This article was written for the project "Transformation and Globalization: Driving actors and factors of post-Soviet change. A study of actors, interests, institutions, and modes of regulation". You can find them at
Dr. Ivan Zassoursky
Russian Media in the Nineties:
driving factors of change, actors, strategies and the results
The study of post-Soviet change would be incomplete without the enquiry into the development of the media sector. Mass media were deeply transformed by the sweeping process of change while at the same time helping to shape it. The role of the media in the political history of the nineties was profound, while the media themselves experienced tremendous influence of the relevant groups and important economic actors.
In this analysis we will try to trace the trajectory of change, to follow the actors and define the strategies that produced it. In fact the media sector provides such a wealth of information and examples that we will be able to present our answers to the central questions posed by this study.
The transformation of the Russian media in the nineties provides us with a number of extremely elucidating clues on the rules of the game, the interplay of global and local factors, actors and strategies, gives us an insight into the number of impulses to which the actors had to react and generally provides us with a guide to the economic and political history of the nineties. Through the media the relevant groups defined their interests and the important actors secured their position initiating the highly politicized process of media concentration.
We shall examine this and many other issues in detail, and certainly we will seek our answer to the hypothesis of this research project – that the traditional political institutions and power arrangements, especially the state, are giving way to the new settings that are still taking shape, presumably the shape of a patchwork, or a number of networks.
This article consists of two parts. In the first one we shall trace the trajectory of change through the decade both in the global and local contexts. We shall also examine the transformation of the media system and its role in the society as well as its influence on the public communication process. In the second part of the article we will concentrate more on the actors and strategies – local as well as global – that shaped this process of change. In the conclusion we shall observe the results of our inquiry and provide our answer to the hypothesis of this research project.
Part 1. Tracing the trajectory: the driving factors of change
The first period (1986-1990)
The development of the new Russian press can be roughly divided into five periods. One, starting under the initiative of Michel Gorbachev and the Communist party, lasted from 1986 to 1990, when the first Media law has been introduced in the Soviet Union. Largely advertised and familiar to everybody under the brands of Glasnost and Perestroika, this period was essentially a grand effort to build a public sphere in place of administered by CPSU propaganda machine. It was a time of intellectual discussions and emotional upheaval, marked by increased interest in literature and philosophy. The freedom of speech was promoted vigorously throughout the country and even Jurgen Habermas who paid a visit to Moscow in the late eighties was impressed enough to recognize the contours of public sphere and opportunities for true democracy, opened up by the CPSU policy. It was fun living and reading in those days, and these times would remain "paradise lost" for intellectuals and intelligentsia for generations to come - until this era is lost in the memories or transformed to a tale of a distant past.
The culmination of these processes was a putch that followed in August 1991 and was defeated by the public uprising. The putch saw the first truly independent newspaper, Obschaya Gazeta, published by united editorial boards of a dozen publications, that had been closed by the revolting communists and militarists. In fact it also induced a very important process that is often overlooked: it brought about the first wave of privatization – of the media.
Under the Soviet media law the publications, radio stations and TV channels had not owners but founders – various social institutions that were responsible for their mass media, totally controlled or directly accountable to the CPSU. Under the policy of democratization the press was becoming ever more important and independent (and popular) to such an extent that in effect no pressure could be put upon it without provoking a public outrage and thus threatening the general line of the CPSU.
After the putch there were moves to ban the CPSU altogether and certainly it was unthinkable to keep the media directly accountable to the Soviet-era institutions, though both useless and dangerous at the time. Thus the press and some radio stations became truly independent at once and the control over the TV was relaxed for a while, although the ‘state’ still controlled the broadcasting industry at large. Boris Yeltsin swore to stand by the independent media and thus became their key ally in their defense against the previous owners and “communist party revenge”.
The second period (1990-1992)
The changes in media content came about as little by little the media started to embrace the global media culture. Defined by Denis McQuail this means the genres, styles and formats of commercial media adopted world-wide as a result of the development of media systems in similar environments.
