Democracy. Russia. CIS.

Americans, Liberasts and Russian Democracy.

Posted by democratist on April 4, 2012

4th April 2012,

In a previous article, I described the argument that Russia’s elections are “more or less” democratic as one of the “legitimating myths” of Putinism [designed to bolster the regime and keep the population in check]. Unsurprisingly, this claim upset some readers, and they made a number of counter-arguments.

Their main points were;

  • The current Russian government is, despite the fraud that took place in both parliamentary and presidential polls, broadly a reflection of the preferences and political goals of most Russians.
  • “Western” democracy is not a universal value; there are many different styles of democracy and the current system in Russia represents an “acceptable” variation on the democratic theme, in line with Russian history and cultural norms.
  • The “western” democratic model is not without its weaknesses and inefficiencies and does not solve problems such as corruption.
  • The “non-systemic” opposition is weak and divided, especially the “pro-western” liberals. Some of these parties may be dependent on American money (witness the $200 million dollars spent by the American government on supporting Russian NGOs since 2009, with $50 million more apparently on the way). Liberalization would only benefit hard-core leftists, nationalists and liberal “traitors”.

These are interesting arguments, but not without some elements which characterize the “mythologising” to which I was referring. I will deal with each in turn:

The first point is essentially true. Vladimir Putin is popular, and would presumably have won the presidential election without falsification (although the fact that falsification did occur makes it hard to be 100% sure; the assurances of opinion polls will never be good as the “real thing,” i.e. a fair vote). However, the position of the party of “crooks and thieves” is far less secure, and it would not have won the (reduced) representation it now has in the Duma without considerable fraud in December. The current government may also broadly reflect the preferences and goals of a majority of Russians but, as is the nature of politics, there is no guarantee that this state of affairs will continue indefinitely, and as Russian society evolves it seems likely that there will ultimately come a point when the majority of Russians find themselves actively opposed to government policy.

More fundamental is the question of whether “western” democracy is a universal value. From Democratist’s perspective, one of the main lessons to be learned from a (non-conspiratorial) analysis of the Arab Spring is that democracy, while “western” in origin, is increasingly coming to be seen as having universal applicability, and that “democracy” need not necessarily mean “Americanization” or “neo-liberalism.”  Recent events in the middle East have shown that the populations of countries such as Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria have risen up despite American hypocrisy on the issue of democratization. These people are demanding respect and representation for themselves in their own countries regardless of any “Freedom Agenda” or other rhetoric. Democratization is not simply an American plot (although the Americans, just like other major powers will doubtless seek to influence these processes), but is rather reflective of historical-social developments taking place in many countries, and so it is to be hoped that the polities which emerge from these revolutions will reflect the sovereignty, national character and priorities of their people.

Furthermore, the idea that the world is divided into incomparable moral blocs or civilizations has taken a huge blow over the last 18 months. While the cynics have sought to paint the Arab Spring as harbinger of anti-western Islamist autocracy, there have been significant historical-social trends in the region over the last 40 years which suggest that this will not be the case: The large majority of arab Islamists are not calling for the establishment of revolutionary islamic states, but rather the creation of a “civil state” [i.e one which, while not secular, has many democratic elements, including free and fair elections].

So, while the last fifteen years may have been witness to democratic stagnation or reversal in the CIS, on the global scale, the last two centuries (and especially the last seventy years) demonstrate the growing potency of democratic ideals, and the erosion of autocracy as a legitimate form of governance, even in “unexpected” places, and (more recently) regardless of American rhetoric: Democratist contends that a set of shared values is slowly emerging throughout the world, including democracy, human rights, the defence of national sovereignty and a belief in the benefits of economic development, even though this has taken place during a period in which some of these values have come under pressure in the United States: They may have originated in the West, but in responding to basic human aspirations and social change within the context of the spread of capitalism, their potential applicability is growing ever wider.

