teisipäev, detsember 11, 2007

from estate to corporation

It should be clear to all Russia watchers now, that Vladimir Putin's real role in the state is not really president, nor national leader, nor will it ever truly be just prime minister, should he choose that position for himself.

No. Putin is chairman of the board of Kremlin, Inc. He is not the head of a country, but of a business. In light of this interpretation of his role in Russian politics, it makes sense that he has decided to back Dmitri Medvedev, only 14 years my senior, to be president of the geographically largest country in the world.

For, under the interpretation of Putin's Russia as a corporatist state, Medvedev will certainly be president, but in the sense of a corporate president -- the face of the company, the person you send to conferences and luncheons, the person whose face greets you when you open up the first page of the company's annual report. Putin will remain chairman and CEO. But Medvedev will be the investment-friendly face of the company called the Russian Federation.

Indeed, Putin's decision to select Medvedev to be the next president had an immediate impact on the stock market. It has been interpreted as a decision that favors business, not a popular endorsement from the masses. It should raise the value of Russian stock, given its recent slump in the wake of widely criticized elections.

In light of the history of Russia, I am beginning to see the Putin government as not the successor to the communist government of 1991, and only partially to the Yeltsin government of 1999. Instead, the Russian tricolor reveals for us the philosophy behind the machinations. The Russian flag first flew on the ships of Peter the Great. It was the flag of Tsar Nicholas II, the flag of a system of government saw Russia not as a country, but as one of my professors put it, as a large estate owned by the tsar.

So, in the past 90 years, we have seen Russia move from estate to collective farm and now to corporation. If we Russia watchers wish to understand better our eastern neighbor, perhaps it would make sense not to view it as a country or a nation, but rather as it is operated, as a corporation. And for those of you worrying out there, if you interpret Russia as a corporation, then the term "hostile takeover" takes on a whole new meaning.

27 kommentaari:

Aleks ütles ...

I've come to a conclusion that Western-style open democracy simply cannot work in Russia.

Russians, or consumers of the Kremlin Co., are tired of the messy 1990s of the Yeltsin era, while shareholders of the company are not eager to miss on making a buck.

This is why consumers craved a father figure, who'd make them a proud nation again; who'd say everything's going to be alright, which stems from their own identity crisis on the ruins of the Soviet empire. But finally, they found the father figure in Vladimir Putin, who created democracy with the Russian characteristics, to borrow a term from the Chinese.

Yes, it's managed democracy relying heavily on the control of the masses through the control of the media. But in the Kremlin Co., like in any other corporation, open criticism of the boss can get you fired, suspended. Low-ranking employees rely on "networking," office politics, and a certain degree of loyalty to advice up the corporate ladder in the Western world. In Russia, the same principles apply to politics.

Nice post, Justin.

Max ütles ...

Yes, right on the money. "Corporate state," eh? Well, plasma-jack used the 'f' word last week, and I daresay THIS corporate state meets the definition of fascism:
: any movement, ideology, or attitude that favors dictatorial government, centralized control of private enterprise, repression of all opposition, and extreme nationalism

Giustino ütles ...

Max,

The reason I didn't use the 'f' word is because Putin has created the "mass movement" from his office as president, rather than being part of the "mass movement" and then assuming office (like Mussolini).

Could we invent a new term for the Russian government -- Potemkin fascism, perhaps?

Giustino ütles ...

In Medvedev's own words:

In order to stay on this path, it is not enough to elect a new president who shares this ideology. It is not less important to maintain the efficiency of the team formed by the incumbent president.

That is why I find it extremely important for our country to keep Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin at the most important position in the executive power, at the post of the chairman of the government.

Aleks ütles ...

Chairman of the government is a russkie-speak for the prime minister. Zubkov, for example, is a chairman of the Russian government.

I mean, Latvians too have a specific name for the PM, it's Minister-President, who is not really the president.

So there's nothing out of the ordinary in the title - what Medvedev is saying is that he would appoint Putin to lead the government, i.e. to become the prime minister.

Giustino ütles ...

In eesti speak, the prime minister is the "head minister."

stockholm slender ütles ...

Well, I must say that Mussolini seems a far closer model than Jack Welch. Unless you have a really, really grim view of modern capitalism... But even Mussolini is not a perfect fit - I guess we'll see soon enough into which direction this strange, corrupt mish mash of a system will develope. I wouldn't hold breath for any liberal democratic outcome though.

Giustino ütles ...

It's a government based on a relationship between two men. If they have a falling out, what then?