The Soviet school of journalism was a very specific tradition with functions stemming from its social duty to enlighten and organize. As the USSR was a project built around ideology, it is hardly surprising that the media were very literary and television was underdeveloped.
The Soviet publications, even the most popular and pioneer were dull by design. In a mixed Guttenberg-Marconi Galaxy of Soviet media with little or no commercial sense entertainment was in deficit and so were colors. Since the whole industry of mass communication was basically an ideological propaganda mechanism, facts were reported too little too late and most of the space was devoted to feature articles. Those, in turn, dealt more with rhetorical structures than with facts, figures or personalities.
As the press was liberalized in the end of nineties, it was the ideological bias of the texts that started to change prior to the style of presentation. Of course a couple of good new shows and a load of Mexican soap appeared on TV but the print publications stayed basically the same. The articles dealt with hot topics now, a lot of new material was released from the archives and lots of issues were uncovered. But as the dawn of the USSR came about, the press corps simply switched from promoting one ideology to the next. In fact the “market fundamentalism” was as much their creation as of liberal economists. While most of the other social institutions were in ruins, the media enjoyed an unprecedented amount of attention, prosperity and influence. The new Russian authorities depended exclusively on good will and there were no owners aside from the journalist collectives. All this explains why the “forth power” concept was so widely shared among journalists at the time. And certainly, even when the circulation started to fall and economy slipped in the gloomy crisis the traditional mass circulation newspapers so no need to reform themselves but approached the state for support and received it. And some of them even obtained special gifts – like “Izvestiya” which was given the building on Pushkinskaya square, a perfect real estate outlet that afterwards became an important source of income and helped the newspaper to stay afloat independently until as late as 1997.
It is due to the new publications that the media landscape started to change and global media culture was introduced to the Russian audience. With it came a separation between reports and analysis, the news culture and general adoption of the commercial media standards – the influx of pictures and graphics, and general criteria of what is considered important (e.g. spectacular or newsworthy). The new newspapers, seeking to differentiate themselves from their aged rivals, were sometimes modeled on their Western prototypes: for example, “Nezavisimaya Gazeta” (est. 1990) owes much to “Le Monde” and “The Independent”, “Segodnya” (est. 1992) – to “Le Figaro”, “The Times”, “Kommersant” to “The Financial Times” etc.
Entirely new emerging markets were explored and thus new formats emerged: business newspaper (“Delovoj Mir”, “Kommersant”, “Economicheskaya Gazeta”), erotic magazines (“Mr.X”, “Yescho”) and tabloids (“Megapolis-Express”) etc.
It should however be noted that copying was by no means a success recipe. On the contrary, a number of copycat publications failed – for example, a color weekly “We/My” (a joint venture of “Izvestiya” and Hearst) and business paper “Delovaja Sreda” (which went so far as to copy the front page design of “The Wall Street Journal”) to name just a few examples.
On the contrary, the most successful start-ups possessed a distinct formula – like weekly “Argumenty i Facty”, monthly “Sovershenno Secretno” and “SPID-info”. These three success stories have in common a multimillion readership and unique market strategies. That reminds us once more that while thinking globally one must act locally.
In fact it was among the politicized and business elite that the global media culture originally took hold (“Nezavisimaya Gazeta”, “Segodnya” and “Kommersant” were printed precisely for this audience), only gradually making advances in the mass-circulation markets.
With the television it was a different story, but the trajectory remained the same though. There news bulletins came about first. In the beginning of nineties first advertisement appeared to become major source of income and investment in both TV and radio. TV-shows and TV-games were introduced by Donahue and Pozner in the late eighties, but until the beginning of nineties they were a rare event, the cloned shows (“Field of miracles” – Russian analogue of the “Wheel of fortune”, “Guess the melody”, “Love on first sight” etc.) arriving only in the middle of nineties and infotainment programs coming along by the end of decade.
