's bureaucrats. A system in which service to the Tsar is above service to the society is also considered suitable for the class of distributors. The monarchy resting on the base of a myth makes the power sacral, thus leaving not many pretexts for debunk its particular functionary. Besides, the ideological vacuum is finally filled, correcting the earlier flaw of the system.

It is noteworthy that traditional Russian autocracy is not considered as a proper model for future. The political establishment is not going to concede a considerable part of influence to the monarch. For the contemporary establishment, monarchy is just an institution invented for buttressing the authority of power and soothing the population.

The monarchic project in Russia would satisfy both Europe and the United States. Restoration of the 1913 monarchy in a constitutional version is a transformation largely addressed to the West. In "old Europe", half of the states are constitutional monarchies, in which kings and queens serve as popular national symbols, heading charity foundations and participating in social events. Scandals in royal families are a popular consumer product. On the one hand, a monarch is used as an authority; on the other hand, he cannot seriously intervene in the political processes and therefore, is not supposed to become a rival.

This symbol has nothing in common with traditional Russian autocracy. However, it is in this only form of monarchic rule that would equally satisfy both the Russian and Western establishment. Georgy Mukhransky-Hohenzollern, the main contender for the throne, is a postgraduate of Oxford with experience of service in EU institutions.

Most of the population is likely to perceive the transformation of the republic into a constitutional monarchy with tolerance. In case the idea is approved by national leaders, the outcome of the national referendum can be predicted already today. It will hardly cure the economy, but the people's attention will be definitely diverted from the crisis.

Unfortunately, the advocates of monarchy rarely view the monarch as a consolidating figure who can be granted the duties of strategic decision-making Ц along with the Divine will. Monarchy is more commonly viewed as an institutional simulacrum acceptable for the West and greeted by the population, a technical means to solve the problem of lack of legitimacy, as well as lack of informational support of the e escape from crisis. Quite possibly, this option will be actively used by the ruling class.

Which model is going to be regarded as preferable by the political establishment of Russia? In case the socio-economic situation deteriorates the situation to an extent inducing the establishment for unpopular policies, all the four mentioned versions may be approbated Ц though none of them being implemented down-the-line. The authorities are going to hold their hand on the people's pulse, accurately following the change of public move in order to avoid replacement of the reaction of recognition of the new with a strong reaction of alienation that could be fatal for the Russian statehood.

(To be continued)

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