This brings us to the question of whether the current political system in Russia is just a variation on the democratic theme; one, moreover, which is in line with Russian history and cultural norms. This is, of course ultimately a question for the Russian people to answer, rather than any outsider, and (again) American lecturing on this issue has proved remarkably counter-productive over recent years. Nonetheless, it has to be said that there are strong arguments which suggest that the current system, while popular with a majority of Russians, does not meet the basic criteria of democracy. As an example, the OSCE ODIHR (an organization of which the Russian government is both a member and occasional participant) reports the following problems with recent parliamentary and presidential elections; technical restrictions on who was able to stand, a biased electoral administration dominated by the ruling party at all levels, the partiality of most media, and ballot stuffing on election day. It is up to Russians themselves to decide whether they feel that these problems match existing Russian “cultural norms,” and if they do, the extent to which such “norms” are worth preserving, or should be changed.

As for corruption, it is certainly true to say that no political system can eliminate it completely. However, it must also be admitted that institutionalized democracy, with a firmly established rule of law and independent legal system has proved a more effective guard against corruption than the current Russian system. By many accounts Russia is the most corrupt industrialized country in the world; Vladimir Putin’s friends from his Saint Petersburg youth and the Ozero dacha collective are worth billions. Indeed the current system is so entrenched that it may prove unreformable until a change in the political or economic situation provokes a collapse.

Finally, the question of the non-systemic opposition. Yes. The opposition is weak and divided, sometimes extreme, and possibly reliant on American money (although I still require some convincing on this point). Additionally, American calls for increased funding for NGOs are helping to stoke growing government paranoia. But on the other hand, the current system (deliberately) stifles debate and does little to encourage the development of Russian NGOs. It seems unlikely that President Medvedev’s recent changes to the law on registration of parties will make much difference to this situation. And while it might be possible, with institutional safeguards in place such as an independent legal system, “fair and balanced” requirements for the media etc, to create the basis for wider debate and eventual genuine elections, on the basis of recent history we are unlikely to see these wider structures in place anytime soon.

19 Responses to “Americans, Liberasts and Russian Democracy.”

  1. Realist said

    I am very pleased that after you have started to recognize the obvious facts, like what the White House is ready to pay the change of political leadership in Russia, your point of view began to evolve. However, you still have not explained what is the so-called “paranoia.” Or rejection of this term simply destroys your harmonious theory of democratization in Russia?

    In the end, even the clinical diagnosis of “paranoia” is not a guarantee of what paranoid pursue in real life. But, you haven’t proved, and as such a diagnosis.

    You point to corruption as an important, if not the decisive factor in non-democratic Russia. Let’s talk about it. Now the corruption measure that no one really knows. Obviously, you have a view of the known ratings. Consider what they really mean and who defines it. Not a single rating does not indicate the level of corruption. We are talking about the level of perception. That is, experts whose competence no one is confirmed, the poll completely unknown respondents how respondents think – there is great corruption in a country? Thus, the so-called experts are just the result for which they are paid. To be closer to reality, ask who pays. After this, respondents were read and understand the ratings: “Oh, yes, probably in Russia is very much corruption.” Again, respond to polls of experts. I think you know what a “positive feedback”?

    How else can you assess the level of corruption? During the Putin-Medvedev number of criminal cases is growing constantly and growing level of positions of those who put in jail. Has become more corrupt? Or maybe work better police officers, investigators and judges? If you have not seen Russia under Yeltsin, you have no idea what is corruption in Russia! Deputy Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar was a guru! He organized the incredible taxes and made hundreds of possible tax evasion schemes. Each newspaper was an advertisement for thousands of firms: convert any non-cash in the cash for a couple of percent. And no taxes. And much cash was the only reliable means of payment at the time.

    Everyone saw that the officials steal and take bribes. Everyone saw that it was not punishable. Under Putin, began to imprison, continued under Medvedev. Though of course, corruption – is the most important issue for Russia, as well as for other countries, excluding the U.S., where it is legal and is called lobbying.

