A plea to save Russia from an enemy within
Under President Putin, Russians have pawned precious freedoms for economic growth.
The more Russian leaders pontificate about the importance of democracy and the more they swear to protect democratic values and principles, the less democracy is left in real Russian life. When Moscow bade farewell to the outstanding Russian democrat and reformer Boris Yeltsin last month, many ordinary people told me it was not just Yeltsin who was being buried in the Novodevichy cemetery but Russian freedom itself.Skip to next paragraph
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Young Russian democracy, which the Russian people seized from the hands of the Communists, has been almost completely destroyed under President Vladimir Putin. It has been exterminated gradually, by small lethal injections to its weakening body.
How freedom was lost
Why have Russians so easily parted with their freedom and constitutional rights? Have we thrown away our freedom like a boring toy or was it stolen from us one long winter night?
Neither the former nor the latter; freedom was simply exchanged. In an unprecedented deal, freedom was pawned in return for economic growth and growth of personal income. In the past seven years, Russian gross domestic product has increased almost 60 percent and citizens' income has doubled. That's why Russians are so tolerant of the loss of civil and social rights.
Since 2000, citizens have been losing their constitutional rights to elect and control the government step by step.
Among several other authoritarian changes, Russian citizens have lost their right to elect governors, who are now effectively nominated by the president himself. Elections to the State Duma (parliament) have also undergone considerable changes.
This December, all 450 Duma deputies will be elected from party lists, which means that for the first time in Russian history, direct elections of constituency members of parliament have been canceled. It will be scarcely different from the old Soviet council "elections." Russian citizens will choose from several parties, all previously endorsed by the Kremlin. It will not be a free choice but an imposed one.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin has passed a new law that will allow it to legally liquidate most of the remaining parties in the country, the majority of them opposition parties, of course. The presidential "election" next March is also likely to be a sham. Few Russians believe that the elections will be free, that opposition candidates will be registered, and that they will have access to TV or be able to seek financial support from the cowed business community. In the absence of a real struggle, it looks as if Putin's successor will stride into the Kremlin along a red carpet.
The sidelining of the opposition and the predetermining by the powers that be of the parliamentary and presidential elections have pushed Russia back to the old times when it was not the people, but the bosses who decided who would lead the country. That's why 60 percent of voters in some of the biggest cities have stopped going to the polls.
As the government has increasingly slid from popular control, society understands less and less about what is really happening in the country and the world. After free elections went, freedom of speech was next to come under attack.
In the years of Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin, Russians welcomed the principles of free information, openness, and independent journalism and publishing. On Russian television, which remained the main source of news for the great majority of Russians, political talk shows that presented diverse opinion and criticism of the government flourished. Now that's all in the past.
Television (all six federal channels) has turned into a tabloid-style "Kremlin TV."
Opposition politicians have been effectively blacklisted from TV. In Russia, where society is totally manipulated by television, he who is not on TV might as well be dead.