Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Russia has Returned ‘Full Circle’ to 1988 but is Now in Even Worse Shape, Moscow Scholar Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, September 16 – Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s recent “Gazeta” article repeated the same themes that were advanced in 1988 at the Communist Party of the Soviet Union’s 19th Conference, an indication that in the intervening period, Russia has moved “from authoritarianism to democracy and back again” and now finds itself in even worse shape.
In an essay entitled “The Circle Has Closed” on the portal, Elena Lukyanova, a Moscow State University law professor, says that too many Russians are talking about their country’s problems in terms of the distant past when they should be focusing on a more recent one (
If Russians were to do that, she suggests, they would be in a better position to evaluate what is happening now, and as support for that proposition, she offers three pairs of citations, one from resolutions of the 19th CPSU Conference and the second from Medvedev’s latest article that has sparked so much interest.
In the first, the Moscow legal specialist recalls, the 19th CPSU Conference concluded that there had been “a serious deformation of the Soviet political system as a result of the extraordinary role of the state in the economy and excessive legal regulation of a wide swath of public activities.”
Medvedev now speaks about “the need for the liberation of [Russia]” from a wide variety of ills, including corruption, that have undercut the ability of the country to move forward and that are the result, the Russian president said, “of the extraordinary presence of the state” in all spheres of economic and social activity.”
In the second, Lukyanova points out, the 19th Conference identifies as a critical task the creation of a system that would all “all issues in the country to be decided by the people and its representatives” and that would “provide reliable guarantees of the constitutional rights and freedoms of the citizens.”
Medvedev, just over two decades later, wrote that “democracy needs a defense in the same way that the basic rights and freedoms of the citizens [of the Russian Federation] need a defense.”
And in the third, the 19th Conference spoke about the need to “raise the authority of the court, to guarantee the unqualified independence of courts and subordinate them only to the law.” Now, Medvedev speaks about “the necessity of eliminating the illegal influence on judicial actions regardless of the motivations behind such action.”
Lukyanova hurries to add that she “does not want in any case to accuse the president of Russia of plagiarism. Because this is hardly plagiarism: it is suffering – suffering from the fact that we have returned to the situation of 20 years ago and not only without progress but with a significant regression.”
In 1988, she continues, “the 19th CPSU Conference recognized that things could not go on as they had been, that the party must focus on its party affairs and not duplicate the role of the state. Note,” she says, “this conclusion was made not by Academic Sakharov and not by the inter-regional group of deputies at the USSR Congress of Peoples’ Deputies.”
“This conclusion was made by the communist themselves at their own party meeting.” And after they drew this conclusion, they took action. “they freed the party from state functions and they created conditions so that the non-governmental elements of the political system which had been under bans could come into the political arena.”
“In this way,” Lukyanova suggests, “from a dying, deformed political system, the country moved toward political pluralism, having made an enormous step toward a multi-party system.” Indeed, she argues, Russia made enormous progress in only a few years that “many countries had spent whole centuries” doing.
Unfortunately, Russians did this “without understanding that real democracy is impossible with a genuine democratic culture, inculcated over the course of generations.” And they “trusted their votes and places in parliament” to people who knew how to talk the democratic line but not walk it the entire way.
As a result, hopes for a genuine multi-party system were dashed, and in play of the one-party system of Soviet times came “a period of semi-partyness” in which there were all kinds of organizations that purported to be parties but were not, groups like the Beer Lovers Party and the Car Drivers Party.
“All young democracies pass through this,” Lukyanova points out. “And there is nothing bad about that. After 10 or 20 or 30 years,” they can emerge with a real democratic system if the government acts sensibly. That possibility was certainly open to Russians, she says, but it is one that clearly slipped through their fingers.
At the time of the Congress of Peoples’ Deputies of the USSR, “when the entire country forgetting about sleep stayed glued to their radios and television,” Lukyanova recalls, her father told her “’We have concluded a marriage with a women named Democracy. She turns out to be someone with a complicated character.”
Moreover, he told her, “she has a clutch of relatives and all of them are of various nationalities.” But her father insisted, Lukyanova recalls, that “a real man must do everything to preserve his marriage.” But “unfortunately,” she says, “the men who came in replace of the wise young guys of the last CPSU Central Committee acted in a purely Russian way.”
“Because they could not imagine doing anything else,” they decided “to beat out” of this “spouse” any such “caprice.” As a result, they killed off democracy in their country at least for the time being. They decided to “regulate the process of semi-partyness, without understanding that living party processes do not put up with such manipulation.”
The result is the United Russian Party and the power vertical. And “in this way,” Lukyanova concludes, “the circle has closed. Instead of a dialectic spiral, we have returned to the situation of 1988, only in a worse variant. Having destroyed one political giant, [Russians] have created another,” on that is “less professional and with more serious authoritarian pretensions.”

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