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Unrepentant Subjectivity on Economics, Politics, Defence, Foreign Policy, and Russia

Medvedev’s Visit to FDR Fireside Bodes Well for Russia

There are many reasons to believe the Kremlin’s policy to publicly obfuscate the severity and implications of the crisis afflicting the Russian economy is counterproductive.

First, denying the existence of the obvious doesn’t fool any of the people any of the time, and cultivates distrust. When officials do eventually need to appeal for calm, they will find they have diminished authority.

Second, a limited understanding of a situation enfeebles the population’s ability to make rational decisions and plans, leaving it likely to move in irrational, dramatic lurches rather than manageable shifts. Finally, news does not sit still simply because the Kremlin decides it won’t contribute. Refusing to admit the problem, simply allowes other, less responsible sources shape opinion and understanding.

However, it appears the Kremlin may be arriving at the conclusion that continuing on this track is inadvisable, and President Dmitry Medvedev’s television address Sunday was an important part of that process. Taking a leaf from Franklin D. Roosevelt’s now famous fireside chats, which acted as a reassuring, calming influence on the US populace during the Great Depression and Second World War, Medvedev appeared on national television to “speak the truth” and explain the economic problems “that the entire world is living through, and that our country is living through.”

According to Reuters, Medvedev said:

“I consider that the authorities are obliged to speak about this (crisis) frankly and directly, to speak about the decisions which the authorities are taking to overcome the crisis and about the difficulties with which we are faced… The forecasts really don’t make anyone happy… [and] We should expect our development to undergo a pretty tough scenario.”

This more honest approach will pay dividends by avoiding the issues outlined above; however, honesty in an unpleasent and politically difficult situation should not be seen as a sign of weakness. When Winston Churchill took over from Neville Chamberlain in the darkest hours of World War II, he did not gloss over the problems or tell the nation that victory was close. Instead, he painted a bleak picture:

“I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering.”

By doing so, he gained respect. And stoicism in the face of suffering is something Russians admire.

Of course, Medvedev as Churchill is quite a step,  and whether Medvedev’s fireside chat was simply part of the wider propaganda mechanism (first, deny; second, claim only decadent, rotten Western economies will be affected; third, admit Russia will be affected, but blame the decadent, rotten US; fourth (now) admit the truth but reassure), or a genuine change in direction remains to be seen, but at first glance, it appears the Kremlin has finally accepted its role as a positive, reasurring and honest intermediary between the crisis and Ivan public.

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