After a holiday break, unfortunately longer than expected, we are back to continue dwelling on the question that, by all chances, will be solved this year. The last month of 2010 was overwhelming with politically significant events, and I am sure that the relative calmness of the first half of January can only be explained by the festive season. The most notable phenomenon in december was the quick setback of political liberalisation after the infamously and unexpectedly weird state-of-the-nation address of President Medvedev. The track of the events was obvious: a smashing interview with Putin (as usual), then the second sentence on Khodorkovsky, then the arrest of opposition activists. Can we expect yet another turnaround in 2011?
At the first glance, putting child protection into the focus of the President’s speech seemed awkward, and, as I suggested then, a sudden decision. Since then, however, Medvedev has been keeping this issue high on the agenda, hinting that it might not be a sudden change of plans. But what then? Some suggest that speaking about the rights of children is a way to get cheap popularity in almost every society, including Russia. At the same time, it will surely wear out before the 2012 presidential election. Medvedev will need something else to clear that, even if this may still prove a worthy first step for the “father of the nation” image. Nevertheless, this project can only be another cover story. Something that will help the cooperative United Russia score some points at family-focused voters while at the same time calming the heavyweights of Russian politics who are afraid of further liberalisation. I think this was the idea behind the re-criminalisation of opposition protests (“justified” ultimately by the emerging nationalistic threat).
Why then, did Medvedev need the short “glasnost” last autumn? I think that was a press-test aimed at measuring up the anticipated new borders of the system. Even if the whole thing was the idea of the President’s team only (which seems to me very unlikely), it had to be clear to all that the time had not come yet to confront United Russia and its siloviki with this kind of change in the weather. Realising that, even Medvedev may have decided to change his rhetoric and opt for the safe lane. This will grant him a safe background, while the ever-changing power structures, constituting the base to this new order, find their new static position. The redistribution of wealth in Moscow has already begun this process, and will continue to be one of its main driving forces. Of course, everything will happen according to the tandem’s careful plans – whichever oligarch does not believe me, I suggest to go speak with Mikhail Borisovich.
More significant changes may begin only after 2012. And Medvedev (or his team) will still have to find something big and popular to clear that hurdle. Modernisation is too weak. Political liberalisation is too bold. Children’s rights will not last out. We’ll see.