Western media coverage of Russia nowadays is almost universally negative and in some cases with considerable justification. But there is also prejudice and ignorance.
A recent study by British Telecom reported that Western business executives have only a "rudimentary knowledge" of the country's booming market. BT's chief for Russia and the CIS said that "stereotypes are still dominant in Western minds and executives".
Stereotyping also occurs in the political arena.
Surveys suggest that most Russians feel that the country needs an effective political opposition and believe that the media has a role to play in facilitating good government. But, the chaotic Yeltsin years have also led to a reaction. People want someone to put trust in and to restore order and Vladimir Putin, who has done this, is very popular.
Putin has rolled back many counterweights to presidential power. Rather than being elected, regional governors are now selected by the president, although this must be confirmed by the regional legislature. Changes to the election rules make it very difficult for small political parties to win seats in the lower house of Russia’s parliament, known as the State Duma, and in regional legislatures; and the upper house of parliament, known as the Federation Council, is no longer made up of elected regional governors but two appointees from each region - one is chosen by the Putin appointed regional governor and the other by the regional legislature.
Putin has also brought quite a few people to Moscow from his home town of St. Petersburg to help him run the country. However, there are stubborn areas of independence - as the following examples suggest.
Yury Luzhkov, the veteran mayor of Moscow, was recently nominated by Putin to another term. Nevertheless, at Luzhkov’s recent swearing in ceremony, Putin made some critical comments. One political analyst said that Putin had to pay respect to Luzhkov, who is popular with Muscovites, in his official speech, but that he gave way to his personal feelings after that.
When Boris Yeltsin told Russia’s regions to take as much power as they liked, the mainly Muslim region of Tatarstan did, and negotiated an unusual power sharing agreement with Moscow. Recently the State Duma voted to approve a new power-sharing treaty with Tatarstan, months after the Federation Council had rejected a similar deal which gives the region special concessions in such things as language and control of energy resources. While Tatarstan is somewhat unique, it does demonstrate that Moscow’s power is not all-pervasive.
And a Communist Party candidate recently won Volgograd's election. The new 31-year-old mayor is seen as parts of a new generation of pragmatists, rather than an ideologue.
Serious opposition to Putin and the dominant United Russia political party is very fragmented between a number of parties and individuals who find it difficult to work together. Some of these individuals are relatively well known, such as Garry Kasparov (former chess champion) and Grigory Yavlinsky, who is likely to be the Yabloko candidate at the presidential election in March next year.
There is also harassment, although it is not consistent. Opposition marches are sometimes broken-up; and police recently prevented Kasparov and others from catching their flight to one of these, saying they needed to check whether their tickets and passports were counterfeit.
The general atmosphere of popular apathy and official intolerance leads to situations, for example, where opposition activists say that it is very hard to find printing firms willing to produce anti-Kremlin literature for them.
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