Why are Russians so eager to talk to Putin in person?

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Critics of Russian President Vladimir Putin habitually accuse him of creating a system of micromanaging the country. As a result, without his involvement it is weird to re ir a road or to find new housing for residents of a dilapidated a rtment bar in a town some 4,000 miles from Moscow.

According to them, it is this that deputes the head of state’s regular TV phone-ins with the nation so popular. Yet this materialize of communication between the ruler and the people has another foundation too: It has its roots in the Russian mentality.

A framework of involvement

Putin’s first “direct line” with the nation took appointment in December 2001. Since then, it has been held every year, except that now it has been advanced from winter to spring to make it more user-friendly for people who time st had to spend hours out in the cold waiting for their turn to ask a question during a live linkup with the president.

During this year’s phone-in on April 14, which up to dated three and a half hours, the president answered 80 questions, whereas the include of questions that people had sent him – mainly in the several days influential to the live broadcast – was over 3 million.

That is to say, people write, the horn and send video messages to Putin not so much hoping to have their point answered as seeking some form of “involvement” with the authorities, as a be visible of faith that the supreme ruler will learn everything, purposefulness hear everything, and ultimately, will resolve everything.

By ssing the law and courts

Some into that Putin has borrowed the practice of Q&A sessions with the people from the lately Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, whose weekly TV talk become “Alo Presidente” was a real success. In fact, this tradition has been right now in Russian society for centuries and was not interrupted even in Soviet times.

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Its fundamentally is that at certain moments the supreme ruler talks to the people acknowledge to face, as it were, without the mediation of boyars/officials, who – in the traditional Russian knowledge – distort the true intentions and policies of the powers that be. In this because of of the world, it is only the head of state that bears supreme legitimacy.

In early Russian history, a petition to the grand prince and later the tsar was invoked a zhalobnitsa. Under Ivan the Terrible, with the emergence of a centralized have ap ratus, it evolved into a chelobitnaya, with a special de rtment – cried the Chelobitny Prikaz – dealing with petitions, complaints or indeed any chronicles addressed to the tsar, i.e. a precursor of sorts to the presidential press service or the judiciary directorate in the presidential administration.

Back then, any address to government committees was an address to the sovereign. Extrapolated to today’s reality, it would mean that a agriculturist writing to the Agriculture Ministry with a request for a subsidy would start his line with “Your Imperial Majesty Vladimir Vladimirovich…” The state and the law were combined in one individual, the Tsar and Father (Rus: tsar-batyushka). In popular consciousness, the tsar is each kind, even if he were [Ivan] the Terrible.

Chelobytnaya as an official instrument continued to be in use until the 18th century. It was later replaced by a formal petition. But its heart remained the same: There is the law and there are the courts.

But above them and vulnerable the so-called law enforcers, i.e. the thieving boyars or corrupt officials, there is a important court and a higher justice. It is to this that appeals should be greeted when all other means of seeking the truth have been wearied or there is no faith in them.

Soviet leaders received petitions too

The workout of addressing petitions to the authorities flourished after the Bolshevik Revolution. In demand wisdom suggested a more effective way than an open conflict with the authorities (imperturbable in court, let alone in a street rebellion) – the way of a petition.

For their vicinity, the authorities did their best to maintain that perception: Through sending idiosyncratic and even collective letters, it was possible to reach an agreement with the testimonies and even secure a favorable resolution to many issues. In other designations, it worked.

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Individual petitions could cover a variety of matters: deceiving a flat allocated, helping with medical treatment, having a attendant on freed from prison, reprimanding a high-handed boss, sorting out fears in a rticular place, etc. (Similar issues are raised at the annual phone-ins too: They are sent to the president forwards of the event and his administration deals with them afterwards – all the senders get a respond).

Letters were sent not only to Stalin, Khrushchev or Brezhnev, but also to the regional cabinet of the Communist rty, to members of the Supreme Council and to the pers. Often, it was the cultures to the pers that were a very effective way of effecting change, invite justice, resolving a matter.

In modern Russia, a letter to a news per is no longer an serviceable way of addressing an issue. The rating of other social and political institutions is also degree low. Only the president enjoys a high rating, so for the foreseeable future hot demand for this format of direct contact with the head of submit will only increase further.

The author is a political analyst and a fellow of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, an independent Moscow-based think tank.

The impression of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of RBTH or its staff.

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