Russia, April 7, 1999
Do YOU think Yevgeniy Primakov will be the next president?Obshchaya Gazeta, April 1-7, 1999
"A Heavy Locomotive in the Acceleration Phase; a Rough Psychological Sketch of Yevgeniy Primakov"
By Vladimir Vasilyev, head of Political Psychology Laboratory, St. Petersburg State University:
"Image is nothing, thirst is everything," the advertising slogan tells us. Obviously, this does not apply to politicians. In politics everything has to make the right impression: the face, the clothes.... There are special firms that can give you any kind of image you want. But what is the organic basis of the character of a political leader? This is being studied by a team of psychologists from St. Petersburg State University, working under the supervision of Vladimir Vasilyev. This is not just a matter of purely academic interest. When the average citizen has to choose a leader, he should be able to identify the candidates by their faces instead of their images.
We never planned to study the entire life and career of Yevgeniy Maksimovich Primakov. The question we were trying to answer was this: "Who is Primakov today?"
We took our information from videotapes of Ye.M. Primakov's public appearances between September 1998 and March 1999. We did not use the reports of news agencies, newspaper articles, and the opinions of various individuals. In other words, we analyzed only what we observed. (The "we" refers to the author of the article and his colleagues, doctoral candidate Yuriy Filimonenko and undergraduate student Aleksey Dvornik.)
A Classic Phlegmatic When Ye.M. Primakov, still only a candidate for the office of prime minister, addressed the Duma on 11 September last year, he violated the unwritten rules that other candidates had observed so scrupulously: Instead of a prepared speech, he had a few notes on a piece of paper, and instead of a plea for a show of confidence in him, he offered a warning: "If you have no intention of giving the government resolute support, do not vote for me!" It was obvious that the candidate had no strong career motive for seeking this high office.
In this respect, Ye.M. Primakov was the opposite of his predecessor, S.V. Kiriyenko. Whereas Sergey Vladilenovich's worries during his candidacy for the prime minister's office were connected with a fear of rejection by the deputies. Yevgeniy Maksimovich was more wary of their approval (because he realized the magnitude of the problems he would have to solve after taking office).
This difference between the two prime ministers stems primarily from the two different psychological types they represent: Whereas S.V. Kiriyenko could be called sanguine in most respects, Ye.M. Primakov is a typical phlegmatic. What does this mean? The phlegmatic is distinguished by a combination of two characteristics. The first is introversion--a person who is emotionally withdrawn, is detached from others, and is inclined to view himself and others from a functional and impersonal vantage point.
The second is composure--a person who is inclined only toward calm, balanced, and moderate displays of emotion. How are these characteristics reflected in Yevgeniy Maksimovich's appearance and behavior?
Wait Until He Is Seated Clothing: Like all high-level government officials, Ye.M. Primakov wears classic suits, with a preference for darker colors. The main thing that distinguishes him from extroverts, however, is his use of the buttons on his jacket. If he is standing or walking, the buttons are always buttoned (with the exception of the lowest button, which is left unbuttoned by convention). Yevgeniy Maksimovich also keeps his jacket buttoned while he is standing during public appearances, even though procedural guides recommend an unbuttoned jacket to signify candor to the audience. The current Prime Minister unbuttons his jacket only when he sits down.
Posture: Yevgeniy Maksimovich only relaxes when he is sitting down: either leaning against the back of the chair or leaning forward and resting his weight on his hands, laid flat on the table in front of him. His pose can be highly asymmetrical--for the sake of comfort. When Yevgeniy Maksimovich stands or walks, however, his posture is impeccable, his shoulders are always thrown back, and his movements are balanced and deliberate. His spine is always completely straight, even when he greets the President.
To a certain extent, these habits compensate for his short stature. Anyone wanting something from Yevgeniy Maksimovich should be advised not to approach the Prime Minister while he is standing, but to wait until he sits down, unbuttons his jacket, and gets comfortable in his chair.
Leadership Expressed in Gesticulation from Above It would be pointless to expect intense gesticulation or a variety of expressive movements from a phlegmatic. He does, however, use exceptionally informative gestures.
Ye.M. Primakov has an extremely distinctive handshake, clearly reflected in protocol situations--when two people are walking toward one another. Yevgeniy Maksimovich starts raising his palm up along his body to the level of his shoulder a few steps before the point of contact and then lowers his hand to grasp the other person's hand from above. This gesture, particularly in combination with the previously mentioned straight spine, reveals the dominance that is one of Ye.M. Primakov's main personality features.
