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Social tension in Zabaykalsky Krai as a factor of political risk in work of the “United Russia” political party / Социальная напряженность в Забайкальском крае как фактор политического риска в деятельности политической партии "Единая Россия"
Ключевые слова: политические риски, политические партии, социальная напряженность, протестная активность, электоральное поведение, политический протест, экономический кризис, невыплата зарплат, Единая Россия, Забайкальский край
Дата направления в редакцию: 30-04-2017
Дата рецензирования: 30-04-2017
Дата публикации: 27-06-2017
Abstract. The subject of this research is the social tension and protest activity as a factor of political risk in work of the “United Russia” political party. The article provides various interpretations and characteristics of the term “social tension”. Special attention is given to the events that took place in Russia over the recent 2-3 years and significantly affected the escalation of social tension and protest activity in the country, as well as the regions (annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol, sanctions against Russia, implementation of “Plato” system, etc.). The author also examines the socioeconomic situation in Zabaykalsky Krai (late salary payment, unemployment, inflation, and others) as a factor of political risk in the work of regional branch of the “United Russia” party. The conducted analysis allows concluding that among the substantial consequences of economic crisis and dissatisfaction of population with actions of the authorities lies in the rating downgrade of the “United Russia” political party, escalation of protest moods and social tension, changes in electoral behavior. According to the results of the research, Zabaykalsky Krai has a much broader potential for the protest activity, if compared to the nationwide. The currently established socioeconomic situation in Russia and Zabaykalsky Krai is one of the factors of political risk in work of the “United Russia” political party and its regional branch.
Keywords: United Russia, late salary payment, economic crisis, political protest, electoral behavior, protest activities, social strain, political parties, political risks, Zabaykalsky Krai
The problem of social strain becomes more and more urgent in the context of the contemporary society, since very often it is fraught with a threat to stability, effective functioning and development of different social institutions. It also has significant impact on electoral behavior. Therefore, politicians of different levels and representatives of political parties give more and more attention to it, and try to find effective ways to solve it.
During the last 2-3 years, many events have happened in Russia and abroad, in the international relations in general, which can have both positive and negative impact on social tension in the country. They include:
Most above mentioned events have caused and are still causing ambiguous reactions among the population. To a large extent, such a reaction is determined by the economic crisis in Russia, which had led to the decrease of incomes and inflation growth, having impact on the citizens’ wellbeing and social tension growth. Some developments and the government’s response to them caused serious discussions in the society, which couldn’t but reflect on confidence in elections. The danger of social explosion should be considered as the most serious consequence of the social crisis. As some contemporary Russian scholars believe, it is obvious that protest activities in their contemporary forms – rallies, demonstrations, processions, activation of various extremist organizations, aggression in interpersonal relations and self-destructing behavior – are the consequences of the accumulated social tension and social uneasiness .
According to the data of the Center for Economic and Political Reform, the growth in the number of conflicts in labor relations has been registered in Russia: late payment or decrease of wages, introduction of shorter working hours, mass layoffs, and protests caused by these factors. In 2016, 207 cases had been registered, which led to various forms of labor protests; more than a half of them (56%) were connected with the demands to pay off salary debts .
At that, the unemployment rate in December 2016 was 5.3% of the labor pool of the country. In 2017 the unemployment rate reached 5.6%. Among unemployed rural population, 40.6% are long-term unemployed, and among the urban population – 23.7%. Average job search time is 7.6 months .
In the context of the economic situation worsening, more and more Russians find themselves beyond the poverty line. Therefore, it’s very important to note the growth of tensions between the rich and the poor Russians, which has been registered by the results of the sociological survey “Points of disagreement in the society” conducted by the “Levada-Center” in 2016. Based on it, the sociologists believe income stratification is the most important social problem of the country. Ethnic and religious conflicts are also among the serious problems, causing concerns of the population, but they lag far behind social inequality . According to the research results, 76% feel significant strain between the poor and the rich, and 82% believe the existing contradictions can cause social tension. Specifying the intensity of strain between the poor and the rich, about 41% of the respondents described it as “very strong” . Escalation of discontent and social strain in Russian society during the last year can be seen in the results of regular measurements of the rates of social tension and protest activity in all regions of Russia. These measurements focus on the assessment of the level of dissatisfaction of the population with economic, political and social situation in the region and the work of local authorities; factors, destabilizing social situation in regions; assessment of the level of the citizens’ readiness to participate in confrontational forms of activities. The acquired results help calculate indexes of social tension, protest activity and protest potential for every region of the Russian Federation, and compose social strain and protest potential ratings of Russian regions .
