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Russia October 1, 2007
 
The Novgorod Affair
Did a blogger bring down a governor? By Kirill Pankratov Browse author
 
Page 3 of 4
 
Pensioners against Prusak

Pensioners against Prusak

Prusak has remained Novgorod's governor ever since. What's more, he managed to paint his region as a "reform leader," one of the Russia's most pro-Western, liberal regions, with liberal authorities. One can even find a book on Amazon.com called Crafting Democracy, devoted to Mikhail Prusak and his "remarkable experiment in building regional democratic institutions and self-rule." He was a ubiquitous presence at all the big international conferences, EU parliamentary assemblies and other similar Westernizing-mission schmooze fests, including programs sponsored by the George Soros Open Society Institute. Many Western journalists and analysts were taken in, writing glowingly of Prusak's achievements. For example, the following is found on the website of the Kennan Institute:

"...Prusak described how, for over a decade, his administration promoted the economic development of the Novgorod region without help or hindrance from Moscow, instead focusing on attracting foreign investment with tax incentives and progressive policies. 'For over ten years,' according to Prusak, 'the Novgorod region has been able to shed 50 percent of central government subsidies-even without oil or gas. Our only natural resource was the intellectual capacity and will of the people to work.'"

As a rule, most of what the Western media publishes about Russia is bullshit. Glorifying Prusak is yet another example. Behind the facade of the "Westernized" democratic leader charging ahead with rapid reforms and attracting foreign investment, was very familiar reality: Prusak was just another petty, parochial plutocrat, carving up and milking his fiefdom, which was really just a depressed region. Ironically, even though Prusak parroted the pro-Westernizing line, he never belonged to any of the powerful clans in Russian politics, and he was not considered personally corrupt, especially as compared to some other regional bosses. He always remained just loyal enough to whoever ran the show in the Kremlin, while domestically, he let the regional powers (meaning mob rule) sort things out themselves, without seriously challenging them. Moscow was too busy with its own problems and intrigues to bother interfering.

Prusak's gig only started to unwind in the early 2000s. Whereas many provincial Russian regions started experiencing their first rapid growth in ages, Novgorod continued to fall further behind. Salaries there remained lower, while prices were higher than in neighboring regions. Novgorod essentially remained stuck in the 90s - in the bandit Yeltsin era, with crime bosses the true masters of the local economy, and masters over people's fate, intimidating or killing anybody who stood in their way.

One recent and shocking case illustrates this well: three women working for a Novgorod real estate agency were seen as hindering the business of a local mob clan. They died in a fire which was clearly arson. As always, the crime was never solved, the perpetrators never found.

The "Antonina and Alisa" affair led to a massive media blitz on this terrible state of affairs. Of course, the "Antonina and Alisa" case wasn't the only reason why Prusak fell from power, but it appears to have been the catalyst that convinced the Kremlin apparatus to make its move now.

They say that Russian history goes in circles. Once, during the 11th -15th centuries, there was a powerful and vibrant Novgorod republic – a part of the Hanseatic league and an indigenous democracy on the Russian soil, later brutally crushed by the autocratic Moscow's expansion. This is the version taught in most Western and some Russian history books. In fact, by the time Novgorod fell it had degenerated into little more than a feeble, corrupt oligarchy, preying on its own population. Novgorod power collapsed thanks to the greed, corruption and incompetence of its own leaders.


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