Friday, January 27, 2012

On Putin's national policy...

Have you done your homework and read Putin's article on national policy I asked you to read yesterday? If not, please read it now. We are going to be referring to it quite a lot.

For those who have already read, then you may check out the latest progress on the painting...

Had to do it quickly because it dries quickly and I didn't want to use any acrylic paint retarders to slow down the drying. 

I haven't painted in so long that when I opened my box of art supplies, a giant cockroach scurried out--one the size of your thumb and then some. Chased it under the cupboard with insecticide. I think it's dead. My cat isn't really interested in pest control these days.

So, time to do the underpainting in acrylic. The large areas get the paint first--background, Putin's suit, shirt. Then moved on to the his face.

Ok, back to our discussion.

Immigration policy and migrant workers have been a huge (if not the main) subject of debate during the Singapore General Election (no, I didn't get to vote, but thanks for asking/pitying me), and even during the Presidential Election. After becoming slightly less popular, the ruling party said it would "listen more". And they promptly wrecked havoc on migration worker quotas.

The fact was, it wasn't because the government wasn't listening. It was because the Singaporeans have not been speaking up enough.

Example. A personal one. During the 2nd Russia-Singapore Business Forum, I got the final question during the Q and A session with Herman Gref and Lee Kuan Yew. Greeting Mr Gref, I  asked"What would be the future of Singapore-Russia relations after Putin?" and after which, I lambasted asked Lee Kuan Yew, "And what would be the future... after YOU, Sir."(said with a snarky expression that implied "so, when are you gonna quit, old man?")
I attended the RSBF in 2007. That's Herman Gref on the left, Lee Kuan Yew in the middle.

He was polite enough to chuckle.

My friends and family were shocked that I did ask such a question and not get smacked on the wrist for that. Of course, nothing happened. I knew nothing would happen. I don't believe anyone printed that in the papers though.

The thing is, we've always had a voice all along. You could criticize the ruling party and not be thrown in jail. It was OK. They won't hate you for speaking up. In fact, they are terrified of the Complaining Citizen. Sure, a handful might get in trouble (might be because they were idiots all along), but most likely you won't. If anything, they'd actually LISTEN. It was only recently, my generation had discovered it. Generation Y was no longer Generation Q--Generation Quiet.

Russians, on the other hand, I find to be very outspoken--Whine! Argue! Find fault! Find somebody to blame! Debate! Criticize! Protest! Rebel! Revolt! Start a new revolution!--even when they know very well they could get into trouble for it.

Many people view Russia as a repressed people.

It was only when I went to visit Putin's Russia, that I saw that we were the ones who had been repressed all along... by our own fault. By our own fears.

So maybe people get the government they deserve. Or is it the other way round?

We wanted cheaper things. We wanted more material things. We wanted to spend more time with the family and friends. We got a government that imported cheap labour and goods we can enjoy on the cheap. Lowly-paid migrant workers as waiters, cleaners, maids, construction etc. had to be hired. Singaporeans don't want those jobs.

Thus the flood of immigrants in addition to imported goods. Now, no, we discovered we didn't like it that much. We didn't like competing for space in public transport, or even sharing our parks, eateries, or sidewalks. We also didn't like the service these foreign service staff was providing us. Too shoddy. Don't speak proper English! Don't speak Singlish! We found something else to whine about. What we wanted, we got. What we complained about got done away with. If only we could make up our minds....

What did Russia want? Did Russia get what she deserved?

Maybe our Russian friends can tell us. But let me take a shot at this.

Historically, Russians always had a top-down chain of command. The top rules the bottom. The Tsar, Chairman or President is given huge powers, and is expected to solve all the nation's problems and march it into greatness.

But this doesn't really happen. No one person can handle such power. He is not god. Even with such power, he cannot solve all the problems that have been plaguing the nation because most of these problems have deep roots. These problems were within the people themselves, and change must come from within them, not from the top.

So poor, poor Putin, just handed the keys to the country after Yeltsin left it in a huge, hangover-turned-alcoholic-oh-I'm-gonna-die mess. And he couldn't say no. Because somewhere, in side him, a little voice tells him, you can do better than this man. Give it a shot.

Yeltsin-era Russia was an amazing mix of Soviet-style illogic and bandit capitalism. But I suppose many had decided, enough was enough. The Russians made noise. Putin decided to listen.

I don't think Yeltsin intended Putin to strike out on his own and start knocking down his family of chummy oligarchs in favor of the entire country. I wouldn't think Putin would do that if he didn't feel that he had the support of the people.

We see what is happening in the world, the serious risks that are accumulating. Escalating interethnic and interreligious tensions are today’s reality. Nationalism and religious intolerance are becoming an ideological base for some of the most radical groups and movements – destroying or eroding states, and dividing societies.   --V. V. Putin

Likewise, the issues of nationalism and ethnic strife has plagued the nation since forever... and more recently, the two Chechen wars, the rise of skinheads, mobs of migrants from the CIS etc. have highlighted the issues even more. And of course, much was written and spoken about. There were protests. Even terrorist attacks.

These problems were historical and deep-rooted, but Russians looked up to Putin to solve these problems with a few strokes of the pen--enact a new law or something--within his first term. These problems cannot be solved in decades, let alone 4 years.

Maybe sometime during the end of his 2nd term, a light went up in his head, "Hey, they think I AM god... maybe I CAN actually solve these problems..." then..

BAM! New plan. Buy more time with the help of Medvedev. New national policy in 2012 addressing migration policy. Because this was, getting, quite frankly, ridiculous. The Russians are miserable. The migrant workers are miserable. Even Russia's neighbors are miserable. And they were all going to blame him whether it was his fault, or their own bloody fault.

And his vision, in all awesomeness:

Russian people are nation-forming – on the basis of Russia’s existence. The great mission of Russians is to unite and bind our civilization. Language, culture and “universal kind-heartedness,” according to Fyodor Dostoevsky, are what bring together Russian Armenians, Russian Azerbaijanis, Russians Germans, Russian Tatars… Bring them together to form a type of state-civilization that does not have “ethnic persons” and where differentiation between “us and them” is determined by a common culture and shared values.      

It would be an amazing feat if he actually pulls it off his "lets just all get along" policy. But most politicians don't fulfill most of their promises. I only hope here it is a question of can't, not don't. I think he can't do it. Not on his own.

Change must come within the people first.

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