Vladimir Putin Set His Sights On Conservatism

January 6, 2014
Vladimir Putin – a pragmatist, and therefore a conservative | Photo: Reuters

The course towards conservatism highlighted strategic interests of Vladimir Putin. The president has had several impressive occasions to present to the society his vision of the ideological foundations of the state. In June, at the Popular Front Congress, where Putin was elected the leader of the movement, a conservative UPF manifesto was adopted, and veterans were asked to formulate an appropriate national ideology. In an interview with the First Channel and The Associated Press, the President once described himself as a pragmatist with a conservative bias: “Conservatism means reliance on traditional values ​​but with a mandatory element, aimed at development.”

In September, the President returned to the subject in his address to the Federal Assembly: “The destruction of traditional values ‘​”from the top down’ not only has negative consequences for the society, but is also fundamentally anti-democratic, as it is being implemented on the basis of some abstract, notional ideas, against the will of the majority that does not embrace the changes taking place, or the proposed revision.” At the same time, Putin referred to the “Philosophy of inequality” by Nikolai Berdyaev, a famous Russian philosopher: “The meaning of conservatism is not that it prevents moving forward and upward. It prevents moving back and down to the chaotic darkness, a return to the primitive state.”

The most obvious demonstration of contemporary Russian conservatism was a major reorganization of state-owned media, supervised by Putin. The RIA Novosti news agency ceased to exist. It now forms the base of “Russia Today, the International News Agency.” This structure has been set up to “promote the state policy and public life in Russia.” A well-known anchorman, Dmitri Kiselyov, who over many years had shown his loyalty to conservatism, was appointed the head of the agency. Sergei Ivanov, the Head of the Presidential Administration, explained the reasons for the reform: more efficient use of limited budgetary funds allocated to state information resources, and improving the efficiency of state-owned media.

Thus, Putin confirmed adherence to the course, with reliance on paternalistic majority dependent on payments from the budget. The President refused to be guided by the interests of the entire nation, that includes about 20 percent of the growing middle class, entrepreneurs, people who are “self-made”. These people do not constitute a voting majority. Moreover, their interests conflict with those of the paternalistic electorate. Putin’s majority shares the idea of increasing the role of the state and increasing role of the budget as an instrument of redistribution. These people have built for themselves a hierarchy of institutions in which the state structures are the most important, and the private business is suspicious and hostile. Institutions of civil society ​​do not grow in this system of values, and the majority, that trusts only the state, does not need them to emerge.

Over the past year almost all the initiatives of the authorities fit in this conservative trend. Take, for example, the NGO/”foreign agents” law, the “anti-gay” law and the “criminal history filter”. Absurdly severe punishment of the “Bolotnaya Case” defendants, and the Greenpeace environmentalists, is another example of this trend.

It seems like the political party reform is one of the things that does not fit this conservative trend. Political structures gained the right to register a party with just 500 members. Over the year the number of parties increased more than tenfold – from 7 to almost 80. However, two things have to be kept in mind. First, the reform was the result of the severe stress the authorities faced in the form of mass protests in December 2011. Second, the logical culmination of the reform would be to give parties the right to make electoral blocs. The incompleteness of the party reform results in creation of dozens of irrelevant structures, that often act like spoilers.

Popularization of conservatism as a political stance renewed after an attempt to amend the text of the Constitution by introducing a provision about Orthodoxy as the national ideology, which in effect would override the provisions of the Basic Law, abolishing state ideology in principle. Orthodoxy was not so lucky, but in case of conservatism it could happen otherwise.