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Elites change but the regime will live on

Authoritarianism has a future in Russia. In the next two decades, the 1980s generation will start to join the higher echelons of Russian society. But the situation is such that the change of generation of the elites will have little effect on the transformation of the political regime. Or so the authors of research on “The Russian elite in 2020” have concluded

The protests of 2011-2012 gave the impression that among the younger generation there is the potential for major political and economic change. But to what extent do people, now aged 30 or less, really have new values which can bring about democratic change? Would they, if they came to power be capable of restructuring the political regime?

In a large scale research project “the Russian elite in 2020”, experts from the Laboratory for Comparative Social Research (LCSR) and American academics Ronald Inglehart and William Zimmerman attempt to answer these and other questions.

The empirical basis of the research is material gathered from 6 waves of a survey by William Zimmerman, data from Richard Rose and the Russian Public Opinion Research Centre’s (VTsIOM) joint project “New Russia Barometer” [Rose 1992-2009] and data from six waves of the World Value Survey, 1981-2008. The elites were represented in the survey by directors of big companies, chief editors of media outlets and high-ranking military officers.

On course for authoritarianism

The research results show that a split in the elites is unlikely in spite of the mood for protest. We can identify general trends, currently prevalent moods among the political leaders. There is a lowering of geopolitical ambitions and a focus on internal problems, a tendency to an authoritarian style of government and more concern for economic rather than political or ideological questions. All these indicate that the younger generation, by inertia and the strength of Russian idiosyncrasies will continue on the same trajectory.

This doesn’t mean that the elites in Russia are not prepared to consider new views. On the contrary, research results show a trend among the elites towards significant polarisation. The authors found two ideologically opposite groups forming – technocrat-authoritarians and liberal-democrats whose differences of opinion get increasingly stronger as time passes. But not on the side of democracy. In the near future it is more likely the technocrats will have the upper hand. And the research shows clearly why.

One of the main reasons is hidden in the value system of the country and the elites. While in many developed countries, there is a movement away from materialist values to post-materialism, in Russia this process is happening much more slowly and painfully. Eduard Ponarin, head of the LCSR explained this at a conference at VTsIOM.

The more uncertainty there is in the social sphere about survival and security, the stronger the tendency towards material values and, correspondingly, people are less concerned about self-expression, ecology, democracy, human rights, etc.

We need to grow a lot to reach democracy

This research shows the elites share Russia’s predominant value system. Using data from Zimmerman’s surveys, the authors concluded, for example, that the elites are less bothered about environmental pollution than about the growth of economic inequality, inter-ethnic conflicts, price increases and inflation which, of the identified threats to the country’s stability, worry the elites the most.

The elites are troubled by other threats – how governable the country is and the dependence of the economy on gas and oil. The conclusions of the report draw attention to the the fact that there is no consensus among the elites on how to address the governability question but their positions on economic policy seem more consolidated.

There is a good chance that the regime in its current condition could persist for a long time, despite internal disagreements among the elites and a younger generation coming to power, as they too will probably have materialist rather than postmaterialist values.

When they analysed the data from the WVS the research team came to the conclusion that although people born in the 1980s display the highest level of post-materialist values, in questions of supporting democratic ideas they don’t differ much from the older generation. The research also documents the first signs of a lower adherence to democratic values among the younger generation compared to other kinds of political regimes.

The future is conservative

As the authors of the research see it, the 80s generation will not occupy key political positions over the next two decades, but will be the backbone of various organs of power, and influential economic, scientific and cultural institutions. On the basis of their analysis, the researchers put together a portrait of the typical person of the 2020s.

One of the key conclusions is that the 1980s generation are rather pragmatic in their views and reason on the basis of economic interests rather than ideology. Their approach will determine the course for politics inside Russia in the coming decades. The emphasis will be on a combination of authoritarian and technocratic methods to achieve the maximum economic growth.

Nevertheless, the authors believe that postmaterialist values will gradually spread among the elites and lead to the emergence of new kinds of politicians and managers and to a significant transformation of the regime. But that will only be in the 2030s. Until then, the main body of the elite will consist of people with mixed values, who have no interest in changing the country’s basic political institutions unless pressing economic reasons to do so arise.

The researchers predicted an alternative and more pessimistic scenario in the case of an economic slowdown in Russia. It presupposes an end to postmaterialism and to the gradual democratisation of the regime. People focussed only on satisfying their own material demands could occupy a dominant position in the younger generation of the elite; as the authors of the research put it, they would most likely display the ‘predatory’ model of behaviour which implies an increase in corruption and government pressure on business. The researchers think this scenario is less likely to occur.  

 

Author: Marina Selina, September 11, 2013