Maybe it’s just me, but there seems to be something
increasingly strident and hectoring about the latest attempts to remake Boris Nemtsov as the Savior of Russia. What is it about dissidents like Nemtsov that inspires adoration among their western followers? The Russophobe Russian Leadership Dream Team would be Boris Nemtsov, Boris Berezovsky and Mikhail Khodorkovsky, implementing the Nemtsov White Paper. Oh, and maybe Gary Kasparov, to run the games room. If you suggested that Obama should have been agitating to overthrow the Bush government back in 2005, before the damage got too bad, they’d go all wall-eyed and scream, “traitor!!” So, what is it about Nemtsov? I mean, he’s never won an election in which he stood as a candidate, and frequently lost by embarrassing margins – including standing for mayor of his home town. He’s considered a bit of a harmless fool in Russia, and you’d be as likely to see Russians voluntarily make him their leader as you would see advertising for an Elvis comeback tour. Still, he maintains a cult following among the nutjobs.
Look; it’s not my purpose here to deconstruct Nemtsov’s spin as promulgated in his latest effort. That’s already been done – far better – by the razor-sharp Anatoly Karlin over at Sublime Oblivion. However, spin is a given, because Nemtsov’s a politician. That means his job is to not have a job, while the wage slaves and the corporate bobbleheads front him with cash so he can do what he does. In this, he’s not much different, and certainly no more or less a liar, than pretty much every other politician. Oh, I’m sure he puts in some long days and catches a few red-eye flights – I’m not implying he does nothing but nibble canapes and work on his tan – but it’s nothing like the weekly grind you’ll labour under for the rest of your working life. When you think about it, even a lawyer gives you more for your money. He or she uses their professional skill to fight for you when you don’t have the ability to do it yourself. All a politician does is offer to represent your concerns to decision-making authority because you don’t have time to do it yourself. Wow; that made me lightheaded for a moment, I don’t think I’ve ever defended lawyers before. Although putting them a step above politicians is hardly an endorsement.
All right, then: what’s the Nemtsov plan? Can anyone tell me? Is it easy to criticize the way things are, and blame them on the current leadership, thus implying you could do it better if you were running things? Easiest thing in the world. Nemtsov says Russia’s birth rate is declining rapidly. That’s not even true, but pretend it is. What’s your plan, Boris? How are you going to encourage people to have more children, because a lot of them would like to. What’s that? Raise minimum wage, so people can afford to support a larger family? The minimum wage has risen steadily under Putin – it’s 10 times what it is in Georgia, and I don’t hear westerners bitching about what a shitty job Saakashvili’s doing – but pretend that’s not true. What’s your plan, Boris? The money’s going to have to come from somewhere. Russia relies too heavily on its energy income, says Nemtsov. It’s got nothing else that anyone wants to buy. That’s also not true, but pretend it is. In fact, of the top ten sectors that are major earners for Russia, less than half are energy. I still don’t hear anything coming out of Nemtsov that sounds like a strategy for getting to there from here.
The thing is, people in Russia are just not that discontented. Every time he goes over like a lead balloon, Nemtsov claims the vote was fixed, that his candidacy was suppressed and he had no way to get his message out. Well, it’s not like he’s an unknown: he was once the most popular politician in Russia. That was before he confidently predicted – speaking as “an architect of Russia’s fiscal strategy” – the ruble would not be devalued. A little more than 2 weeks later, the ruble collapsed. A lot of Russians got hurt, but it didn’t end there. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania sank into recession. Kazakhstan’s exports were in shambles, and their foreign exchange reserves were halved in an attempt to hold on to their currency. It cost Moldova 5 % of their GDP. Ukraine’s currency fell 60% in value, prices rose 20% and Ukraine’s National Bank lost 40% of its gross reserves. Quite a few people both inside and outside Russia might have been forgiven for thinking Boris Nemtsov didn’t know if his ass was bored or punched when it came to economics.
None of that would matter now, if the Russian people honestly thought Putin wasn’t worth a tin whistle as leader, and that Nemtsov offered the chance for them to have a decent life. The notion that Russia is under some kind of glass bubble, and the people don’t know what’s going on except for the saccharine propaganda that Putin whispers in their ears, is nonsense. Internet use is widespread in Russia, and Russians know what’s happening as well as anywhere else. If they believed Nemtsov was the savior the Russophobes pretend he is, nothing could stop them from electing him.
Nemtsov, too, would do well to be curious about why the west supports him. Is it because the west wants Russia to become a powerful representative democracy, with a high standard of living and a strong voice in international affairs? Ha, ha, sorry, I tried not to laugh. The west encourages Nemtsov because destabilizing Russia is kind of a western hobby. If there was a Chinese Boris Nemtsov, you can bet he’d be on the short list for an interview with the Wall Street Journal. The west encourages political dissent by opposition firebrands in every society but its own.