Staunton, July 14 – Many Russians and even more people in the West view the series of laws the Duma has passed over the last year banning one or another activity as an embarrassment for Moscow, but in fact, these bans work to the benefit of Vladimir Putin and his regime, according to Stanislav Belkovsky.
In a commentary on Moskovsky Komsomolets, Belkovsky says that many assume that the Duma deputies are simply playing to their constituencies without a thought to the interests of the Kremlin or of Putin, but in fact what they are doing, as outrageous as this may seem, is helping the Russian leader in five ways.
First of all, he writes, any ban and especially an extreme one gives the Kremlin the opportunity to look good by reducing its severity. Not only do some remember the concessions more than they remember the original ban, but many are happy to get half of what they wanted in the first place.
Such bans also give the top leader a chance to change things when conditions change and thus look like a leader or to use the ban to organize economic opportunities for his loyalists by allowing them to do certain things that the original ban precluded but that changes might allow.
Second, when the bans are partially lifted, not only does the top leader get the credit for doing so, but the psychological climate in society improves at least for a time. People will say it appears that after some bad things, the government is doing better ones.
Third, Belkovsky says, all bans represent not only a restriction but a stimulus. A ban on smoking in public places, for instance, forces people to smoke at home and thus be less subject to social pressures but has no impact on the among of cigarettes they will in fact purchase. If anything, they may purchase more out of fear of greater restrictions in the future.
Fourth, banning something has the effect of giving it a kind of sacred function for many. Those in favor of the ban see it in almost religious terms and their opponents view the ban itself as totally unacceptable in almost transcendental ways. That has the effect, possibly a desired one, of discrediting both groups but especially the latter.
And fifth, the Moscow commentator says, Russians view bans as a making the banned item for valuable and as a challenge to their ability to work around. Consequently, the imposition of some bans has the effect of leading Russians to become more active in the search for ways around the ban.
In short, he says, “the greater the number of bans, the greater the number of causes and occasions for individual and collective mobilization of Russians,” exactly the opposite of what the bans would seem to mean and perhaps also just the opposite of what those who back the demands really hope for.