Nevertheless, while the probability of social tension growth is high, the social researches prove that the protest potential among Russians is low. For example, according to the data of the Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VCIOM), 74% of Russians believe no protest actions are possible in the nearest time. The research of the “Levada-Center” also prove that the protest potential of Russians has significantly decreased over the last years – only 9% of Russians are ready to participate in mass political actions [1, 4, 9].
As we have already noticed, social tension is usually equaled to protest potential (citizens’ readiness to participate in protest activities) and protest behavior. But social strain can be manifested in other forms, not connected with protest activities, for example, in the electoral sphere. Various sociological surveys register not only negative sentiments in Russian society, but the decrease of citizens’ confidence in the authorities. According to the research “Russians’ ideas about the future of the country in 20 years”, conducted by the Public Opinion Foundation in November 2016, 45% of Russians are unhappy with the state of affairs in the country. The most negative assessments are given to the authorities’ work in the sphere of public health service (60%), economics (48%), social protection (40%) and education (39%) . As a result of the deepening economic crisis in Russia and the citizen’s discontent with the authorities’ work, the ratings of political leaders are downgrading. Currently, the surveys, conducted by VCIOM, the Levada-Center, and the Public Opinion Foundation, demonstrate the general gradual decrease of citizens’ confidence in President Putin, Prime-Minister Medvedev, who is at the same time the United Russia’s leader, and the party in general (See Chart 1).
Chart 1 Ratings of V.V. Putin, D.A. Medvedev and the United Russia Party
(figures for 2013 – 2017)
Based on these figures, we can conclude that the trigger point the rating downgrading starts with, is 2015. Nevertheless, we can also see that Vladimir Putin’s rating and citizen’s confidence in the President is still quite high – 64%. The significant lowering of confidence in Dmitry Medvedev deserves special attention – his rating has decreased by 14% as compared with the previous year – in 2017 less than a half of Russians (41%) trust him. Confidence in the United Russia party is at a medium level – 47% trust the party; as compared with the previous year, this index has decreased by 1%. At the same time, it’s important to notice that confidence in the party is 6% higher than confidence in its leader [1, 4, 12].
All the above mentioned facts prove that at the present time, the level of social strain in Russia is quite high, and the level of protest activity is also growing. Such a situation is potentially dangerous, but, according to the results of sociological surveys, there’s no threat of a social explosion. At the same time, another tendency of social tension manifestation can be seen, namely, the changes in the electoral sphere, particularly, the decrease of positive attitude towards political leaders and figures.
Another problem, which deserves consideration together with the analysis of social tension as a political risk factor in Russia in general, is the regional aspect of this phenomenon. The Russian Federation is divided into 85 territorial units, which are significantly different not only in their climate and geographical position, but also in many other – socio-economic, demographical, socio-political and cultural – dimensions. All these peculiarities determine the specific social situation and the specific socio-psychological climate in each region, defining the degree of social strain there.
We believe that the research, conducted by O.V. Rodimushkina, I.A. Chernikova, and O.V. Iakovlev in 2015, is the most informative and interesting work about the problem under study. The authors compare sociological data and point out the group of regions with a high degree of social strain. This group consists of 25 territorial units of Russia, including the Republic of Karelia, the Zabaikalye territory, Arkhangelsk region, the Jewish autonomous region, the Khanty-Mansijsk Autonomous District, etc. Among the reasons of a high level of social tension in this region, as the most significant ones the authors point out the general dissatisfaction with the state of affairs in the country or the discontent with the decisions and the activities of local authorities. Besides, within this group, the scholars register the high degree of readiness to participate in protest activities or expectation of such activities. The most serious situation is registered in the Zabaikalye territory. Protest sentiments here are caused by both the discontent with the work of local authorities and the state of affairs in the region .
