22 May 2023
by Aleksandr Podrabinek
The Russian regime is making political and legislative efforts to construct a state system that is based on a unified ideology and, most important, that reiterates the (from their point of view) successful Soviet model. They long for what was for them the simple and clear Soviet past, where everything was put in ideological cubbyholes, defined and assessed once and for all.
Recreating an ideological state is beyond the Kremlin’s strength today for a rather simple reason: the absence of any well-shaped national idea. Attempts to consolidate society on the basis of patriotism, historical insults, or pride for past victories (real or imagined) run into the impossibility of countering the open information world, as well as people’s reluctance to limit their worldview exclusively to Kremlin mass media propaganda.
If even in the Soviet era the Communists were unable to deal with the influence of Western radio, then what’s there to say about the present day of the Internet and mobile communications.
Nevertheless, the regime is attempting with obtuse zeal to create a semblance of the Soviet system of governance. Their attempts are directed both at international relations and at suppressing civil society. The military actions against neighboring states are returning the country to an atmosphere of hostility toward the whole world and the illusion of a besieged fortress.
Forward to the past
On Tuesday, the State Duma unanimously supported Russia’s denunciation of the 1990 Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe. The treaty introduced limitations on the number of battle tanks, armored vehicles, artillery, strike helicopters, and airplanes. The bill on denouncing the treaty was introduced into the State Duma on 10 May by President Putin. In a clarifying note, he writes quite fairly that the treaty has “lost its connection to reality.” Only he cites as the main reason for this the expansion of NATO, whereas NATO expansion is an obvious reaction to the mounting Russian military threat and real battle actions.
Domestic life, too, is being rearranged Soviet style. Parliamentarism has essentially been reduced to nil, but there remains a democratic omission like the institution of independent election observers. True, these observers decide nothing and can in no way influence the course of elections, but the very fact of their existence flagrantly contradicts Soviet traditions.
An amendment to the law “On basic guarantees of the election rights of citizens” has been introduced in Russia’s State Duma. The amendments take away the rights of authorized parties for candidates and election associations, as well as journalists not accredited from officially registered media, to be present at elections as observers.
The organs of state security—the main instrument of defence for the despotic regime for the last 100 years—are also expanding their capabilities. The FSB [Federal Security Service] has proposed a plan allowing their associates to conduct a search of a location without a court order. ‘In exceptional instances,’ naturally, but Chekists have their own highly unusual notions of exceptionality. According to the text of the amendments, conducting a search without an order is possible ‘“’in instances that cannot suffer delay and might lead to the commission of a serious or very serious crime.’
We are talking about instances ‘that create a threat to the state, military, economic, informational, or ecological security’ of Russia. Designated in detail are who is supposed to get permission for operative actions without a court order from whom, and when. The court itself can be informed later within 24 hours. Simply present it with the fact.
1% from the restaurant check for the so-called SVO [special military operation]
There’s nothing fundamentally new here, even in comparison with the current system, to say nothing of the Soviet one, but the detailed regulation of the mechanism for violating citizen’ constitutional rights attests to the punitive organs’ high readiness to apply unlawful methods under cover of the ‘exceptionality’ of the instance and the protection of state security interests known only to them.
The regime’s traditional aspiration to foist overall responsibility on everyone for the regime’s crimes manifests itself in an untraditional way sometimes. A bill has been introduced to the State Duma that proposes introducing a mandatory tax of 1% on the customer’s check at restaurants, clubs, and bars to finance the so-called special military operation.
The funds obtained will go into the federal budget and from there into Defenders of the Fatherland, a state fund to support the war. The clarifying note asserts that the funds will be channeled into helping participants in military actions and their families. It’s not hard to guess whose pockets in fact the millions collected will line.
It’s not a fact that the law will pass. Restauranteurs and their influential investors, envisioning an exodus of customers, may protest. Far from everyone will agree to support the war against Ukraine with their ‘one percent.’
Translated by Marian Schwartz