    You wrote: “current system, while popular with a majority of Russians, does not meet the basic criteria of democracy”. Who gave you the right to judge what is the basic criteria for all? I’ve already told you that the Crusaders, Napoleon and Hitler believed that their universal and basic criteria for all. And they tried to force them to Russia. Where are they now? To set standards for all of humanity can be either God or a liar or a schizophrenic. I think you are not one of them? Or should it be considered a shadow of the famous Anglo-Saxon arrogance, whose roots are already known from the correspondence of Queen Elizabeth I with Tsar Ivan IV the year 1570?

    By the way, you know, developed for its time, the democratic institutions in Russia were already at that time, when Europe was still deep in feudalism? I’m not talking about the community and elected leadership of the ancient Slavs in the 6th century. We are talking about the present democratic system in Russia 12-15 centuries. Look at Google, what is the “вече” (veche), “земский собор” (zemsky sobor), “посадник” (posadnik). How Europe reacted to the Russian would be if they came in and announced their democratic (of course) for the universal values ​​of the backward feudal Europe?

    Again, you motivate your words on the election of the report of the OSCE ODIHR. Let’s talk about that also. Leave out the fact that the OSCE – a very biased organization that consistently uses double standards and violates the laws of host countries. What is actually contained in the report? Just an unsubstantiated assumption that if the liberal pro-Western (another they were not interested in) would have greater access to federal TV, the results of parliamentary elections would probably be different. That’s all. Now let’s look at reality. The so-called “non-system opposition” has always had access to the federal mass media – “Ren-TV”, “Echo of Moscow”, not to mention their own publications. After the December 2011 its representatives were present continuously in the rest of the federal mass media, including the central TV channels. They have become more popular? The facts say: The more they talked, the poorer become the people they support. The number of street protests began to fall again on the times, and it is clear that his public appearances have brought a lot of points to Putin.

    Finally, your words, “the current system (deliberately) prevents new parties from emerging, stifles debate”, forgive, are a direct misinformation. Under the new laws, you can register a batch of only 500 people. The party participated in the elections, the election commission presented its representative and may withdraw it if the party wants. Again, ask a question to which you are so afraid to answer: what exactly is not enough democracy in Russia in order that you found it similar to Germany, Switzerland, South Korea, etc.?

    Ah yes, the cooperative “Ozero” and billions of Putin! I understand that the media propaganda arguments are not needed, they have long lived in Orwell’s 1984, but you are also a serious analyst of the independent and you, of course, will present perfect evidences? Or not?

    Oh, and if so your site is about democracy in Russia, of course, you do not make it more difficult to provide the reader a real portrait of the Russian opposition? Ready to agree with you in the universality of certain principles and basic values ​​of democracy, as you understand them, get electoral support within the statistical error of – 1-2%. The vast majority of the opposition want that does not conform to these principles and values. It’s the socialists, communists, maoists, trotskyists, nationalists, and (do not faint!) stalinists.

    Hopefully in the future for your honesty, sincerity, knowledge and objectivity. With best wishes and willingness to dialogue!

  2. Perceptions perceptions perceptions. I changed the conclusion of the article a little after I read about the new law this evening. As for the rest. I disagree, but I am afraid it well have to wait until a future article because it is late and I am tired.

    • Realist said

      Of course tomorrow. Just wanted to wish not to make you agree with my own personal opinion, but agree with the facts.

  3. Many thanks to Realist, because he could paint the real picture of Russian political situation. I always laugh at the people who call themselves journalists or try to be analists ( sorry, author) and who don’t want to get to know the country, its traditions ( because it is very important),the mentality of the peoples, the history. They are like an observer who looks at the country from the distance and as a result their opinion looks like the opinion of the editorial policy or pure order from some lobby/))

  4. Realist said

    Tomorrow is over… ;(

  5. oldgd said

    Thinking people doesn`t discuss Iranian democracy today but their nucs.The same with the Russian democracy nature.Russia keeps to be the diminished empire and acts accordingly in its relations with the neighbours and its national regions.But the liberal waits for the next “spring” everywhere while getting the autumn.

    • Realist said

      About the empire and its neighbors in more detail please! Examples of the behavior of the empire. Perhaps you mean the destruction of sovereign nations, like Libya? Killings of civilians and the protection of drug lords, as in Afghanistan? The outbreak of war on a false denunciation, as in Iraq?

