Putin Gives People Paternal Patriotism

In his first major political and economic policy statement, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin announced that the people want a "paternalistic" state, and he intends to build for them a strong government that will invest in the national economy, subsidize exporters and stamp out corruption.

"Society wants the restoration of a guiding and regulatory role of the state to the extent dictated by national traditions and the state of the country," Putin wrote, in a statement posted on the Internet at www.pravitelstvo.gov.ru, a new Russian government web site.

Putin's soaring popularity has made him the runaway front-runner to replace President Boris Yeltsin in elections due June 2000. His vision of Russia in the 21st century particularly focused on maintaining public order, and he pledged to fight organized crime and corruption on several separate occasions in his policy statement.

The document was released Tuesday, as Putin was attending the founding congress for the government-aligned political movement Unity, or Medved. So the statement could well be seen as supplying Unity with the one thing party members freely admit is still lacking: an ideology.

Much like Yevgeny Primakov - Putin's current main rival for the presidency in next year's vote - Putin stresses stability and a mix of market and statist policies, along with patriotism and the need to fight corruption and organized crime.

Putin tracks Russia's decline since the collapse of the Soviet Union. He lays much of the blame for the nation's descent into poverty and disorder at the door of the Soviet Communist Party. But he also is critical of "radical" reforms that had attempted to "transplant to Russian soil abstract models and schemes derived from foreign textbooks."

Putin called for the creation of a new national idea - something Yeltsin has also called for over the years - prefacing his remarks by cautioning that such a national idea was already incubating and taking shape, from "primordial" Russian traditions.

The section on the Russian idea was the most detailed, and was grouped under four sub-headings: Patriotism, Belief in Russia's Greatness, Statism and Social Solidarity.

Putin stressed that patriotism is a fine, nation-building quality - provided it does not lapse into imperialism.

He then plucked out for praise the rather archaic and imperial term ***derzhavnost,**** or belief in the state's greatness. The word is derived from ***derzhava,*** the orb that was part of the tsarist regaliaand which signified the imperial global reach.

Under ***gosudarstvennichesvto,*** or statism, Putin wrote: "Russia will not soon become, if it ever becomes, a second copy of, say, the U.S. or England, where liberal values have deep historical traditions. Among us the state, its institutions and structures, have always played an exclusively important role in the life of the country and the people. A strong state is for Russians not an anomaly, not something that must be fought against, but on the contrary is the source and guarantor of order, the initiator and main driving force of all change."

In his statements about social solidarity, the prime minister argued that individualism is far less important for Russians than communal ties. "The collective form of lifestyle has always dominated over individualism," he wrote - adding that this communalism expresses itself in a national desire for a "paternalistic" regime.

Putin pledged to build such a state by launching a rational restructuring of government departments, by turning the civil service into a meritocracy that would advance the best "specialists," by increasing "discipline" in government and by declaring war on corruption.

He cautioned that an overly strong executive arm of government is a potential danger to democratic freedoms - freedoms he said that Russians have come to cherish as the only firm basis for a stable regime. His solution for checking executive power was to strengthen the "partnership between executive power and civil society," and to fight corruption.

Some political observers have argued that Russia's Constitution, with its tsar-like presidency, is also part of the danger to democracy. But president-in-waiting Putin wrote that he opposes any constitutional reform. "We have a very good constitution," Putin wrote. "The section devoted to rights and personal freedoms is considered the best constitutional act of its sort in the world."

Last, and perhaps least, Putin turns to the economy, where he offers a vague mix of the kind of "guiding hand" policies pushed by Primakov.

He gives most weight to the need to encourage investment.

"Investments into the real economy sector fell by five times in the 1990s, including by 3.5 times into fixed assets. The material foundations of the Russian economy are being undermined," he wrote.

"We call for pursuing an investment policy that would combine pure market mechanisms with measures of state guidance."

Tax and budgetary reform will be pursued, he wrote, as will restructuring of the banking sector and the elimination of barter and other non-cash forms of payment.

Putin is also eager to better integrate Russia with the world economy, stating that membership in the World Trade Organization is a priority.

Putin wrote that he also wants to ensure active state support for exporters - and said that the time may be ripe for creating a government agency to provide guarantees for export contracts.

He pledged to "resolutely combat the discrimination against Russia on the world markets of commodities, services and investments, and to approve and apply a national anti-dumping legislation."

Russian steelmakers have been shut out of the United States this year by U.S. anti-dumping cases.