According to the rating, composed by the analytical department of the “Argumenty i Fakty” newspaper in November 2016, the Zabaikalye territory takes the first place in terms of social strain level among the Siberian regions. Particularly, the Zabaikalye territory has the highest crime rate - officially, there are more than 30 crimes registered per 1000 people. Experts explain such a high crime rate with a large number of penitentiary institutions in the region, promoting the penetration of the criminal culture into the everyday life of local citizens. Besides, the rating demonstrates the large number of official misconducts and corruption-related crimes in the Zabaikalye territory .
Analyzing the social situation in the Zabaikalye territory, it is necessary to take into account the high unemployment rate – 10.8% (the third place among the Siberian regions and almost two times higher than the countrywide rate), against the background of the low income level of the population (almost 20% lower than the countrywide level) and the high level of household debt. At the same time, the region has the highest level of rise in prices: as compared with the previous period, the prices have risen by 14.3%. The key problem in this sphere is fuel prices increase .
We have to notice that over a number of years, the Zabaikalye territory has been one of the problem regions. It is characterized by the low level of living and quality of life (81st place according to the quality of life), low GDP, budget gap, huge and growing government debt, underdevelopment of social infrastructure, low quality of public health service, nursery schools overcrowding, poor condition of housing and utilities infrastructure, the absence of real preferences for welfare beneficiaries, uncompetitive labor market. At the same time, the incomes of the region are not enough even for the priority needs, such as the payment of wages for government employees. It leads to the high migration activity of the population – on the average, 7-8 thousand people leave the Zabaikalye territory annually. Internal migration is also a widespread phenomenon – people move from remote localities, primarily rural areas, to the regional center; it causes desolation and further deprivation of rural areas.
Forest and steppe fires damage the region every year. This problem becomes more and more urgent, since it damages both the economic situation in general and the citizens’ lives in particular. Over the last years, several localities suffered from fire. As of 4 April 2017, there have been 17 active forest fires in the region, covering the area of 3331.5 ha; 7 of them are near inhabited localities. Besides, fires significantly worsen the condition of the regional environment, which is already very bad. Particularly, the administrative center of the region – Chita – during 2015-2016, had been at the top of the list of cities with the highest level of air pollution, according to the Federal State Statistics Service [7, 15].
Thus, as a result of a long-term persistent lack of financing of all spheres of life, the current economic situation in the region can be characterized as degradation. The discontent of the population, resentment and desperation are growing, but for now, they don’t convert into political protests, but result in asocial, and even antisocial behavior – the Zabaikalye region is the leader in crime rate, particularly, murders, and in suicide cases (including adolescent suicides). Nevertheless, the survey, conducted by the Laboratory of sociological and psychological research of Baikal State University in March 2016, shows that about a half of citizens of the region (48.3%) believe that protest actions in their region are not possible. The index, demonstrating the absence of protest sentiments, is almost 26% lower than the country-wide index (74% of Russians believe no protest actions are possible); it proves that the protest potential in the Zabaikalye region is significantly higher than in Russia as a whole .
Thus, significant growth of protest activity had been registered in the region during 2016 (including rallies, strikes, pickets, hunger strikes), involving government employees, who hadn’t received salaries for months, and mothers with many children, who hadn’t received state allowances. Since early 2017, there have already been several protest actions. Particularly, in February, there were several one-person pickets (organized by the representatives of the Communist Party) against the adoption of the law on the criteria of needs of veterans of labor and multi-child families. In March, the strike against the “Platon” system began. Also in March, the supporters of the opposition leader Alexey Navalny organized a rally requesting to investigate the facts, presented in the film about Dmitry Medvedev, released by the Anti-Corruption Foundation [7, 15].
In general, most labor protests in the Zabaikalye region are connected with late payment of wages. According to the statistical data, past-due arrears of wages as of 1 January 2017 summed 80993.0 rubles; it is 26779.0 rubles or 49.0% higher compared to same period last year. 17 organizations have past-due arrears of wages .
Alongside internal, i.e. regional, reasons of social tension, there is also the factor of citizens’ dissatisfaction with the work of the federal authorities. The region is unable to solve many problems independently, and the federal assistance is not sufficient. Experts believe, the lack of complex and effective measures of government support is one of the reasons of the serious socio-economic situation in the region. Citizens’ discontent is caused by the fact that the government gives much attention to the problems of Crimea and assists Ukraine and Syria, while the problems of the region are not being noticed.
