The Levada siege: sclerosis in the Putin system?
Autocracy and transparency are, as a rule, opposites. However, as a global and complex political phenomenon, autocracies kept the distances among each other that mark the history, culture and society that give them shelter. In Russia, the Putin regime –an authoritarianism ranging between competitive and hegemonic- has so far allowed relatively free internet, autonomous media and analysis and monitoring centers of the national reality. Which puts it halfway, as regards to the communication control, between the Andean neopopulism and the Chinese postotalitarism.
But yesterday something raised alarms in Russia. The Ministry of Justice included pollster Levada Centre in the category of "foreign agent". Without going into the background and details of the event -masterfully outlined by Pilar Bonet and Ivan Nechepurenko - the measure anticipates the closure of the main –and trustworthy- source of statistical information on trends and perceptions of Russian society. Just days after Levada revealed the growing citizens doubt and disinterest about the cleanliness and value of the next legislative elections.
With this measure, beyond the Levada unemployed and data starving academics, there will rain down losers. Russian citizenship, deprived in their right to know and be counted from the sum of individual preferences, can not but assume how many few friends, strangers and relatives share expectations and dissatisfactions. The officials, giddy by propaganda and fearful of disappointing Putin will lose a source of information to refine public policies. And the surviving pollsters, as the official Center for Studies of the Russian Public Opinion, will take even more care of being uncomfortable to power with indiscreet revelations to the general public.
Putin and his circle, paradoxically, may feel today they are achievers but, in a more broad perspective, they also lost. Because if you rush to the closure of Levada it would reveal to the world -and to the population- fears about the decline, moderate but growing, of its popularity. And, as the decrepit Brezhnev and his elderly comrades, they would choose immobilism, opacity and complacency. That, ultimately, leads to the precipice.
Which will follow this measure? Wall off -China style- Internet? Close down media such as Moscow or Moscow Times Eko? Close the Petersburg European University and the Carnegie Moscow Center? Will a solipsistic Putin suspend televised talks with his compatriots? For a system that will meet the post-2018 scenarios with an aging leader and decaffeinated United Russia, to privilege control over governance will only reveal the official inability to recreate hegemony. Returning to the past.