We should clarify that the highly dominant individual is aloof and is certain that his way of doing things is the only right way. It is particularly important that this feature is clearly displayed, regardless of the rank of the other person--all the way up to the President. Yes, it is true that the Chairman of the Government also demonstrates this quality in some of his statements, but the unconscious gesture, by virtue of its "motive candor," is much more informative than verbal expression.
We know that the second palm, the left one, is sometimes involved in a handshake. It is usually placed lightly on the shoulder of the other person or grips the other person's elbow slightly. Ye.M. Primakov also uses his left hand occasionally. How? As another means of expressing dominance: It is lowered, again from above, onto the right forearm of the other person. In the language of gestures, this means: "I like you, but I intend to get my own way." That is exactly how Yevgeniy Maksimovich greeted U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and IMF Director Michel Camdessus.
Politicians usually start gesticulating 3-4 minutes into their speeches. This is an indication that the initial psychological tension has subsided. Public appearances are always highly stressful for an introvert, and that is why it takes longer to surmount this tension: It takes Ye.M. Primakov six minutes.
In general, downward movements of the right hand are common among Yevgeniy Maksimovich's gestures: slapping the table top, making "stabbing" motions with his index finger, etc.
His right hand is much more active than the left, and this is a clear sign that the left side of his brain is dominant--i.e., in simpler terms, this means that his emotions are controlled by his intellect. The Prime Minister's left hand sometimes begins gesticulating vigorously during discussions of matters with a stronger emotional impact on him--discussions of economics and the news media.
"Yes" in the Sense of "No" We know from early childhood that agreement or disagreement can be expressed by a movement of the head. These gestures are so habitual that we usually do not control them. Apparently, Yevgeniy Maksimovich does not notice them either, and this "motive candor" reveals amazingly frequent disagreement between the positive implications of his words and the negative connotations of the movements of his head while he is speaking.
At the very least, this suggests that the speaker has doubts about what he is saying. Here are some examples of statements Ye.M. Primakov made while he was shaking his head in a negative manner: "I have the highest respect for the President"; "We agree on this point" (the transfer of the Ministry of Justice and the Tax Police to the President's jurisdiction); "Of course reform is necessary"; "This is a man of unquestionable decency ... and an admirable professional" (about Yuriy Maslyukov); "A united team will be working in the government"; "Today many of our young people are extremely sensible"; "I will endorse this, I fully endorse it" (about economic support for the media); "Well, how do I feel about him? I have positive feelings" (about his relationship with Aleksandr Lebed). We can assume that these are statements the Prime Minister made for the sake of decorum--acting in line with this principle: "I gave the proper answer, but the intelligent person will understand."
The Prime Minister Has the Proper Blink Reflex Facial expressions: His most characteristic expression is a look of intense concentration, reflecting his ability to focus on the matter at hand. The deviations from this "norm" take three basic forms: "implacability," "resentment," and a smile--each of these is a true reflection of the emotions he is feeling.
Yevgeniy Maksimovich proved in several interviews that he could use his smile effectively: The more difficult and uncomfortable the questions became, the more frequently a smile would appear on his face. In these situations, the smile seems to say "I have nothing to worry about" and it also enhances the emotional state of the smiling person.
The Prime Minister's mouth reveals his introversion just as eloquently as his buttoned jacket does: The space between his upper and lower lips while he speaks is usually no more than half a centimeter and only occasionally a whole centimeter (for the sake of comparison, the figures for Zhirinovskiy are 2-3 centimeters).
Involuntary facial expressions are extremely rare for Primakov, but there were some involuntary horizontal movements of his jaw, for example, during a pause in a speech, suggesting that he was having difficulty formulating the government's stance on the continuation of reform.
The average person blinks approximately once every eight seconds under normal conditions. The frequency increases in response to unfavorable psychological and physiological changes (fatigue, irritation, anxiety, fear, etc.). The ability to hold a direct gaze without blinking for a long time is logically associated with certainty, power, and strength. Yevgeniy Maksimovich passes the blink test with flying colors: He blinks only half as often as the average person at the most, even in uncomfortable situations. During conversations, however, he looks down or to the side and only occasionally looks directly at the other person.
