Gorbachev says Russia faces mass unrest if it doesn't democratize
Gorbachev criticized the system of strong and centralized state power restored by Mr. Putin, who came to power aiming to reverse a decade of economic slump, social collapse, and political drift.
The last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, has lashed out at the Kremlin tandem of President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and suggested that Russia could be in danger of collapsing as the USSR did if it fails to implement sweeping democratic reforms.Skip to next paragraph
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But Mr. Gorbachev's warning that millions of dissatisfied Russians could take to the streets is unlikely to reach a mass audience: He made it in the course of an interview with Snob magazine, which is published by the world's 39th richest man, mining mogul Mikhail Prokhorov, and aimed at an exclusive audience of the most wealthy Russians. (Words like "snob" and "elite" are widely used in contemporary Russian, but do not carry the negative connotations they often do in English).
"[The country is] a swamp of stagnation, apathy, and corruption. The most dangerous [aspect about] this is that pressure, which is accumulating within our society, can erupt in an instant onto the streets with such force that nobody will escape," Gorbachev told a meeting of the magazine's project directors.
"The authorities are not capable of coping with the problems the country faces," he said. "They are not able to bring about improvements ... The only chance to get out of this stagnation is if the people start to participate in decisionmaking. Without modernization of our institutions of democracy there can be no progress. They are now half dead. Who needs this kind of democracy?"
Those are some of the harshest words Gorbachev has uttered about the system of strong and centralized state power restored by Mr. Putin, who came to power aiming to reverse a decade of economic slump, social collapse, and political drift under former President Boris Yeltsin. Gorbachev welcomed Putin at first, but urged him to expand the democratic system and make more room for an active civil society.
Though Putin's Russia has been stable and relatively prosperous, analysts say that elections have become a fig leaf that barely covers the growing dominance of the Putin-led United Russia Party, the media has been largely straitjacketed by Kremlin rules of coverage, and human rights violations are on the rise.
"When people realize that their opinion doesn't matter and nothing depends on them, they will take to the streets," Gorbachev said. "The enormous patience of our people is multiplied by the indifference of the authorities. And this is fraught with terrible flashes of protest, which will lead to lawlessness. This can't be allowed in Russia, where we have experience [of such things]."