Quantcast

Russia’s Fake and Real Opposition

Contrary to popular belief, not all Soviet bloc countries were one-party states. Some had “multiparty” systems, with the Communists formally sharing power with other political groups: People’s Party and Freedom Party in Czechoslovakia, Democratic Party and United People’s Party in Poland, the Christian Democratic Union and Liberal Democratic Party in East Germany. Indeed, the Socialist Unity Party did not even have an overall majority in the East German “parliament”, which was for years chaired by CDU politician Gerald Goetting. Needless to say, all “non-communist” parties faithfully towed their governments’ (and Moscow’s) line, for all intents and purposes serving as subsidiaries of the regime.

Medvedev: The "Democratic Reformer"

The “good cop, bad cop” trick must be one of the oldest in the book. Yet, unfailingly, this unsophisticated tactic continues to yield results, as illustrated by Russia’s ruling tandem of Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev.

Mr. Medvedev, we are told, is a “reformer.” We are reminded that, unlike Mr. Putin, he never served in the KGB. That in the first (and last) competitive elections for the Soviet Parliament in 1989, he campaigned for pro-democracy leader Anatoly Sobchak. That during his own presidential campaign in 2008 he declared that “freedom is better than non-freedom” and committed to make the protection of civil liberties his “most important task” in the Kremlin.

Last week the world was treated to yet another example of Mr. Medvedev’s “liberalism.” By a vote of 444 to 0, the Russian Duma, the only parliament in the G-8 that happens to pass major decisions unanimously, approved the president’s proposal granting minor parties one (1) seat in regional legislatures if they receive 5 percent of the vote.

In Stalin's Shadow

This spring, for the first time in half a century, Moscow will be draped with official portraits of Joseph Stalin. Three-by-five feet images of the dictator will be on display near the Bolshoi Theater, by the entrance to Gorky Park, and in other prominent places around the capital. According to the authorities, the 65th anniversary of victory in World War II would be incomplete without posters of the “commander-in-chief.” The plan will go ahead despite protests by prominent cultural figures, opposition leaders, and human rights activists who describe it as an insult to the memory of millions killed by the communist regime.

The Test of Democracy

For all the numerous definitions of democracy offered by political scientists and international organizations, one simple test stands out: an election that results in an opposition victory and a peaceful transfer of power.

By this standard, Ukraine “graduated” to the democratic club in 1994, barely three years after the fall of the Soviet Union, when then-President Leonid Kravchuk lost to his challenger, Leonid Kuchma, and duly passed the baton. A decade later, in 2004, it took thousands of people on Kiev’s Independence Square and a principled stand by Western powers to defend Ukrainians’ democratic choice, but in the end the presidency was handed to the opposition. This year, Ukrainians cemented the tradition, choosing an opponent over both the incumbent president and prime minister. Paradoxically, while rejecting leaders of the Orange Revolution, Ukrainian voters upheld its ideals.

Russian Democracy Returns, On the Streets for Now

Legend has it that when Vladimir Kryuchkov, KGB chairman and leader of the attempted coup in August 1991, was told that pro-democracy demonstrators could not be dispersed by force because of the sheer number of people, he did not believe it and demanded to be personally driven around Moscow. It was hard for a Soviet apparatchik to comprehend citizens willing to risk a crackdown to defend their dignity.

The experience of 1991 and the “color revolutions” that swept across the former Communist bloc in the early 2000s taught KGB operatives, who now dominate Russia’s government, that peaceful resistance can overcome repression. For years, Vladimir Putin was anxious to suppress even an embryonic protest movement. Opposition rallies were routinely “banned” (a procedure alien to the Russian Constitution, which guarantees the freedom of assembly) and dispersed by police, with dozens of activists detained and beaten.

A Kremlin Snub, At the Heart of DC

The U.S.-Russia working group on civil society, established as part of the bilateral “reset”, just held its inaugural meeting in Washington. Since no official statements were issued and no journalists were present, the outcome of the meeting is not clear. But what matters most about the new body is not its agenda, but its composition.

One would hardly have chosen Dr. Goebbels to serve as ambassador to Israel or Radovan Karadzic to promote interethnic tolerance. Yet when it came to appointing the Russian co-chairman of the working group on civil society, President Medvedev named Vladislav Surkov, the Kremlin’s chief political handler during the past decade
the decade that witnessed the near-total dismantling of Russia’s nascent democracy.

“Reset” with Russia, One Year On

U.S. policy toward the Kremlin has rarely been a partisan issue. The division lies between those who advocate deals with a repressive regime and those who understand that common interests require common values. It is hard to name a policy convergence between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, yet when it came to the role of human rights in U.S.-Soviet relations they stood in remarkable agreement. President Carter welcomed the recently-expelled Russian dissident Vladimir Bukovsky for a meeting at the White House. President Reagan famously presented Mikhail Gorbachev with a list of Soviet political prisoners during their first meeting at Reykjavik. Incidentally, both Mr. Carter and Mr. Reagan successfully pursued arms control negotiations (resulting in SALT II and INF treaties) while speaking out on human rights. In those days, the two issues were not considered mutually exclusive.

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - Vladimir Kara-Murza's blog