The third period (1992-1996)
By the summer of 1992 the golden years of the independent press were finally suppressed by the economic crises, sharp income decline, inflation and general destabilization. The first financial difficulties began after the collapse of the USSR and the introduction of Gaidar's reforms - that is, after so-called "price liberalization". This liberalization, carried out in order to do away with price disproportion and shortages of goods, resulted in an explosion of inflation that was without precedent in peacetime. The savings of the population were wiped out, along with the greater part of effective monetary demand. The effect was to create huge disproportion between the prices of raw materials (which quickly reached world levels) on the one hand, and the prices of Russia's technologically unsophisticated manufactured goods on the other. Living standards collapsed.
Opposition commentators in the early 1990s dubbed this the "scissors effect". On one side were monopolies, and on the other were the country's citizens and consumer-oriented businesses. The whole of Russia's industry was between the scissors-blades. The press encountered spiraling prices for heavily monopolized newsprint, typographical and post services, at the same time as strong competition meant that publishers could not pass on increased costs to the consumer. Due to the rising costs of the transportation the centralized newspaper-based Soviet-time system was at last dismantled. Consequently rose the role of regional media and newspapers in particular, but the printed word never made its comeback, leaving the information space exclusively for broadcasting, primarily television. The dominant influence thus became the one of the television with its floating succession of images, creating more emotional than reasonable response. By the middle of nineties Russia became a part of the global “McLuhan Galaxy” as defined by Manuel Castells, and thus the development of the media system was synchronized with the global transformation process.
Because of the low definition of TV, McLuhan argued, viewers have to fill in the gaps in the image, thus becoming more emotionally involved in the viewing <…>. Such involvement does not contradict the hypothesis of least effort, because TV appeals to the associative/lyrical mind, not involving the psychological effort of information retrieving and analyzing <…>. This is why Neil Postman, a leading media scholar, considers that television represents an historical rupture with the typographic mind. <…> To make the distinction sharply, in his own words:
Typography has the strongest possible bias towards exposition: a sophisticated ability to think conceptually, deductively and sequentially; a high valuation of reason and order; an abhorrence of contradiction; a large capacity for detachment and objectivity; and a tolerance for a delayed response. <…> entertainment is supra-ideology of all discourse on television. No matter what is depicted or from what point of view, the overarching presumption is that it is there for our amusement and pleasure.
Based on these conclusions one could argue that television is not capable of transmitting a coherent ideology – especially if compared to the typography-based Soviet propaganda machine. But to stop here would mean to oversimplify the matter. A single ideology is possible only when there is a single center of power – while in the patchwork of post-Soviet state such power centers were multiple and even multiplying. What television creates is a single ideological space which functions along the lines defined by the medium.
<…> Beyond the discrepancies in the social/political implications of this analysis, from McLuhan’s belief about the universal communitarian potential of television to the Luddite attitudes of Jerry Mander and some other critics of mass culture, the diagnoses converge to two fundamental points: <…> television became the cultural epicenter of our societies; and the television modality of communication is a fundamentally new medium, characterized by its seductiveness, its sensual stimulation of reality, and its easy communicability along the lines of least psychological effort.
If a single power center creates dominant ideology, then the patchwork of intertwining power arrangement reassembled in the TV galaxy turns into the dominant mythology where the heroes, heroines, enemies (Saddam Hussein, Miloshevich, Chechen rebels or anarchists) and mystic forces (such as natural disasters, occasional industrial catastrophe or a plane crash) clash in the highly ritualized public spectacle. The patterns of these conflicts and their outcomes determine the unspoken laws of the universe where Mexican serials or “Santa Barbara” stand for normality and the borders are set and experienced through the bloodshed of violent cop stories or the mysticism of “X-files”.
1992 and 1993 was a time of political conflict and of economic problems for the mass media; the future of the media organs was in many ways determined by the struggle with these problems. An independent “Nezavisimaya Gazeta” suffered its split, with part of its journalistic staff using money from the Most financial group to begin putting out the newspaper “Segodnya”, the first publication in what will become one of the two largest Russian media-holdings. For the first time during this period a clear difference appeared between the development of the central and regional press, a difference that would only become stronger as time went on. Except for communist and nationalist publications, the regional press took its distance from politics, and was now an observer of the federal political mechanism rather than a participant in it. Partly because of its closeness to local elite, a closeness that appeared in the most diverse forms, from sponsorship to subsidies or effective ownership, the local press began to elevate regional interests to the first level of importance.