This is what the Putin fan club refuses to acknowledge. Behind the petrodollars is a system built around one person.

If Putin had a heart attack while practicing his Judo chop, where would Russia be?

Max ütles ...

Giustino said,
Could we invent a new term for the Russian government -- Potemkin fascism, perhaps?


Sure. I wasn't trying to quibble. "A rose by any other name,"etc. "Halval lapsel mitu nime,"and all that...

To me, combining state and corporate power via a nationalistic and increasingly totalitarian approach is classic fascism, regardless of how the 'movement' gained its impetus, by a street revolt or palace revolution. That's why Putin has been driving out all the politically independent corporate leaders in Russia. Anyone who is anyone at or near the levers of power seems to have either a Gazprom or FSB label on his ass. And the supernationalistic trappings and police muscle are quite visibly in place....

Reinumag ütles ...

Anyone wondering why Russia is such a mess politically might want to read Fareed Zakaria's "The future of Liberty" (also available in Estonian, "Vabaduse tulevik") Although published back in 2003, it does a good work explaining developments of states.

Russia, where private property or civil rights have never been very strong, has simply not yet taken the 'perp course' before moving on to democracy.

With Putin providing stability, they might be climbing up on this ladder, albeit slowly (how much more certainty there is for making business, Putin vs Yeltsin time, after all?).

However, it remains questionable to me if Putin and his FSB buddies have a well functioning society in mind when they run Russia. I am afraid that in their dreams the perfect state is something that is good at making those 'hostile takovers' mentioned by Giustino..

Kristopher ütles ...

I would be careful about saying things like "if Putin has a heart attack". What if he has one? The last KGB career man to run the place, Andropov, didn't seem that sick, and then a head cold and he was gone. Could happen to Putin. These guys expose themselves to lead, polonium, curare, all kinds of things in their line of work. When they go, they go suddenly, they're as frail as US presidents in the 1840s.

Anyway, the problem with using the F word about Russia is that then there is no path of retreat. Anyone in their right mind would have to advocate what we didn't do in 1938. And that is a first strike invasion.

It would be hard to round up enough people to march on Moscow, of course, just as marching on Berlin would have lacked broad-based support in 1934.

plasma-jack ütles ...

If we Russia watchers wish to understand better our eastern neighbor, perhaps it would make sense not to view it as a country or a nation, but rather as it is operated, as a corporation.

Rule nr 1 for a Russia watcher: just when you think it all finally makes sense, they do something completely unexpected.

plasma-jack ütles ...

but you have to admire their election system. elections are over 4 months before they started. that's what our parents used to call "plaani ületama".

andyk ütles ...

First of all, there's a very good reason for managed democracy in Russia. Every new state is nationalistic, though this decreases with time. If politics in Russia were free and fair, you would see much much worse people in power. That's what the surveys in Russia say. After all, true democracy is nothing but mob rule. Putin and Co sometimes tap into these feelings, but they do not stoke them, because they realise the danger. Nationalist rhetoric returned to its normal levels after the parliamentary elections.

Secondly, Putin is not omnipotent. Comparing him with Hitler and Stalin is a sad joke. He's merely the arbitrator of the oligarchic system. A godfather. Same as in the 90s, except Yeltsin was too weak. The system in Ukraine is the same, except the oligarchs failed to choose a don. I don't believe for a second this nonsense about him becoming Medvedev's puppet master. The office of the Presiden wields a great deal of power. To neuter it, the constitution must be changed. Had Putin wanted to change the constitution, he would have simply changed the limit on Presidential terms last year instead of jumping through all these hoops.

Giustino ütles ...

If politics in Russia were free and fair, you would see much much worse people in power.

Good point, Andyk. The Palestinian elections come to mind.

Had Putin wanted to change the constitution, he would have simply changed the limit on Presidential terms last year instead of jumping through all these hoops.

That would have been really bad for business. It would have made his supporters among the Western business elite, Schoeder included, less powerful in presenting Putin as the man to do business with in Russia.

But the systemic pressures we are creating here are not good. As much as Europe wants a "good tsar" with which it can do business, most Russian leaders that Europe has taken a chance on have wound up shot by firing squad (Nicholas II), killed with an ice pick (Trotsky), or in commercials for Pizza Hut (Gorbachev).

andyk ütles ...

But it simply doesn't make sense for Medvedev to be "the face". If anything he's supposed to be a good thoughtfull administrator, while Putin is the talking head. Personally I don't find Putin charismatic at all. He has certainly improved his speech and manners, but still often comes across as tongue-tied and stiff. His popularity in Russia is mostly a product of economic fortunes, having Yeltsin as a low low benchmark and plenty of TV airtime. However (and I've seen references to this a number of times), in person he is supposedly very charming. Must be the KGB training. I guess that's how he recruited Schroeder.

