Russia’s middle class unrepresented in politics, says report

The problem agenda of the middle class includes the crisis, corruption and the business climate. Source: AP

The problem agenda of the middle class includes the crisis, corruption and the business climate. Source: AP

Experts have studied the political tastes of Russia’s nascent middle class and come to the conclusion that this social group are not attracted to the agendas of any of the country’s existing political groups, with no party willing to seriously tackle corruption and cronyism or implement meaningful economic reforms. However, in the current circumstances, there is little chance that an alternative force will emerge in Russia any time soon.

No party in the country is good for the middle class: This is the conclusion that experts of the Institute of Priority Regional Projects have reached in a report titled "The Urban Middle Class: An Agenda, but No Party."

When speaking about the middle class, the authors make a reservation; in the global sense of the term, it is yet to emerge in Russia, but “middle social strata” do exist.

"It is, above all, socially active people who tend to change the conditions of life, to influence processes, rather than adapt to them," the institute's CEO Nikolai Mironov told RBTH. By Mironov’s estimate, such people constitute about 30 percent of the population.

Alternatively, people with a corresponding level of income are assigned to the “middle class.” Using this criterion did in fact produce a figure of 30 percent, Levada Center expert Denis Volkov confirmed in an interview with RBTH. However, this number today includes civil servants and state employees, who in recent years “have started to make a good living."

"But the independent behavior usually expected from the middle class cannot be attributed to them, since they relate to the state," Volkov explained. There are no more than 10 percent of truly active people among them (for instance, businessmen), but they are also guided, first of all, by the opinion of the state, he said.


One party and a set of dummies

According to the study, a fairly high level of confidence in the federal government and the figure of the president is indeed inherent in the middle class, rather than a "leftist component."

"In general, the attitude to mass protests [in this environment] has worsened, compared to the 2012-2013 surveys," the report notes. On the contrary, there is a fear of protests due to Ukraine and its "orange revolutions."

What is becoming principal is not an ideology, but the ability of a party to take action. The problem agenda of the middle class includes the crisis ("the government does not want to take responsibility for structural economic reforms, does not want to carry them out," reads the report), corruption, the business climate, the clan structure of Russia’s ruling elite and the failure of all players to comply with the rules of the game.

Because of these problems, demands for the modernization of the political system (it had stayed in public attention for two years before that) have fallen by the wayside, "replaced by a mood of total apathy." The respondents describe everything that happens as "window dressing": "The party system stands for nothing, for no-one's interests"; "We have one party [United Russia – RBTH] and dummies around it. And that's the whole party system."

"People have simply realized that in fact these institutions are not able to implement an alternative," said Nikolai Mironov, referring as an example to the Civic Platform party formed by billionaire businessman Mikhail Prokhorov.

"They were looking at it, but over time it became clear that it was not going to engage in any active political life.”


Man with a background

But despite the apathy, Russia’s nascent middle class has a demand: The new force should have a man "capable of rapidly launching political activity" behind it.

There is no time for anybody from an ordinary environment to fulfill himself as a politician ("the elevator is not working"), it has to be someone "with a background," said Mironov. An important condition is an effective feedback system, so that the party could advance the interests of the electorate, rather than their own.

In this context, none of the existing parties effectively suits the middle class; ruling party United Russia does not hear it, while the others are unable to turn the tide. Neither the liberal Yabloko party or any "non-systemic" opposition was mentioned by any of the respondents at all.

"There is oversupply on the part of the liberal forces, but there is a serious problem there, not only with outside communication, but also from the inside: So far they are unable to agree even among themselves," said Alexander Pozhalov, director of research at the Institute of Socioeconomic and Political Studies loyal to the Kremlin.


An unsuitable time

But Pozhalov disagrees that Russian politics has nothing to offer the middle class today.

"United Russia is in progress. After the not too successful federal and regional elections of 2011 for the party, many mistakes have been fixed," he said. According to him, United Russia today is "more open and flexible to requests from outside," and communication is being “fine-tuned.”

According to Pozhalov, it is the public movements that have now become closely engaged with solving problems. "I would single out the All-Russia People's Front. Over the last year, it organized work in many regions, it has access to the authorities of different levels, and its demands are not political; these are demands to eliminate specific problems," he said.

The Levada Center pollster, meanwhile, warns that the political system is not ready to encompass a new party with equal rights and to ensure fair rules of the game at all. Besides, interest in parties and ideologies is on the wane. "In elections, people will vote for biographies, not parties," said Denis Volkov.

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