Until a few years ago most Russian opposition members had strongly believed that exposing corruption schemes is a way to consolidate people with different views making them realize the existing power structures need to be reformed. Ostap Bender*, a fictional con man, said: “theft is a sin.” The revelations made public by Alexey Navalny caused quite a stir to show how right he was.
Nevertheless, one year was enough for the powers that be to discredit the opposition politicians in the eyes of the majority. The crimes exposed by Navalny and his supporters neither evoked the expected public unrest nor prevented most Russians from supporting the most odious decisions of the government. A question pops up – why the people display such tolerance towards the corrupted bureaucrats?
1.Corruption: a phenomenon people are ready to reconcile with
The Kremlin’s propaganda is not even applying much effort to conceal the fact that the power structure created by Putin is permeated by theft and lawlessness. The propaganda warriors emphasized that the leaders of the liberal opposition were also involved in corruption schemes. At first, the media outlets orchestrated by the Kremlin masterly manipulated the facts, and even resorted to outright lies to convince people that there was no sense in “making the thieves holding the power to be substituted by other thieves.” Theft is normal in Russia and anyone coming to power will inevitably steal.
The axiom that everyone is corrupt has been deeply enrooted in the minds of Russians. They also believe that those who belong to the Putin’s elite are just “ordinary thieves” while their opponents are “foreign agents” involved in embezzlement. Once in power, the only thing they will do is to steal and misappropriate budget funds making the homeland collapse, according to the orders given by their overseas bosses. As a result, a man on the street is convinced that theft is unavoidable. Ordinary people believe that those who steal to enrich themselves will, at least, leave something for the country, while those who will do the same thing under the orders received from overseas will do greater damage to Russia. Unfortunately, an average Russian does not know that there are countries with extremely low levels of corruption.
Moreover, he (she) believes this phenomenon to be a prerogative of the government.
2. During “rich” years Russians were not affected by corruption.
There was a kind of deal between citizens and the government in the form of “overpay”. This fact has been widely highlighted. It all boiled down to getting more money than earned by employees of state (sometimes private) companies thanks to high oil prices. Ukraine was deprived of the opportunity to compensate the crimes committed by officials using the benefits received from oil and gas exports. Many Russians, especially in the capital, were pampered by high incomes and did not perceive corruption as a problem directly affecting their way of life.
With international economic sanctions imposed and oil prices falling down, many Russians don’t see corruption and lower living standards as intertwined problems. They believe that the financial crisis is a result of outside factors (the aggressive policies of the United States and Europe, the activities of “enemies and ill-wishers, etc.)
3. Despite being corrupted itself, the government could use the issue of corruption to strengthen its authority.
Most Russians have reconciled with all-penetrating corruption, but the fight against this evil would be welcomed to raise the rating of those who do it. The Kremlin propaganda wasted no time to use it to its advantage.
A lot has been said about the need to fight corruption by the higher ups and grassroots. Many organizations and individuals acted under the instructions of the Kremlin applying efforts to convince ordinary people that the government takes right decisions. Some issues related to corruption hit public discourse with the permission from above.
Sergey Kurginyan and his followers are known for their fierce attacks against corrupted personalities. These people still really think they represent “left-wing” opposition. According to Evgeniy Feodorov, a member of the State Duma (the Russian parliament) and the founder of national liberation movement, most members of government and other officials are “U.S. agents”, so it’s no surprise they steal from the state. For instance, a “patriotic blogger” is actively popularized in the Sverdlovsk region. He is notorious for inciting anti-Ukraine and anti-U.S. sentiments and spreading war propaganda. After his nomination for the Public Chamber, he switched over to anti-corruption issues.
This campaign is pursuing the following tasks:
– The organizations, movements and individuals making up the group of “official corruption fighters” combine their anti-corruption efforts with creating the Vladimir Putin’s cult of personality (nobody accuses him of doing anything wrong). The anti-corruption campaign promoted his personal rating as the head of state. It should be noted, that the “fighters” are involved in intensive efforts to support other activities of the President (the war in Ukraine, the attacks against the West). The fight against corruption is indirectly used to promote his policies.
– The government approved “fight against corruption” is very selective. Not a word is said about the corruption among the FSB (the Federal Security Service), no matter how far it is spread. No wonder, as a rule, the organizations, and movements close to the government are monitored by the security agencies one way or another.
– Raising the issue of the fight against corruption has become a prerogative of the government. The powers that be have created the impression that the anti-corruption activities have become part of the general trend. Historian Irina Pavlovskaya points out that “Nowadays progressive people often do not realize that they side with the rulers and play by their rules. By doing so, they strengthen the government involved in “purges” among other things. The so-called anti-corruption campaign led by Alexey Navalny is a good example.”
To a large extent, it explains why even the most well-known revelations that hit spotlight fail to evoke anger among Russian people.