Trial by Speech Speech: Public speaking is just as difficult for an introvert as silence is for a verbose individual. Academician Primakov's superior intellectual qualities are indisputable. We also know that these qualities are not only resistant to the aging process in the intellectually and artistically active person, but can also compensate to some extent for the negative effects of aging on the other subsystems of the human organism. In this context, only Ye.M. Primakov's introversion can explain the comparatively high number of logical, terminological, lexical, stylistic, and phonetic errors in his speech. This is confirmed by the mounting frequency of those errors toward the end of a speech, when the ordeal of public speaking becomes intolerable for the introvert. This is not a case of mere exhaustion: Judging by the main observable characteristics, the Prime Minister's psychological and physiological state as a whole stays within the normal limits.
A common tendency in most of his speeches is the repetition of the first word of the sentence two or three times ("This, this, this..." and so forth), indicating an unconscious effort to postpone the moment of final formulation. He frequently uses the parasitical phrase "so to speak." When he addresses matters that are subjectively difficult, he uses phrases that are ambiguous, contradictory, or even mutually exclusive. Here are some examples.
"I..., I would not say (pause) absolutely that..., that Yavlinskiy..., that Yavlinskiy is pro-American." Does the qualifier "absolutely" apply to "pro-American" or to "would not say"?
In reference to Yu.D. Maslyukov's appointment, he said this: "I think this is absolutely the best possible decision, I think it is acceptable." There is a world of difference between "best" and "acceptable."
He had this to say about V.V. Gerashchenko: "This was not only a presidential nomination, so to speak, but also had my support from the beginning...." (11 September 1998). "This nomination was conceived in the banking community...and was later supported by a whole group of extremely prominent bankers here" (13 September 1998).
When he addressed the Duma, Y.M. Primakov underscored his superior economic qualifications, but right after that, when he was discussing the economy, he mistakenly used the term "destructuring" instead of "restructuring" twice.
During the whole time he has headed the government, its Chairman has always experienced obvious terminological difficulties in public statements on economic subjects, particularly in statements pertaining to wages and pensions.
Sometimes the public vocabulary of the usually reserved Prime Minister exceeds conventional bounds: "Why do you listen to the delirious ravings of some of the news media?!" There are also some regrettable slips of the tongue: "The government does not plan to prohibit the circulation of the ruble..., excuse me, the dollar."
When he discusses some subjectively difficult topics, he smacks his lips and exhibits some rare and brief changes in intonation--to the point of sounding hoarse. With the passage of time, as the Prime Minister has adapted to his role, the overall frequency of verbal mistakes has decreased gradually.
Subjective stress factors: The main one is his relationship with the President. Apparently, the problem is not so much that the President's existence threatens the professional status of the Prime Minister, as it is that the relationship has developed in the presence of the worst possible conditions for a phlegmatic--uncertainty, unpredictability, and inexplicability. Displays of deference and loyalty to the President are essentially lacking in the Prime Minister's behavior. It is indicative that during meetings with the President, Yevgeniy Maksimovich takes his seat at the same time as the President (instead of after him), drops his briefcase on the table with a bang (others lay their binders down silently), and leans back in his chair without restraint, taking up the whole seat, instead of perching on the edge and leaning forward.
Incidentally, the first time the Cabinet Chief was asked about his future career plans, he was composed and reserved. Later the topic of his possible run for the presidency began to arouse lively displays of favorable emotions (smiles, more vigorous hand gestures, and an inclination to say more about himself).
Other obvious stress factors for Ye.M. Primakov are the composition of the government (the key figures in which are not subject to the Prime Minister's will), the issue of reform (the "policy line" warrants simultaneous continuation and adjustment), and relations with the media, which force the introvert to perform the unnatural role of a public politician.
Slow Preparations Are Followed by Quick Action Conclusion: The activities of Ye.M. Primakov, as a dominant phlegmatic, would be most effective in an orderly environment with the possibility of short-term and strategic planning, the absolute clarity of the rights and obligations of all "players," and the strict observance of the rules. Yevgeniy Maksimovich has been busy establishing these conditions from the first days of his term in office, although he must have realized that some of them would be impossible under present conditions. After learning this through experience, the dominant phlegmatic had to consider--by virtue of his psychological nature--how he could attain all of his objectives in their entirety--i.e., how he could settle the issue of authority.
The Prime Minister has already been standing at the helm of government approximately twice as long as his young predecessor. For the phlegmatic Prime Minister, however, seven months constitute only the initial planning stage. Whereas S.V. Kiriyenko was like a sports car in the psychological sense, Ye.M. Primakov is like a heavy locomotive, slow to accelerate and still building up speed for a long trip along a straight and direct route.
Will he be able to move ahead at full speed? This is not a question a psychologist can answer.