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New conditions for new governors

Or what may change in the Far East of Russia

The election of the head of the region that ended (in the Khabarovsk Territory) and rapidly approaching (in Primorye) makes you wonder what happened and what happened? Numerous articles appeared in the federal press that “explain” the wrong voting of the Far Eastern people from one position or another. There are many options: the initial paternalism of the region’s population, the concept of one’s own exclusiveness, external influence, bad governors. One can agree with some provisions, some can only be regretted by the time spent on reading them. But the main thing, in my opinion, is that today it is not necessary to speak about why people of two Far Eastern subjects of the federation voted this way or how (the event has already happened), and what follows from this? Let's try to think together.

New conditions for new governors

Leonid Blyakher

Professor, Head of the Department of Philosophy and Culturology of the Pacific State University, Doctor of Philosophy
Let's start with a simple one: what has changed? 

The heads of regional administrations of the outgoing epoch of “verticalization” of the entire country were guided (and are guided) to a minimum extent by communication with the population of the territories they lead. The reason is obvious: the preservation of the position and the further career of the governor, especially the Far Eastern governor, depended to a minimum on how he was treated “locally”. Much more important was his position in the capital's corridors of power, clear (and on time) execution of orders from above, regardless of how they corresponded to the interests of the territory. Obstinate or reluctant regional leaders have gradually disappeared from the scene. And by now they are practically gone. 

Unlike the 90's governors, who were masters of their territories, the new governors were intermediate-level federal officials (slightly higher than the head of the ministry’s department, lower than the deputy minister, and somewhere also the head of the influential federal structure). Its real functions included only the distribution of part of the transfers going to the region from the federal budget, control over the regional “social sphere”. Yes, actually, that's all. That is why so often in this position turned out to be "effective managers" who do not know how to manage, but quite cope with the administration of the allocated funds.

But the regional leaders had another implicit function: to serve as a lightning rod for all unpopular decisions of the authorities in the region. As a rule, PR was saved here. If he did not save, the governor changed, which somewhat relieved the tension. In the Far East, the implementation of the PR function took over the Ministry of Eastern Development. As a result, she was also oriented outward. The gap between the image of the region and the self-awareness of the residents turned out to be fatal. According to the respondents during a survey in the Khabarovsk Territory, discontent reached its peak when the governor voiced the salaries of regional state employees, which clearly correspond to the presidential decrees, but are not very correlated with residents' wallets.

The new governors, who found themselves in this chair without much striving for it, found themselves in a difficult situation. Moreover, they are not the only ones. A similar situation is developing in most of the subjects of the Far Eastern Federal District and not only. And the acting chapters are well aware of this. The "untimely" dismissals of governors "of their own free will" are not at all accidental. The situation becomes more and more obvious when it is impossible to ignore the mood of the population. It comes to the surface and becomes a significant factor in the political (at least electoral) process.

Of course, you can simply cancel the election of governors or make the "filters" in the elections even tougher. But in this case, the negative, today condensing in the region, will spill out at the federal level. The consequences of this “splash” can be significantly more unpleasant than the wrong choices. But to take into account the interests of the population is not easy. For more than a decade, a structure has been built that implies exclusion of the population from participation in the political process in exchange for active social policy, subsidizing regional business with the right behavior, etc. Under these conditions, the management mechanisms of federal ministries and control structures have been built. The emergence of "people's governors" who work with the opinion of the population in the interests of this population, and not administer federal transfers, will disrupt the entire system, which is already cumbersome and not particularly effective.  

You can, of course, "punish" the wrong regions. A few years ago, this would have been a terrible threat. Today, the financial flow from the center is drying up more and more, and the rest goes, for the most part, past the inhabitants of the territory. Yes, and too explicit "punishment" of the population can only strengthen negative sentiments. Probably, one can assume that the mechanisms of government at the federal level should change, taking into account the new state of affairs. But here too, everything is not at all simple. 

Firstly, the differential force today is shifted from economic to power structures, from the regional to the federal level. Accordingly, it is proposed to change the strong. Do they want without extreme, vital necessity? Not a fact at all. It may be tempting to play by force and administrative methods. Moreover, until very recently, these methods have produced remarkable results. The fact that the costs of making such a decision will be much higher than the bonuses still need to be realized.

Secondly, the idea that there is some one factor or a common set of factors that causes discontent, in my opinion, is indirectly related to reality. In a giant territory with very different conditions and these factors are very different. The existing (legal and informal) mechanisms for analyzing this difference do not show. Expert assessments are taken into account only if they come from a special category of experts, called “justification” (justifying decisions already taken). It turns out that these differences are simply unknown to decision makers. Or, at least, they seem unimportant.

According to the logic of things, the space that allows to take into account and articulate these differences, to build a management with their account, should be a parliament. But the peculiarities of the formation of the parliament are such that it also turns out to be not so much a meeting of representatives of the territories as a federal level not only of the authorities, but also of the perception of reality. The silent reality of the regions and in this version becomes a source of potential threat to power. At least, the source of increasing uncertainty.

This is where a new demand for a governor’s corps may arise. In the new conditions that are emerging before our eyes, the governor from an average administrator’s hand can turn into a much more significant figure - a mediator between the population and the power, an articulator of the interests of the population. The gubernatorial corps itself becomes the political space where different Russia agrees on the principles of living together, becomes a single country, fastened not by a vertical of power, but by common interests and agreements. 

This is not a quick or easy process. The powers of the governors in this case should increase, and control over them somewhat weaken. Moreover, I (as a person with certain ideas about what is good and what is bad) is not at all sure that I will like the result. Simply, there is confidence that the remaining scenarios are worse or even more difficult.

Of course, new governors can try to integrate into the existing vertical, to reproduce the former state of affairs. But there is an increasing risk that such a governor will not be the head of the region, but the head of the regional “White House” and the people in it. In this version, the meaning of his activity is called into question, and the region will continue to flow away from the eye of the authorities into “shadow spheres”, become invisible, “exploding” at the most inappropriate moment.
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