I wouldn't worry too much about Russia slipping into faschism. On a personal level, there's already been an idealogical revolution. Finally people's interests have become petty and bourgeois, as they should be. As their wealth increases, they will tend to want to have their interests be better protected and represented. For now they are largely apathetic about politics.

IMO, Medvedev is an OK choice. He's fairly young and doesn't give off those sovok vibes.

Bernard ütles ...

I understand not this term "Russia watcher". Are there people whose job or activity it is to watch Russia? Is it like babysitting or storm-chasing? Where do they meet? Do they sit on benches by the Narva River? And if the situation is so grave, will watching be enough?

plasma-jack ütles ...

Medvedev on past:

A lot of things are explained by history. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the development of democracy in Russia never pleased European observers. They always said we were doing it wrong. But compared with what then happened in the 20th century, everyone later understood that the development of the capitalism at the end of the 19th century, the creation of the State Duma [in 1906], the limits on the monarchy—this was the Russian path towards democracy. That direction was lost, mainly because a small group of citizens [the Bolsheviks] seized power unconstitutionally.
[...]in Russia, too, we also have our own history, and our own path towards the development of democratic values.
[...]
Don't forget that less than 20 years ago, the power of the Communist Party was guaranteed by the constitution, which said that the Party was the "leading and guiding force of Soviet society." And 80% of people still remember this time, while 50% of people simply ceased their development during this time.


http://www.businessweek.com/globalbiz/content/dec2007/gb20071211_494032_page_2.htm

Giustino ütles ...

IMO, Medvedev is an OK choice. He's fairly young and doesn't give off those sovok vibes.

Choice of whom? I guess the reason his presidency was announced so early was that they could begin a media campaign to give him a nice 60-70 percent mandate during "elections" in March?

I understand not this term "Russia watcher". Are there people whose job or activity it is to watch Russia? Is it like babysitting or storm-chasing?

It's like bird watching or train spotting or stamp collecting -- a mostly useless hobby for nerds.

andyk ütles ...

Choice of whom? I guess the reason his presidency was announced so early was that they could begin a media campaign to give him a nice 60-70 percent mandate during "elections" in March?

Spam is better than nothing... Better than a turd sandwich for sure.

It's like bird watching or train spotting or stamp collecting -- a mostly useless hobby for nerds.

Hey, it beats being a royal watcher.

Juan Manuel ütles ...

I think we have reasons to celebrate. At least Putin has appointed a more or less talented person to a key post. Fradkov and Zubkov were both chosen because of being stupid and having no influence.

I was secretely hoping for Medvedev or his former boss Kozak to become presidents, but I thought that the siloviki clan would impose Ivanov or that Putin would appoint Zubkov, who in four years will be two old to candidate for the presidency a second time.

Nobody really knows what is going to happen next. Once he is appointed (=elected) president, Medvedev will be free to name and dismiss Putin as prime minister as he pleases. Of course, Putin relies on his popularity, and Putin and Medvedev are very close friends. But Medvedev does not certainly want to become a puppet.

andyk ütles ...

Of course, Putin relies on his popularity, and Putin and Medvedev are very close friends. But Medvedev does not certainly want to become a puppet.

Shades of the Granita pact.

Blogaddict ütles ...

Worth reading: http://www.exile.ru/articles/detail.php?ARTICLE_ID=15105&IBLOCK_ID=35

andyk ütles ...

I think we have reasons to celebrate. At least Putin has appointed a more or less talented person to a key post.

Not so fast:

http://ruminationsonrussia.wordpress.com/2007/12/12/lessons-from-recent-history/

Giustino ütles ...

The Exile is as blindly opinionated as many of the publications/journalists they bitch about. Actually, they're usually worse,

Blogaddict ütles ...

Youre right. Although I disagree with pretty much everything Ames has to say about anything and upon meeting him would probably look for any excuse to break his nose, I do admire his kick-ass-take-no-prisoners attitude towards everything. A kindred soul he is in some way, I guess. Opposites attract kind of thing. Go figure. I read a lot of his crap and get chuckles. Must be that I am addicted to chuckles.

Giustino ütles ...

Ames should spend less time fighting his imaginary Anne Applebaums and more time exposing the siloviki wars.

I like the word siloviki, by the way. It sounds like a Greek sandwich.