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Russian political transition is 'multivariate equation'

By Feng Yujun (People's Daily)

15:35, September 28, 2011

Edited and Translated by People's Daily Online

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is likely to run again for the presidency in 2012, while the country's President Dmitry Medvedev said he might take over as prime minister, according to sources in Moscow. It seems that the two Russian leaders may swap their roles next year.

The year 2011 marks the 20th anniversary of the Soviet Union's collapse. Russia is going to make a new attempt in political transition. The swap of the roles of Putin and Medvedev will signal the country's return to its traditional "strongman" politics and will be completed under the Russian constitutional system. The news about the swap alleviated the Russian society's concerns over political uncertainty. Objectively speaking, the swap can prevent the Russian elites from being alienated from the masses and ensure that Russia continues to maintain stability and achieve steady development in order to regain its status as a great power.

In the early 1990s, Russian political elites predicted a bright future for the country on the basis of Western values. They said that if Russia transformed from a planned economy into a market economy through "shock therapy," from a highly centralized country into a democratic country through the separation of powers and from an underdeveloped society into a civil society by fostering a middle class, the country would quickly achieve economic prosperity, political democracy, social justice and a great power status.

However, the realities diverged significantly from the rose-colored expectations. The goals set before the reform were distorted, many defects of the political system showed, an authority crisis occurred frequently, and Russia entered a long and painful transitional process. During Boris Yeltsin's term of office, the political competitions were fierce and the political situation was always turbulent. After Vladimir Putin took office, he strengthened the vertical power structure by cracking down on the oligarchs and rebuilding the relationships between the central and local governments. He also ended the turbulent political situation by adopting the "controllable democracy."

The political transition is not a physical experiment done in a closed laboratory but rather a complex social process involving interests and destinies of hundreds of millions of people. The redistribution of interests and adjustment of social structure in the process will make new interests group take shape and may lead to new social conflicts too.

Guaranteeing the stability of a social transition and avoiding large-scale social conflicts is a great subject of global research. Research has looked at how the redistribution of interests should be managed to make it accord with the interests of most civilians and how the social structure should be guided to avoid the polarization between the rich and the poor in the transition.

An Asian politician once said that culture is destiny. It could be said that the cultural tradition is the gene of a country's political system. While looking for a new system that fits its development, a country should not totally cut off its traditional culture in a surgical way and also must conform to the times and ensure the new cultural gene continues to grow. Russia is a country with a long history and abundant cultural traditions, and therefore any cultural gene adjustment carried out by it will have a long and arduous course of adaptation.

The 20-year exploration made by Russia indicates that the political transition of a country is an "equation with several unknowns." Affected by various elements, including constitutional rule, historic tradition, politics, culture, distribution of practical interests and specific personnel placement, the "equation" will not have only one answer. The political transition of a country is a complex systemic project without a smooth road to go on or an existing mode to copy.

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