From 1993 and on the press was bought by the political and/or financial capital, little by little losing its independence, but gaining investment in return, with a small number of publications succeeding to stay afloat on their own. The newly independent media sprang up to become future victim of politically and financially motivated takeovers or to form the centers of independent press consortiums and publishing houses, that remain an influential minority of Russian publications nowadays.
It is almost unthinkable a task to provide an overview of the history of the new Russian media in the context of global transformation without imposing certain limits on the universe of facts and events that took place in the last decade. It seems, that the best way to provide an idea of how the new Russian media was born and what it looks like today, would be to combine the basic conclusions and a more thorough time-table of these processes with a snapshot of concentration and economic structures of the Russian press, while displaying the motives, political and economic processes that influenced the way Russian mass-media have developed.
My belief is that the new Russian television and quality press has been at least as much shaped by politics as by commerce so far. While enthusiastic Russian journalists in the beginning of nineties hailed the coming of the information market, it was effectively the market of political influence where vast sums of the money came from and in the context of which the control over TV channels was decided. In fact political and commercial interests shaped the Russian media system in somewhat different directions, the former helping to keep afloat Moscow-based politicized newspapers, the latter leading to the spread of specialized publications. Though sometimes thy went hand-by-hand as in the case of the TV both central and regional, or in the case of the process of concentration which was usually of a mixed character. On the one hand, concentrating media ownership lead to exploring the benefits of the economy of scale, at the same time increasing political influence of the media-holdings. In the context of the never ending power struggle characteristic for the nineties, this influence was a currency on its own that in the heat of the political battle could be exchanged for the access to privatized property. This issue will be explored later in some detail, but one thing we should mention here is that the interests of those participating in the privatization process were concentrated in the raw-materials sector and the refining industry which was in fact a common strategy of large-scale economic agents of that time. In the essence it was nothing else but if primitive, still globally-oriented strategy that promised sometimes immediate but always tremendous returns (be it oil, aluminum or plain steel). This probably explains to a large extent the bloodshed among the ‘globalization pioneers’ at that time – and the proliferation of gangster-type arrangements that turned out to be a helpful, if sometimes fatal, backbone to the commonplace ‘grab-and-run’ privatization schemes. Once the right for property or access to resources was secured, the enterprise and the state (through the evasion from taxes) was robbed to provide the necessary investment or just for profit. Later transnational corporations were approached for investment partnership or for sale. The reselling of privatized enterprises was one of the leading business sectors for a number of years and capitals earned were sufficient to create a number of oligarchs, take “Alfa Group” for example.
The processes in the media sector in the center resemble another global trend of the concentration of media ownership. The rise of the transnational media-corporation, stimulated by the needs of their key advertisers, transnational companies, selling mass-produced goods all over the world, is very similar to what happened in Russia in the nineties. In fact for the central TV channels local politicized capital got mixed up with the revenues coming from the same transnational advertisers that provided a sound financial base for the construction of the new propagandist machine. There were no contradictions between the demands of the advertisers and the interests of the party of power in Russia. As observed by Robert McChesney, all over the globe transnational media holdings are getting larger and work exclusively for profit, effectively subverting active political culture and thus presenting a threat to democracy. The extent to which the central TV relied on their support up till the crisis of 1998 is evident from the statistics that up to 90% of the advertisement revenue on the central TV channels came from transnational corporations (some of it – through the transnational advertisement networks).
We could generalize further that whenever we speak about mass media, we address the phenomena that first appeared in the middle of last century as mass-circulation newspapers sold cheaply because due to advertisement of mass-produced good. Mass media dealt primarily a market of influence, albeit not always political. One can wonder though is there such a great difference? Or rather it is the same function of mass communication and control which simply manifests itself in different ways in varying local environments in the constant interplay with the audience – which accepts, resists or even rejects it according to the message, its context and cultural codes embedded in it and in the audience as it is – structured in small groups or lonely crowds or whatever.