People can’t understand why the Zabaikalye territory, with its natural resources, and high potential of development of industry, agriculture, logistics, and trans-border cooperation with China and Mongolia, is in such a distressful situation, and doesn’t get assistance for the development of its potential. For example, the federal program “Socio-Economic development of the Far East and the Baikal region until 2018” doesn’t contain any financial assistance to the development of the Zabaikalye region. Citizens also think it is unfair that the Power of Siberia pipeline will be laid from Irkutsk region to China bypassing the Zabaikalye region, and the economic corridor China-Mongolia-Russia, “Steppe Road”, will also bypass the region [7, 15].
All the above mentioned problems raise serious discussions; the discontent is expressed in the variety of negative comments to information, posted on news websites. Naturally, many negative comments are related to the actions of regional and federal authorities, and the United Russia party, particularly its regional office. Consequently, this situation has significant impact on the attitude towards the party, whose rating in the region downgrades much faster than in the country as a whole. It can be seen in the election results (See Chart 2).
The United Russia’s rating in the Zabaikalye region (dynamics for 2008 – 2017)
The presented election results demonstrate the fact that in 2016, as compared with the situation of 2008, when the Zabaikalye region was officially formed by merging Chita region and the Aginsk Buryat Autonomous District, the rating of the Zabaikalye regional office of the United Russia has decreased by 14.94%. As compared with the previous period – the 2013 election – the rating has downgraded by 3.22%.
Besides, we have to notice that statistical surveys register the party’s rating downgrading. For example, answering the question “What party would you vote for, if the State Duma elections were held today?”, offered in the survey held by the Laboratory of social and psychological research of Baikal State University in March 2016, 42.3% of the respondents supported the United Russia. The survey didn’t contain the question about the potential election to the Zabaikalye territory Legislative Assembly, but such a division is usually unimportant for an ordinary person, so the acquired results can be also applied to the regional office of the party. This prognosis had almost scored, the results of the election to the Zabaikalye Territory Legislative Assembly, held in September 2016, were even slightly lower – 39.87% of voters supported the United Russia.
According to the survey, conducted by the same institution in March 2017, 34% are ready to vote for the party this year, which is 8.3% less than in the previous year. It proves the tendency of the further downgrading of the party’s rating among the population of the Zabaikalye territory, as well as of its regional office. It also must be noticed that the acquired rating is 13% lower than the country-wide party’s rating.
Experts believe, such a decline in the party’s popularity is caused by the complicated socio-economic situation in the region in general, and by the persistent decline of the quality of life in the region, in spite of all the efforts of the regional authorities. Based on these facts, we can conclude that the current socio-economic situation in the Zabaikalye region, together with the low quality of life of the largest part of the population causing discontent with the work of the regional authorities, is the factor instigating social strain growth, and the source of protest potential. Naturally, such a situation reflects on electoral behavior.
We have to emphasize that social strain, caused by persistent discontent of the largest part of the population with the quality of their life, is a serious factor of political risk. Actualization of such problems as unemployment, lowering of incomes, rise in prices, etc. causes and strengthens dissatisfaction with the actions of the authorities and spills over into different forms of protest behavior. The longer the above mentioned problems are not solved, the higher the probability is that protest behavior will take dangerous forms including civil wars and revolutions.
At the moment, social tension growth can be observed in Russia, which is connected with the long-term economic crisis. Nevertheless, most Russians are not ready to participate in any protest actions, and it speaks for a low protest potential. But this situation is not typical for some regions of the country. Particularly, the Zabaikalye territory has very serious socio-economic problems, and the protest potential of its citizens is higher than the country-wide rates. The current social tension can lead not only to protest actions, but also to the changes of electoral sentiments and behavior, which is closely connected with the activities of political parties and the decline of citizens’ confidence in them. The results of researches demonstrate gradual decline of the United Russia’s popularity in the country. Speaking of the Zabaikalye territory, here the party’s rating has been significantly downgrading and is likely to further downgrade.
Thus, based on the above mentioned facts, we can conclude that the current situation of social strain in Russia in general and in the Zabaikalye territory in particular is a real factor of political risk for the United Russia party. Therefore, it is necessary to develop an effective regional program, which could quickly solve the problems of the region and respond to the burning contradictions in order to ease social tension.