Rising Heresy among the Russian liberal opposition


Fort Russ, Feb. 21st, 2017
Original post by LJ-Fritzmorgen (Oleg Makarenko), a well-known Russian blogger and analyst: LINK
Translated by Tatzhit

From the translator:
I think this text captures quite well the subtle shifts that have been happening in the Russian political life for some time now, but were hugely accelerated by the Ukrainian conflict. In short, most of the “pro-Western” opposition have managed to completely discredit themselves, and are now being replaced by new actors with better manners and calmer rhetoric.


Dr. Shulman has used a relatively new term to describe the Russian government – “a hybrid regime”. This caused widespread indignation among the rest of the liberal opposition: they are only prepared to accept tougher definitions, such as “autocracy” or “totalitarian regime.” In fact, if the “old guard” of the opposition had any power, they would have probably burned Ms. Shulman at the stake as a heretic and apostate. Here is a quote that captures the essence of “Shulman’s Heresy”:

Interviewer – How is Vladimir Putin’s regime different from that of Joseph Stalin?

Dr. Shulman – In absolutely every way! There are no similarities whatsoever, except for [state] propagandists attempting to hint at some similarity, to appease Soviet nostalgia in society. The nostalgia which was also largely created via propaganda, by the way.

[Dr. Shulman herself – ed.]

Do you see the implications of this new heresy? If Putin’s government is different from Stalin’s in “absolutely every way”, then overthrowing it by any means necessary is no longer needed and perhaps even harmful. On the contrary, opposition should probably work in the legal field, trying to slowly improve government institutions and make them more “democratic”.

As you can see, this slight change in rhetoric about the Russian “regime”, which seems insignificant from our “patriotic” viewpoint, actually means a complete reversal of strategy for the opposition.

The hardliners who stubbornly stick to definitions like [“dictatorial” or “totalitarian”] want to continue the strategy of working as a mouthpiece of the US State Department to earn American grant funding. But for the new “moderate opposition”, those who prefer to use softer rhetoric and definitions like “hybrid regime”, would rather occupy the ecological niche of “mild opposition integrated into political system”, and get their money from participating in internal Russian politics.

This is mostly because it’s becoming more and more obvious that the strategy of working as a “US State Dept mouthpiece” is not sustainable. The grant money was drying up even under Obama,  with the arrival of Trump funding will likely be cut further, plus the Russian public has become almost completely desensitized to the increasingly feverish rhetoric of the radical liberals. On the other hand, the “mild official opposition” strategy looks very promising.

First of all, as we can see in some other countries, civilized and tame criticism of the authorities is a stable and comfortable job. And in addition to the doors of the American embassy, ​​this aproach also opens the doors of the largest TV studios. Second, while the radical opposition is only useful to the State Department, the moderate critics can be used in internal disputes by local political parties and business structures, [for a fee of course]. Finally, most importantly, the “moderate liberal opposition” niche is virtually free for now – for many reasons, including the fact that one needs to be intelligent and realistic to produce convincing, constructive criticism, and many radical “activists” lack those qualities.

Now you understand why the remarks of Ms Schulman about “hybrid regime” caused such an outcry. A whole generation of activists who are accustomed to simply shouting “insert_name_here is a dictator” and “human rights in, corruption out” are on the verge of becoming unemployed. Because anyone can parrot propaganda memes, but holding intelligent conversations and inventing terms like “hybrid regime” is not within the abilities of our current “liberal opposition” (apart from Dr. Shulman and a few intellectuals).

Moreover, even as our mass media and officials are, as usual, completely ignoring the shrill cries of the “liberal radicals”, they are discussing Dr. Shulman and her “hybrid regime” theory. Even in [normally quiet and non-political] winter season, and despite the fact that the idea is not new – Ms. Shulman used the term as early as 2014.

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LJ-Fritzmorgen (Oleg Makarenko) comment:

Now, let’s see what the fuss with “hybrid regimes” really is about. If I understand the ideas of ​​Catherine Shulman correctly, a “hybrid regime” is a system of government in which the “democratic” facade hides a group of autocrats robbing the country blind:


This definition perhaps works for some (if not all) of the Western democracies, but it’s not too suitable for Russia. It’s rather simple to refute Ms. Shulman’s arguments – we just need to abandon abstract philosophical discussions and turn to facts and statistics.

Hard facts are as follows:

1. From 2000 to 2015, Russia’s GDP (PPP) has increased 3.5 fold, to $ 1 trillion to $ 3.5 trillion. This is according to the World Bank and the CIA.


2. Wages and pensions in Russia have also increased significantly during this period. In order to avoid discussing inflation and ruble exchange rate fluctuations, we can calculate the average salary and the average pension in terms of a tangible global good, say a liter of gasoline. And, measured in liters of gas, pensions and salaries have grown fivefold (!). (Western countries, by the way, can not boast anything similar – salaries and pensions have been largely stagnant in the 2000-2015 time period).

3. Russia has reunified with Crimea.

If Russia was really ruled by a “hybrid regime”, and if our government was thinking only of their [Swiss] bank accounts and staying on the good side United States, Crimean reunification would be impossible.
Just like GDP growth and average wage increases would be absent or very low – because everything valuable would be stolen.

And no, this can’t all be explained away by increasing oil prices. The oil prices crashed to record lows some time ago, but that didn’t cause a corresponding crash for Russia and Russians.

So, the Russian government can only be called a “hybrid regime” in abstract speeches – specific facts quickly refute these claims. Still, it’s good to see that our opposition is transitioning from the insane shouting about “totalitarian, genocidal junta” to more grown-up and reasonable rhetoric.

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