Medvedev Welcomes Criticism Over Crisis
Published: March 17, 2009 (Issue # 1457)
Alexander Natruskin / Reuters
Honor guards open doors as President Dmitry Medvedev enters a hall for a meeting with regional lawmakers in the Kremlin on Friday in which the crisis was discussed.
MOSCOW — President Dmitry Medvedev urged regional lawmakers to debate the government’s anti-crisis policies and said he would welcome criticism.
In a notable departure from Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin, which rarely tolerated criticism, Medvedev said open discussion of anti-crisis measures among the lawmakers was “permissible and even necessary,” as was criticism of the state’s efforts to rescue the economy.
“It would not be surprising if there was criticism about the course that has been taken,” although “arguments in its favor” should be presented as well, he said at a Kremlin meeting with the lawmakers.
Medvedev, however, also contrasted Russia’s handling of the crisis with that of neighboring countries and took a clear swipe at one of them, presumably Ukraine, where he said political infighting had brought the economy to the edge of collapse.
“We do not have political problems, which is good, because a country that goes through a crisis with political difficulties has a high risk of experiencing a default,” he said. “Look at what our neighbors are doing. There is a permanent state of political tension and internal clan war over there, and it complicates an already difficult situation.”
Recently, some political pundits have started calling for Medvedev to depart from what they describe as the tacit pact between the government and society reached by Putin, in which society agreed on limitation of civil liberties in exchange for economical well being. The economic crisis demands that the accord be revised, say the pundits, including Igor Yurgens and Yevgeny Gontmakher of the Institute of Modern Development, a think tank that advises Medvedev on domestic policies.
In another departure from Putin’s principle of concentrating decision-making power in the Kremlin, Medvedev called on Friday to change the relationship between the regions and the central government, with regional lawmakers taking more responsibility for making decisions.
“This is a new time,” he said. “The responsibility of all levels of government has grown significantly.”
The regions should share their experiences in fighting the crisis with the state and among themselves, he said.
“A council of lawmakers could aid the exchange of information between regions,” he said. “It is also necessary to build a system of vertical communication with the federal center.”
Regional administrations should cut their spending on things like “palaces” and “certain kinds of entertainment complexes” but keep vital social budgets, including those on “primary infrastructure facilities and housing” intact, he said.
The president also railed against “irresponsible, weak and incompetent” managers in government, and said the state must get rid of them. A reserve of qualified officials is needed “at every level of government,” he said.
The last time Medvedev used similar language was last month, shortly before four regional governors were dismissed and a minister was demoted in an unprecedented shuffle that analysts said smacked more of a publicity stunt than an anti-crisis measure. Also last month, the Kremlin made public the “Golden list” of the top 100 candidates, a presidential reserve handpicked by a pool of experts upon the president’s request to occupy future government posts.
The government is working on a new anti-crisis plan that is to be presented on March 19. It will be accompanied by a revised budget that will show an 8 percent budget deficit, the country’s first in a decade, as well as additional support to banks and companies if the financial crisis worsens, First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov said.
Medvedev reiterated comments made by government officials that the budget could be revised should the price of oil sink lower than $41 per barrel.
In an unorthodox move, Medvedev also called for the state to examine the possibility of allowing citizens to mine gold in order to combat unemployment. “If something can be done about this, let’s try to do it,” he said.