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Russia May 28, 2008
 
Nemtsov’s White Paper: Bombshell or Dud?
By Sean Guillory Browse author Email
 
Page 2 of 4
 

The ubiquity of corruption in the Russian system is only one of the many consequences of Putin’s rule. To demonstrate this, Nemtsov and Milov arm themselves with a litany of statistics, examples, and facts to show that the Russian military, the social welfare system, demographics, infrastructure, judiciary, foreign policy, modernization, and economy have pushed Russia to the brink of collapse. There is no need to retell their presentation. Needless to say, the 12 chapters that make up this report shouldn’t shock anyone who pays attention to Russian politics. You can read about it almost everyday in the Russian press. All Nemtsov and Milov have done is provide a handy primer.

While I don’t dispute Nemtsov and Milov’s facts, the only thing I found shocking about Putin – The Results was that I was able to slog through its seventy odd pages. Nemtsov and Milov’s text is no literary gem. Nor is it a masterpiece of social analysis. The main argument is so redundant, repetitive, and predictable that the reader gets the point around page two. Ultimately, the text fails to do what it sets out to do: to mobilize the reader into action. On the one hand, the tedious prose anesthetizes the reader to its political shock value. On the other, the authors’ effort to paint themselves as members of the collective “we,” who are hell bent on exposing Putin’s “authoritarian-criminal regime” comes across strained, even at times hollow. After all, Nemtsov’s party SPS backed Putin’s rise to power in 2000, while Milov helped draft Putin’s energy policies; moreover, Nemtsov already had a chance in government, and in that capacity he oversaw the total collapse of the Russian economy. Now he’s saying that Putin is bad because…he might trigger the same thing that Nemtsov triggered?

Make no mistake, Nemstov and Milov may strive to connect with the average Russian with statements like “Russia is witnessing the rapid enrichment of a new and more powerful Putin oligarch—at your expense and mine,” but their class allegiances come out loud and clear throughout. They are partisans of the Russian middle class, specifically the urban, semi-intellectual, semi-politically engaged class. This ephemeral Russian middle class are the heroes of the story. The poor “drink more” and the wealthy live the “high life.” In contrast, the middle class is the archetype of healthy and productive living. “Moderate use of alcohol and a healthy lifestyle in general,” they write, “is the way of the middle class.”

The best example of their classism comes through in their views on pronatalism. They knock Putin’s policy to increase child birth as only enticing the poor to procreate. “Who is going to be encouraged to have a child because of a ‘maternal grant’ of 250,000 rubles?” they ask. “Obviously the very poor, lumpenized section of society.” Indeed, for them “Russia does not need to increase the numbers of its lumpen-proletarians. It needs to stimulate births in the active sections of society, in the middle class” (emphasis mine).

What it boils down to is this: Nemtsov and Milov are elitist liberals through and through. Forget their idolization of market Bolshevism. Forget their anti-Putinism. Forget their fetishism of democracy. Their true character comes through in language which paints “writing down mortgage debt” for the middle class as a “clever means” to stimulate childbirth, while measures for the “lumpen-proletariat” are merely “handouts.” Luckily for them, Russia’s middle class is growing rapidly. Some analysts say that the middle class is around 25 percent of the population. This is up from a mere 7 percent in 2001. Unfortunately for them, this new middle class of Russians owes nothing to Nemtsov and Milov and everything to Putin.


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