      Oops! It seems it does not Russia? ..

  6. Not in England. I said “a future article,” and you will get it, in the future.

    • Realist said

      Excellent! I hope the new article will be conclusive convincing evidence that the “legal system” is not independent, and examples of an independent legal system; convincing evidence that the “requirements for the media etc” is not “fair and balanced”, and examples of “fair and balanced requirements for the media etc”! Best regards! 🙂

  7. Realist said

    Mr. Democratist said “a future article because it is late and I am tired.”

    We should realize that he is tired all?

    Or the amount of real information was so huge that it needed to develop more than a day?

    Ironically, Mr. Democratist came into his head that writing the texts of the Great Empire takes a little knowledge?

    In the end, what a couple of thousand years Russia? 15 years of teaching, Mr. Democratist is more important! )))))

    I wonder how many young Englishmen who are ready to write about international relations, will be willing to severely limit yourself to give up masturbation and do not write articles about democracy in a completely unfamiliar countries?

  8. joseph gregg said

    Dear Democratist;
    Hope you have a good rest! On arising, reconsider you willingness to further minister to those making most comments here. As for Mr. Realist; spare us the scatological, it becomes the hacknyed cliche technique of argument favored by the “Nashi.” I read the thousand plus years of Russian history, but know the 200 year history of democracy in my land. What you have is not even distantly related as it is understood here.
    And no Tamila, the owner of this site is hardly a paid ploy of some international conglomerate conspiracy and niether am I. We are just folks, hopeful for your progress and the betterment of your situation, just as ours has improved over time.
    The readers comments here are not from those sympathetic to learn or improve, but only to perserve the status quo; deflect, defend and justify the actions that continue to impede their own progress. From the curious viewpoints and logical fallacy defenses, to ad hominen attacks and guilt by association; the comments leave little hope they come from genuine interest.
    The Democratist should have better things to consider (and write about) than enlightening this bunch of correspondents…

    • Realist said

      We are talking about politics, democracy and other things, interesting people?

      Came coprophagous, who wants to inspire us into their world?

  9. Realist said

    Mr. Demokratist wants to spend the next 20 – 30 years of his life to higher education? It is commendable!

  10. Realist said

    The U.S. Marine Gary Stein recommended for dismissal from the army for publishing on the Internet criticizing the U.S. President Barack Obama. Command representative at the hearing pointed out that criticism of the president, who is the commander in chief, can not harm the order and discipline.

    Stein’s lawyers, in turn, stressed that the criticism of the Obama Stein published at the time was not yet in service.
    According to lawyers, such comments are protected by constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech. As argued by the defense lawyers, the restriction of the right Marines to participate in the political debate reduces them to the status of second class citizens.

    Sergeant Stein criticized Obama on Facebook and other sites. As stated at the hearing of the Military Collegium, he called the president a coward and an “economic and religious enemy.” The sergeant expressed the hope that Obama loses the presidential election to be held on November 6, 2012

    • Realist said

      My military rank – sergeant. Not just a sergeant, a sergeant in the guard. Special Forces Sgt. Sergeant elite. I’m sorry about the fate of an American colleague.

  11. Realist said

    You can not tolerate anti-democratic dictatorship of the United States, which encroaches on the foundations of democracy and freedom of speech!

    Down with the Dictator Obama!

    Down with the colonial heritage of the UK!

    Long live a sober look at politics!

    In Russia, no one knows about the opinion of the British. The opinion of the British are not interested in anyone! The British – losers. Losers for life!

  12. Realist said

    Of course, from Mr. Demokratist we expect a maximum of competence in political science, economics, and at least three classes in the parochial school!

  13. Realist said

    The most important article is lost in the expanse of the Internet? Dear Mr. Demokratist you kidding again? Or is it a strike?

  14. Realist said

    Oh, yes! I realized that I was wrong! Of course, Mr. Demoсratist took leave to look for arguments that are not and can not be.

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