By the middle of the third period, from 1994 to mid-1995, there was a marked decline in the influence of politicized capital (in November 1994 “Nezavisimaya Gazeta” cut its number of pages in half, and in May 1995 ceased to appear). Even taking into account the fact that the transformation of Russia's economy implied a strengthening of the role of the mass media and an increase in the demand for information services, the positive tendencies (which also included such long-term factors as the development of a market for information services) could not compensate for the economic problems. The market for the print media did not become broader on mass scale, and the print runs of virtually all publications declined, although some publishers managed to expand their operations targeting new niche markets. Against the general background of difficulties, a stormy development of information capital began in niches of the newspaper and electronic media markets that were new to Russia. The Kommersant publishing house, which launched new publishing projects one after another; the group founded by the traditional leader among mass-circulation dailies “Komsomolskaya Pravda”; and numerous private television and radio companies, including large ones, generally flourished during this period.
From 1995 on the process of concentration of politicized capital gathered pace as the parliamentary elections of the winter of 1995 and presidential of the summer of 1996 were approaching. The motor of this process was financial and commercial-industrial capital, represented by the Most financial group and Boris Berezovsky's LogoVAZ and other numerous enterprises.
The beginning of the Berezovsky’s media holding could be traced back to the founding of ORT. In this, as well as in his other media ventures (such as sacking Poptsov from RTR and appointing Sagalaev) he was empowered as a fixer on the part of the president. The establishment of the ORT (as a channel 1 operator instead of a bankrupted “Ostankino”) had begun in February-March 1995; the founding was initiated early, so that the underlying motives should not be too obvious. By the middle of 1995 he also obtained “Nezavisimaya Gazeta” that ceased publication by the summer due to total unprofitability in general and the lack of private subsidies in particular.
The press slowly reoriented towards commercially-styled information on celebrities and mass-culture, gradually losing its influence, the Chechen war in 1994-1996 becoming the last victory of public opinion over the state. The fact that media (including the state-owned TV) could get so much out of step with the authorities on the eve of presidential elections made the rebuilding of state-media relationship inevitable. For the journalists this was probably the last time they acted according to the self-proclaimed “forth power” concept. Although the threat of “communist revenge” made them swing back to support Boris Yeltsin and some clever political technologies ensured his victory, the honeymoon was over.
The new manipulation techniques, imported from the USA with a couple of experts and fiercely developed locally, proved to be effective instruments in molding public opinion especially if conducted by or in cooperation with the media owners. These techniques of the information war consisted mostly in the adaptation of the strategies of political and economic players to the commercial media standards. Scriptwriting public events, skillful character killing and carefully plotted sabotage entered the Russian media system as a new means to control the public life which, under the pervading influence of the television, became a kind of spectacle.
Once tested at the elections they spread widely through the media system as the participants of campaign settled back into their positions of the leaders of Russian business community and PR companies. In fact, as it turned out later, owning a medium was not an indispensable prerequisite for the utilization of these techniques. The rising sector of semi-independent commercial media provided a milieu for such operations regardless of the ownership rights. Another discovery that was made by the PR experts was that these techniques also could be used regardless of a journalist views on the subject, since the influence here consisted not in the media insisting on this or that point, but on it delivering the “factual” message to the audience. The messages, so to speak, were designed to “work” regardless of the commentary and context of the news program or the editorial position of the publication – after they’d reach the audience, they were to be carried along by viewers through the informal social networks until the penetration was complete. And the strength of the newly emerged Russian PR industry is also a global feature in the mass communication systems felt all over the world these days (McChesney et al.), or, in different words, all over the McLuhan Galaxy.
The forth period (1996-1998)
Actually, after the elections the amount of the politicized capital in the press remained basically at the same level, while the large-scale political battle over presidency turned into a number of relatively small-scale fights among Russian financial groups and the government. This was the epoch of the information wars. Most of the time the only thing that made this routine struggle "political" was the fact that they have all been fought on the "public scene": none of the fight has ever been transformed to a political question and no feed-back was expected from the audience. Perhaps, the only exception is the newspaper war over Svyazinvest holding, declared and promoted by Berezovsky and Gusinsky united.
