A Plot Against Russia?

May 28 2004

A Plot Against Russia?

by Yevgeny Kiselyov,
Moskovskie Novosti weekly

This week’s notorious and sometimes tragic events include the
President’s address, Russian citizens dying in Iraq, cases against
new “werewolves in uniform” – this time with traffic police batons
as well, new battles around Yukos, Stepashin once again shaking his
fist at Abramovich, Abramovich doing some more fancy shopping –
a new Boeing-767 and Brazilian soccer player Roberto Carlos, and
another piece of news that most media cautiously ignored.

Russia is gradually ceasing to be a democratic state. This painful
conclusion was reached by Freedom House, a major international human
rights organization, founded by Eleanor Roosevelt. The conclusion is
contained in Nations in Transit – their report on democratic progress
in former Soviet bloc countries, including independent states formed
after the disbandment of the USSR. The report’s authors believe
that the current Russian policies “have sought to centralize power,
leaving little room for a vibrant civil society, independent media,
or political opposition.” The document says that, “while Russia has
emphasized the importance it places on maintaining strong ties to
the West, it is headed in an increasingly authoritarian direction.”

The study of democracy in post-Soviet states was based on six key

Number one – elections. Experts had to answer the following questions:
How free and honest are the elections in each country? Is there a
multi-party system? What is the measure of participation available
to common citizens?

Are minority rights protected in the course of the elections?

Are there obstacles to freely replacing authority figures according
to election results? How independent are citizens’ votes from the
influence of various groups – the military, big business, etc.?

Key area two – civil society.

Are there many non-government organizations in the country, what
is their organizational potential and financial state? Is the legal
framework underlying their activity sufficient? What is the political
atmosphere around them?

What’s going on with education? How independent is it from
political fluctuations and propaganda? Is the influence of extremist
organizations felt in the society? How tolerant is the society to
difference of opinion?

Next stop – independent media.

Is the freedom of the press secure? What are the legal guarantees?
Are journalists involved in independent investigations protected? Are
there cases when libel laws and laws on providing false information
are used to punish criticizing journalists? Do people have unrestricted
Internet access?

The fourth criteria Freedom House experts used to rule on the state
of democracy in the post-Soviet space concerned the constitutional,
legislative, and judicial framework.

Are all citizens equal before law? Is criminal law being reformed?
How are convicts and suspects treated? How are judges appointed? Are
they independent?

The fifth category of questions concerned governance. Is it transparent
to society? Is there an institute for parliamentary studies? How
decentralized is the government? Are federal employees free from
excessive political influence?

The results of the study turned out to be very, very unpleasant for
our country. The experts came to the conclusion that the situation
in each of these five areas in Russia has deteriorated over the past
year. Only one area was not found to have taken a turn for worse,
you’re going to laugh but that area is corruption. It’s been as bad
as it gets for a while now.

Poland and Slovenia are doing best at enhancing democracy – these two
countries are tied for first place in a list of 29 countries of the
former Soviet bloc. Russia is 21st, classified among countries with a
half-formed authoritarian regime. Even Armenia, Moldova, and Ukraine
have outpaced Russia. Only Kosovo and other CIS allies are lower.
Things are worst in Belarus, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

That hurts.

Forget about it, some will say. Sure, Russophobes are to blame for
all our problems. We’ve known that for a while.

Putin explained it all in his address as well – turns out, all
the talk of authoritarianism is the result of a global competitive
struggle. See, not everyone in the world wants Russia to be strong,
so they’re using political and media pressure against us. What we’re
really doing is strengthening the state.

Now it’s all clear. And yet before agreeing with the President in
the most loyal of all fashions, I advise that everyone carefully read
the questions above and try to answer them. Just be honest.