March 3, 2010


Dissident Turned Technocrat: Medvedev Takes On Putin with Governor Appointment (Matthias Schepp, 3/03/10, Der Spiegel)

Medvedev's decision to appoint an opposition leader and former dissident was a clear signal. Although Medvedev's mentor and predecessor, Vladimir Putin, wants to keep the opposition in check by any means, Medvedev hopes to win them over to help push through his modernization policies. But Belykh's meteoric promotion annoyed both the Kremlin old guard and local elites, who had made themselves comfortable in Kirov, creating a kind of mini-Soviet Union in which the roads were still named after Marx and Lenin.

Belykh needed allies. He brought along Maria Gaidar, the 27-year-old daughter of former Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar, the architect of Russia's market economy, who led the first reform-oriented cabinet under President Boris Yeltsin.

Maria Gaidar also made a name for herself through a bold protest. Infuriated by Putin's decision to cancel gubernatorial elections, she abseiled off a bridge within sight of the Kremlin and unfurled a banner that read "Give us our elections back, you bastards!"

Now that Gaidar is responsible for health and social affairs in Belykh's cabinet, she must learn to govern. Average monthly incomes in Kirov are about €200 ($272), and 20 percent of its inhabitants live under the poverty line. Although she visits hospitals and has announced the opening of the first privately-run pensioners' home, both Maria Gaidar and her boss are despised by the country's hawks.

President Medvedev is backing his young Turks. Although his predecessor, Vladimir Putin, mainly appointed high-ranking members of the intelligence service as governors when he was calling the shots at the Kremlin, most of the 23 governors appointed by Medvedev have been young, business-friendly technocrats.

What's more, Medvedev made a point of visiting Belykh, the most controversial of his appointees, last year. No Russian leader had traveled to distant Kirov since 1824 -- no tsar, no communist secretary general, no Russian president.

The region has thus become something of a testing ground for Medvedev's leadership.

....but nothing siller than that the authoritarianism of those like Putin and the PRC offered viable long term alternatives to liberal democracy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 3, 2010 2:45 PM
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