This unprecedented media campaign was not actually a war - it was a revenge. The government, faced by huge salary debts to the state sector employees sold 25% of the Svyazinvest holding on an auction to the highest bidder – i.e. George Soros and his partners, local oligarchs on their own, Oneximbank. This deal is, we should note, another example of what globalization brings about – privatization of the telecommunications industry, where foreign investors are likely to participate simply because domestic agents lack the necessary recourses.
Berezovsky and Gusinsky tried to capitalize on their political influence and thus were not able to collect the sum sufficient to beat their rivals. For two weeks after the auction was held, their press - two out of the three national TV channels, two daily newspapers and two news magazines - operated as an instrument of a centralized propaganda campaign, that accompanied a political intrigue in the Kremlin couloirs. Their victims were two members of the Russian government, Boris Nemtsov and Anatoliy Chubais, responsible for the "fair play" auction policy, that replaced a tradition of special investment tenders, where enterprises were sold for promises of future investment (and in exchange for special favors, e.g. media campaigns).
The results of this campaign are rather controversial and should be assessed in full. The "practical" results were the weakening of Anatoliy Chubais and his allies in the government - but that was accompanied by the long anticipated resignation of Berezovsky as deputy chief of the Security Council, i.e. the war was neither lost nor won. Indeed, Russian media moguls had managed to manifest their powers, but at the same time their campaign (and Oneximbank's large scale counter-offensive) served as an education program for the Russian public, providing the initial course of media literacy to whoever was paying attention. The competing media outlets jumped on the opportunity to restore the value of independent editorial policy and provided basic knowledge on "who owns what" for the public to the benefit of the reading public. Needless to say, the TV viewers remained media-illiterate even after that.
What happened in fact after the 1996 elections showed the power of the media and illustrated the benefits one could reap while wielding the power of a media holding, so the concentration once more gathered pace leading to the final division of the media system along the property rights that were obtained through politicized investment fuelled by political ambitions of some and defensive reactions of others.
The result was a number of holdings came into being and a lot of large economic agents started to invest money in the media: Oneximbank, Luk-Oil, Gazprom and Alfa-Bank to name just a few. Others acted on behalf of political players – like AFK-Sistema, which helped Moscow mayor Youry Luzhkov to assemble a media power base which, along with the media outlets financed directly from the city budget, made its presence felt all through the later part of the nineties.
Douglas Gomery from the University of Maryland finds three ways to maximize profits that explain concentration of media: the desire to use all the benefits of the economy of scale, vertical integration and the diversification of capital. While all three do explain the global viability of the media-holding model, it is due the forth reason - the political weight derived from concentration – that this model has proliferated in Russia in the end of nineties. But this model had its limits since the media in politicized holdings was not a source of profits, but also a burden. This is why these holdings were so vulnerable and some of them didn’t survive the crisis of 1998.
The years 1997-8 are also the years of commercial media bloom and Internet boom while the advertisement market blossomed. The Internet provided another opportunity for the "public sphere" concept to resurface in media studies in the modified fashion of cyberspace collective conscience utopia, but it was marginal and elitist compared to the beginning of the nineties. And, should we add here, rather short-lived.
In the same period the adoption of the new global strategy by grown-up Russian businesses started to take shape – from not widely publicized local partnerships of Berezovsky and Murdoch in the field of advertising and FM-radio to the expansion by Most-Media holding by Vladimir Gusinsky that acquired a stake in the important Israeli newspaper “Maariv” in the spring of 1998.
News America Inc., a part of the News Corporation run by Rupert Murdoch, bought a stake of PLD-Telecom holding, which helds shares of various mobile phone operators, from Cable and Wireless…
The fifth period (1998-2000)
When things at last seemed to settle in their place under the clear sky and the new horizons for the media sector (like satellite TV systems and prospects of across-the-border expansion) opened up and globalization at last seemed to triumph, in the August of 1998 the Asian crisis after-effects made themselves felt and the state debt collapsed leading to default that had an immediate and strong effect on the media sector. The transnational advertisers panicked and withdrew, new projects were postponed and a number of the already established ones collapsed.
