Vladimir Kara-Murza on Russia and issues related to security, foreign and economic policies and democracy.
After eleven years in power, Russia’s regime has finally found the culprit for the country’s problems: its people. Speaking at a news conference titled “What hampers the modernization of Russia,” presidential adviser Igor Yurgens—hailed by the Kremlin’s Western apologists as the leading “liberal” in the Russian government—declared that the main obstacle to President Dmitri Medvedev’s “modernization” plans are the “archaic” Russian people characterized by “degradation, lumpenization, and even debilization.” Russians are “not citizens, but some kind of a tribe,” the presidential adviser asserted.
One wonders how many hours a government official in a democratic country would remain in his job after making such remarks. For the Putin-Medvedev regime, however, contempt for its people is nothing new. Suffice to recall Vladimir Putin’s decision to strip Russian citizens of the right to choose their regional governors and directly-elected members of parliament, or Dmitri Medvedev’s promise not to return gubernatorial elections “in a hundred years” and his statement that parliamentary democracy would be a “catastrophe.” Kremlin propagandists have long argued that the only acceptable system for Russia is “enlightened absolutism,” with the “modernizing” elite (presumably, former KGB apparatchiks and mid-ranking city hall bureaucrats from St. Petersburg) ruling over a “backward” people. With surprising precision, Mr. Yurgens proclaimed that Russians will only achieve “mental compatibility” with the rest of Europe in 2025 (coincidentally, Mr. Putin, according to most analysts, plans to remain in power until 2024).
Such characterization of the Russian people is not just insulting—it is also not true. The brief history of free multiparty elections in Russia (1906–17 and 1991–99) shows the exact opposite. Elections to the first parliaments in 1906 and 1907 gave victory to the Constitutional Democrats—Westernizing liberals who ran on a platform of political freedoms and civic equality. In order to limit liberal influence in the State Duma, the czarist government proceeded to restrict the franchise during the “June coup d‘état” of 1907. The first elections with universal suffrage, held in the conditions of war, economic collapse, and Lenin’s seizure of power in November 1917, resulted in the decisive repudiation of Bolshevik usurpers, who received 22.4 percent of the vote to 39.5 percent for the Socialist Revolutionaries—the moderate wing of the Russian left that favored a democratic republic, not a “dictatorship of the proletariat.” During the 1990s, Russian voters consistently chose pro-democracy candidates, whether in 1991 (57.3 percent for Boris Yeltsin to 16.9 percent for Communist nominee Nikolai Ryzhkov), in 1993 (58.7 percent support for President Yeltsin over the anti-reform Supreme Soviet in a national referendum), or in 1996 (53.8 percent for Mr. Yeltsin to 40.3 percent for Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov). Even the parliamentary vote in December 1993, often remembered for the relative success of Vladimir Zhirinovsky, gave his ultranationalist LDPR party 59 seats in the Duma, to 73 seats won by the liberal bloc “Russia’s Choice” led by Mr. Yeltsin’s deputy prime minister, Yegor Gaidar.
Vladimir Putin was not the choice of Russian voters, but the creation of corrupt elites who forced him on President Yeltsin and on the country in 1999. Since then there were no real elections in Russia. If one were held today, Mr. Putin, as the polls indicate, would receive only 27 percent of the vote. The premier’s dislike of the Russian people appears to be mutual.
Russia’s ‘Backward’ People (5)