A poll conducted earlier this year found that the country’s professional classes are less than fully supportive of its current ruling political-economic system and want the system democratized and opened up. The man in charge of the research, Mikhail Afanasyev, director for strategies and analysis at Nikkolo M, a Moscow-based political consulting group, noted in Vedomosti that the poll, which was conducted among 1,003 respondents by the Liberal Mission Foundation from March to May of this year, targeted what he called the “national development elite.” According to Afanasyev, this group included the elite of those involved in public administration, defense and law-enforcement, jurisprudence, entrepreneurship, corporate management, health care, science and education, and mass media, but did not include top state officials or the heads of large corporations.
The poll found that a majority of those in Russia’s “national development elite” tend to have a critical view of the country’s system of governing. “The ruling administration views the vertical of power built in 2000 as its main achievement and a guarantee of social stability,” Afanasyev wrote. “But it is precisely over this central point that the ruling administration’s opinion diverges sharply with the opinion of the [national development] elites.” He noted that federal officials comprised the only elite group in which an absolute majority of respondents expressed the view that the existing vertical of power was effective, with regional officials split practically in half over its effectiveness. Likewise, 49 percent of state security and law-enforcement workers said they viewed the existing vertical of power as effective, with 46 percent expressing the opposite view. An absolute majority of the remaining elite groups expressed the view that “measures to strengthen the vertical of power…have led to an excessive concentration of power and the bureaucratization of the whole system of governance,” Afanasyev wrote. He also noted that those working in the area of information (journalists and experts), army officers, and entrepreneurs were the most critical of the existing power vertical.
The Russian elites represented in the poll believe that the state has failed to accomplish key tasks in the area of social development, including narrowing the gap between rich and poor, providing affordable housing, ensuring the right to a fair trial, and providing health care. “In addition, the predominance of negative and extremely negative assessments reveals spheres of obvious trouble in such [areas] as ensuring free elections, the development of education, the establishment and support of uniform market rules, providing citizens with personal security, and protecting the right to private property,” Afanasyev wrote.
According to Afanasyev, the poll found that an absolute majority of all elite groups with the exception of state security and law-enforcement workers did not believe that “the development of the Russian nation should be based on the unquestioned primacy of the state in public and economic life.” These groups believed almost unanimously that “the supremacy of law in society, including the supremacy of law over the governing authorities, plus competition in the economy and in politics,” should be the “bedrock principles” for developing the country, Afanasyev wrote. These groups did not support “the model of state capitalism lobbied by and already party realized at the highest level of state governance,” he added. An absolute majority of these groups supported “normal capitalism” with common rules of the game guaranteed by the state, honest competition, and a “broad development of national entrepreneurship,” Afanasyev wrote.
According to Afanasyev, the poll indicated that a majority of those in the “national development elite” believe that state investment in the development of “human capital” should be a priority, that reform of the housing and communal services sector needs to be corrected, and that there should be genuine political competition, a separation of powers, and government openness and accountability to society. They also support a party system “worthy of citizens of a civilized country,” a change from the current system of appointing the heads of Russia’s regions to a new system based on “public opinion and the will of the people,” and developing the independence of local self-government.
“We are going through a contradictory historical situation,” Afanasyev concluded. “The oligarchic bureaucratic capitalism that exists in Russia is supported by a majority of the workers of the special services and half of the bureaucracy, along with the oligarchy itself. An absolute majority of Russian entrepreneurs and managers, army officers, the professional elite in the social and public spheres, and also a significant portion of bureaucrats want normal capitalism with a law-based welfare state. At the same time, Russian elite groups clearly do not have sufficient … capabilities for collective action or the will to define state policy. Nevertheless, the Russian elites share President Dmitry Medvedev’s programmatic thesis that ‘freedom is better than non-freedom’ and are ready to accept it as the basis for national consolidation and to support the country’s active renewal on the basis of the supremacy of law and honest competition” (Vedomosti, September 22).