The chiefdom remains one of the main political problems in Russian society. The leader deals with politics while the people are present (ideally) as an appreciative and approving audience. Today, the chiefdom is represented in all its glory by the regime of President Vladimir Putin. And apparently he’s limping.
Leadership should be understood as the need for political leaders who play an active political role, presenting themselves as representing the interests of the masses without their actual participation in political decision-making. This model, of course, has its roots in the history of the Russian state, where society as a whole has almost always remained indifferent to politics, which was the exclusive domain of the elite.
There is also a naive belief in the “right” commander. “A good leader will come and build us a democracy.” It is postulated, often unconsciously, that the same leader will do all the work himself, and grateful citizens will simply enjoy the fruits of his labor, without any own contribution.
As a rule, the leader is treated by such citizens with reverence, he has a presumption of righteousness, and those who disagree with him are immediately included in the list of “Kremlin agents.” There is an uncritical attitude towards politicians, based more on personal sympathy and high expectations than on a conscious choice.
Boris Yeltsin with military leaders
It is impossible not to recall the recent historical example of Boris Yeltsin coming to power, who made a career in the late 1980s by criticizing nomenklatura privileges – for which he himself was persecuted. At the turn of the 1980s and 1990s, democratically thinking citizens of the USSR saw Yeltsin as a truly democratic leader who would give freedom and democracy to everyone. For people born and raised in the Soviet Union, such a naive, childish attitude was excusable: they did not know what democracy was and what an open, competitive political process actually was.
However, it is difficult to justify this naivety in people living in 2023. Today it is well known how easy it is to distort and enslave democracy and build a brutal dictatorship under its cover. Therefore, childish faith in a “good leader” is a big problem.
The main disadvantage of this system is that the concept of chiefdom does not in principle include responsible citizens who would play an important role in politics. Their participation is basically limited to going to the polls, ticking the box next to their candidate’s name and expecting him to govern well.
But is such an approach conducive to true democracy?
Of course, political leaders should be approached in a sober and realistic manner, not romantic and enthusiastic. Politicians should be accountable to those whose interests they purport to express and defend. They should be monitored, questioned, and if behind their voters’ backs they begin to change their minds, they should be dismissed without regret.
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The antidote to leadership can only be the widest possible participation of politically active Russian citizens in making political decisions. Only they can be a source of legitimacy. Therefore, any political leader or person who wants to become one needs a direct, unambiguous mandate from the masses in order to receive the legitimacy that will allow him to represent the interests of the people in Russia and beyond.
It is important to realize that all current Russian opposition figures are basically self-appointed. This is the reality. They have their supporters, but they have no legitimacy in the eyes of those who do not belong to them.
Deriving legitimacy from participating in any election many years ago is a nonsensical idea. Even more bizarre and undemocratic are the suggestions that legitimacy can come from one particular citizen, even a very distinguished and reputable one.
Hence the need to once again create a system of will of Russian citizens, which could be used both to select candidates for a body coordinating the activities of the Russian opposition, and to vote on draft decisions of such bodies.
Such a system would, among other things, allow for the emergence of new characters, thus offering a chance to renew and refresh the existing political landscape. Undoubtedly, fresh blood would be very useful in developing new approaches and answers to the age-old question: “what should be done?”.
Opposition leader Alexei Navalny during the “March of Millions” protest rally, Russia, May 6, 2012.
Regular participation in political life, voting on draft decisions, expressing one’s opinion not in the form of fruitless discussions on social networks, but on a real political platform – all this would be a good school of democracy for all those who would like to see the Russia of the future as a free and democratic country.
The online voting system itself should be designed and operated in such a way that it does not raise any doubts as to its transparency and that it is trusted by those who would use it. Alternatively, you can consider entrusting the development and administration of such a system to an IT company from a neutral country, i.e. outsourcing it in a way. This would ensure the impartiality and highly technical nature of the system.
Without such a mandate from the citizens, no association of self-appointed leaders will have the necessary legitimacy, and every statement and decision they make may be undermined. The concrete results that a growing number of Russians need can only be achieved by creating a political organization that brings together the widest possible political spectrum – an organization created and supported by the citizens themselves, thus expressing their genuine interests as they imagine them.
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