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Politics

Russia turns back more than just the clock

On Wednesday, Russia stopped using daylight savings time. In October clocks will be set back to winter time for good. The move does away with one of the last relics of Dmitry Medvedev's long list of disappointments.

It was one of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev's pet projects as president: keeping the country on permanent daylight-saving time. Medvedev argued switching back and forth between summer and winter time would mess with people's biological clock. Russians would benefit from the scheme in terms of health, but also in terms of saving energy.

But because Russia then also didn't change the clock in winter, the sun didn't clear the horizon until 11 a.m. in St. Petersburg in the country's north. As a result, many Russians weren't feeling well. Even Vladimir Putin was complaining of tiredness in the morning; Medvedev himself was spotted taking naps in public at the time.

Eternal summer time was one of the few changes that remain from the era of President Medvedev. Other reforms have been scrapped.

A disappointment for reformers

When Medvedev took office in 2008, people in Russia as well as in the West hoped that change was about to come. Dubbed a reformer, the former Gazprom manager and head of the Russian presidential administration showcased a glimmer of liberalism: At the time, Medvedev called for the privatization of state-owned companies and direct elections of governors - his predecessor Vladimir Putin had abolished these elections in 2005.

He also wanted to lower the threshold for members of political parties - instead of 50,000, 500 members would suffice in order to strengthen minorities. He also talked about improving working conditions for NGOs and foundations. Right before he was to step down, he suggested establishing a public broadcaster for Russia.

Experts warned that a huge disappointment was just bound to happen - and it came quickly after.

Dmitry Medvedev

Most of Medvedev's changes have been rescinded

Medvedev wasn't able to keep his promises of thoroughly modernizing Russia's state apparatus: He didn't follow through on privatizing state-owned companies; and direct elections of governors were canned again as soon as Medvedev left office.

The lower threshold for parties is still in place. In addition to that, renaming Russia's law enforcement body from militia to police to rid it of its corrupt image has also not been taken back under Putin's rule. But in general, many hopes for pluralism have not been fulfilled. In 2012, Russia's premier and president switched places.

Putin seems to have a well-established foothold in Russia - and tries to get rid of his predecessor's traces as best he can. Discriminating against marginal groups in society, limiting freedom of speech and ostracizing NGOs as "foreign agents" - all that contradicts Medvedev's ideas and promises.

But Medvedev does not seem to want to protest these measures. Instead of political slogans, the premier posts selfies and tweets trivial messages. He is full of praise for Putin's popularity.

Putin's eagerness to delete pretty much everything that Medvedev has done tells a lot about the relationship between the two men, says Russian political scientist Liliana Schwezowa. Like many of her peers, she believes Putin was never truly away. Medvedev's legacy is a sham, she says. Medvedev has been little else but "a loyal assistant to Putin," she said. His liberal promises were just a tool to appease Kremlin critics in Russia as well as the West.

A loyal duopoly

Putin and Medvedev's game of musical chairs led to protests in the winter of 2011/2012 - one of the largest protests in Russia's recent history.

Vladimir Putin

Putin is the man in the driver's seat

This game of musical chairs between Putin and Medvedev led to opposition protests in the winter of 2011-2012. They were among the largest in Russia's recent history. For Liliana Shevtsova, they were an expression of a "reflection of civil society," which had understood that democratic ideas were being discredited. The winter protests had their consequences: The laws were tightened to the detriment of opposition groups and political minorities, replacing Medvedev's "suggestions."

We might ask why Medvedev has not yet disappeared entirely from the political arena in Moscow. Lilia Shevtsova has an answer: "Medvedev tells us Putin's great weakness. Old acquaintances. Putin is a loyal man. That is his characteristic." The president and the prime minister had known each other from their time in Saint Petersburg. And Medvedev had also proved loyal to Putin. In 2008, he appointed Putin prime minister, and set in place the six-year term for him to return to.

Surveys by the Levada Institute of Politics suggest 67 percent of Russians agree with the prime minister - but President Putin achieves as much as 80 percent approval. Russia is thus satisfied with the president, and with the "tandem": Two do the pedaling, but only one steers.

Medvedev is not a nuisance, and he can still steal the show. But, as Medvedev himself said recently, Putin is simply the most potent Russian politician. The hope that St. Petersburg will be bright again is just a pleasant distraction from other, less cheerful topics, such as the stagnation of the Russian economy.