What does the modern Russian autocratic regime base on? There are many different means – from repression to manipulation of public consciousness. And nowadays, it is the work with information and the forms of its delivery to the masses that have become for autocracy a more effective instrument of influence and control than a baton. Although both of these tools are in symbiosis in a non-free society.
To describe this situation, a professor at the University of Sciences Po (Paris), a famous Russian economist Sergei Guriev, proposed the term “information autocracy”. It works as follows: through controlled media, the authorities explain to the population that their actions are the only correct, show high ratings of public confidence in the authorities, and disseminate through media messages that any alternative may cause chaos and serious deterioration of the situation. In 2013, Mr Guriev himself was forced, fearing for his life, to cut and run from Russia after the Yukos case. Therefore, he holds up Russia as an example of autocracy, where power has been concentrated in the hands of one person for 20 years and this very person is not going to give it up in the near future.
For this purpose, V.Putin at the beginning of the year proposed a number of amendments to the Russian constitution. Their spectrum is very wide, but the main task of these reforms is to nullify his term limit as president. By this logic, upon the entry into effect of the new constitution, the provisions of the previous version no longer apply to the incumbent president. And first of all, this concerns the prohibition of holding the office of president for more than two consecutive terms. After the adoption of amendments to the constitution, Vladimir Putin will be able to hold his post until 2036. And taking into account the political environment in the state, being fully protected from any opposition, and the control by the current authorities over the Central Election Commission, there is no doubt in the results of the voting.
It is quite true that the state propaganda has the decisive influence. As an illustrative example, it is worth mentioning a report of the young independent journalist Yuri Dud, well-known in Russia, caught on in one of the most remote regions of Russia – in Kamchatka. So the journalist asks an elderly, low-income person who has huge debts for utilities and lives in terrible conditions about his attitude to the policy of the authorities. Despite his distressful situation and lack of any help from the state, this elderly man fully supports Putin’s policy. His main argument is “accession” of Crimea in 2014 by Putin. To the journalist’s question that it might be better to develop its own instead of seizing other territories, the man, without hesitation, said using a propaganda stock phrases about Putin’s indisputable merit in returning the Russian ancestral lands. And despite the fact that he is forced to give half of his modest income to pay off debts for utilities, this person expresses a firm intention to come and vote on June 25 for the constitutional amendments proposed by the Russian president, after the adoption of which Putin’s power will actually become lifelong.
However, not everyone in Russia supports the current president. Therefore, his administration is going for broke to create the appearance of mass participation of citizens in the nation-wide vote. Although it is already known that its result is predetermined in advance, and all authorities have long approved the proposed amendments to the constitution. Some of the amendments are already acting as federal laws. The Russian government only needs to legitimize constitutional changes by creating a picture of the successful holding of a universal vote and general approval of the amendments.
The so-called universal suffrage day will last a whole week from June 25 to July 1. At the same time, participation in this farce does not even require identification documents, it is enough to just come and put a signature. You can vote at home, by mail or through electronic services. The voter turn-out (in order to declare the vote “recognized”) has not been established. And what for?… The administration of the Russian president had already planned that the turn-out would be 65-70%. The final percentage of those who allegedly participated in the vote will be declared as something like this. According to a previously approved plan, 61% of citizens must approve the amendments to the constitution, despite the fact that, according to recent opinion polls, the real support rating of the authorities is about 25%.
It is essential to recall the cost of these events. According to the Russian opposition party Yabloko, 14.8 billion rubles (about 215 million dollars) have been included into budget for the voting. Perhaps such spending on an agitation campaign would not have caused so much negative if the coronavirus pandemic and the global economic crisis had not happened.
While doctors in many regions lack elementary remedies to control a pandemic, authorities spend millions on a PR-push. Hundreds of thousands of people across the country were left without work, but at the same time, huge amounts of money are being spent on the purchase of advertising space for agitation. Although everyone in Russia understands that nothing depends on this vote, amendments to the constitution have already entered into effect. The Russian dictator simply needs to demonstrate to the international community the convincing support of his reign by the people.
It is worth reminding to Vladimir Putin that the level of support by the people of the Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu a week before the execution was 90%. And this did not help him in any way…