August 1st, 2011

Modernization or bust

Institute of Contemporary DevelopmentIn an op-ed published in Vedomosti, Yevgeny Gontmakher and Igor Yurgens of the Institute of Contemporary Development (a centrist, pro-business think tank of which President Medvedev is the chairman) write that Russia faces a crossroads with the 2012 presidential election. The nation can either choose to modernize, which may be risky, or it can opt for the status quo, which, they believe, means “stagnation, degeneration [and] inevitable national catastrophe.”

Recent efforts to modernize Russia, they write, have been met with resistance:

We see attempts to move the situation from degeneration to progress in the struggle with corruption, in improving the entrepreneurial climate, the formation of an effective foreign policy. But there continues to be no decisive breakthrough [as] even the most elementary actions by Dmitry Medvedev along the path of modernization are […] directly sabotaged.

Gontmakher and Yurgens suggest that top business leaders, who, save Mikhail Prokhorov, have largely remained silent on political issues of late, should take the role of forming a “civic coalition for modernization” to ensure that Medvedev’s nascent modernization program does not regress or die out. This movement would give cover to small- and medium-sized business owners concerned that their political activism would cost them their shirts.

The idea that influential businessmen could sway the 2012 Russian presidential election is a controversial one, as previous attempts by business leaders trying to influence politics has not gone well in the past. And Prokhorov’s recent foray into party politics has had mixed reactions and few tangible results.

But Gontmakher and Yurgens may have a point – that this “civic coalition” may be the best chance Russia has to modernize in earnest – or else risk economic and political collapse.

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