The small-scale power-hungry investors withdrew from the media market, the advertisement revenue fell by different assessments from 50 to 70% and a reshuffling of the spheres of influence there followed. The largest market of TV advertisement before the crisis was controlled by the idyllic cartel of two major players, “Premier-SV” and “Video International”, and a minor player “Maxima” which served the interests of the Moscow-based media holding (esp. TV-center channel). After the default and crash the “Premier-SV” crumbled and was defeated, and “Video International” became more powerful – to such an extent that in the middle of 1999 it abandoned its long-term client NTV in favor of the ORT (first channel) while keeping its exclusive rights on the second (RTR) channel). It should be of no surprise then that the chairman of “Video International” Michael Lesin became the Minister of Information in the Putin government and keeps this post up to this day with little protest from the media. With an iron hand and some help from his colleagues like Sergey Yasrzhembsky he lead the Russian media coverage of the Second Chechen campaign through the heat of the battle issuing official warnings to the media right and left and only stopping short of closing some of them down.
The Kommersant publishing house, the flagship of independent media, got sold to Berezovsky. Generally, by the end of the decade political investment intensified as the media system was structured along the lines of power struggle. The State media were a bit revitalized by vigorous investment and other media holdings just played the game, making their bets and hoping to win the Jack-pot. Although the battle during the parliamentary elections was rather hot, the presidential elections were expected to be much more so, and this is precisely why everybody felt deceived when, on December 31, Boris Yeltsin resigned.
After the victory of the obscure pro-government “Edinstvo” block on the parliament elections and the successful coverage of the Second Chechen campaign was achieved, Putin’s chances were already high. But as the elections moved to the spring and Putin proceeded to carry on the last of Great Rituals reserved to presidents – congratulate Russia with the New Year, everybody understood that the fate of elections was decided already.
To summarize, let me just state that the popular war effort and the new year ritual has unleashed a profound and surprising support for a hand-picked successor of Yeltsin Vladimir Putin, absolutely incompatible with his public profile. The reason for this is perhaps that a politician as well as any other character can never be himself on the public scene – it is always someone else he is taken for. And, luckily for Vladimir Putin, he was accepted as a reincarnation of the classic TV-series icon and people’s hero, Standartenfuhrer Stirlietz, a Soviet spy in Gestapo – a strong personality, sacrificing. Believe me or not, as I write this peace, I can’t get out of my mind the song from this monumental movie, “17 moments of spring”, that keeps constantly resonating in my brain, bringing in warmth, security and nostalgia.
Let this be a perfect illustration of the laws of McLuhan Galaxy, and of what is real in the global culture of real virtuality, as Castells would put it. The image of Stirlietz is written in the culture codes as a system of preferences: order instead of chaos, mastery instead of drift, duty instead of freedom, law against power and strong state instead of weak. And these were indeed the preferences of the public according to every survey. Hence the evocation of this image and the triumph of theophany over the Gutenberg mind.
The commercial development of media effectively shaped the media system wherever not overpowered and exempt from this mainstream development by political process. It must be said that in the second part of decade the influence of political history over the media development continued to lessen – to become an important, yet isolated factor; not a rule, but exception. The development of the internet seems to reinforce the logic of this process.
Started as an enthusiastic endeavor, the net quickly commercialized – although due not to profits, but expectations. Even here one of the first virtual media holdings, built by former dissident, but a 1996 presidential campaign veteran and a prominent political consultant for the presidential administration Gleb Pavlovsky, was also financed by “political money”, but more for profit than for influence.
By the middle of year 2000, however, we can state that there is increasing similarity in the way the development of the net is financed in Russia and abroad with lots of local and international investors, developers and venture capitalists are lurking about in search of potential profit areas. This example illustrates probably much clearly than any other to what extent global trends have penetrated the media sector in Russia and the way this system is about to develop in the future.
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