Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Those Who Say Authoritarianism Inevitable in Russia Share Blame for Putin’s Suppression of Freedom, Ryzhkov Says

Paul Goble

Staunton, October 6 – People in Russia and the West who provide support for “the myth of Russia’s historically predetermined path toward enslavement and authoritarianism” are contributing “to the continued suppression of human rights” there and thus providing “a valuable service to Vladimir Putin,” according to a former Duma deputy and now Ekho Moskvy host
But such people should remember, Vladimir Ryzhkov continues, that “each new article or book promoting these shame theories leads directly to … Russia’s continued backwardness, poverty and enslavement and [also to] an increase in Russians who emigrate to the West seeking freedom and prosperity” ( and ).
Putin and those around him such as Kremlin first deputy chief of staff Vladislav Surkov “don’t believe Russians can be trusted to vote,” Ryzhkov says, because the Russian prime minister and his supporters do not believe that the Russian people are “smart or civilized enough to vote responsibly.”
But that “condescending” view, the Ekho Moskvy journalist says, “is by no means limited to voting.” Putin and his entourage also “believe that the masses are not able to do anything,” that “Russia needs ‘a benevolent tsar’ with an iron-like power vertical to explain to the ignorant masses what is best for the country.”
When Putin eliminated the election of governors in 2004, he argued that this “would somehow help defend the country against terrorism,” but he also said that “if the people were allowed to vote, they might elect the ‘wrong’ candidates.” And since that time, he has repeated that argument “as a justification for squashing [all] political competition.”
Given that in Putin’s view, Russia’s “liberal and leftist opposition” parties are “a radical and revolutionary force,” he is fully justified in blocking them from being “elected by naïve and misguided” citizens. Only “the ‘systemic opposition’” can be permitted because those parties “obey his orders and help the Kremlin create the impression” that democracy exists.
Further, Ryzhkov continues, “to help ‘the kind tsar’ carry out his duties,” Putin placed “the major television channels under government control” and ensured that his pocket party, United Russia “dominated” those places where elections did take place or was in a position to “falsify” the outcomes, a classic example of “the end justifying the means.”
“The only exception” to Putin’s belief that “the people are ignorant and can’t be trusted with electing officials,” of course, was the elections of 2000 and 2004 when “by some miraculous stroke of fate,” Russians showed “unprecedented wisdom and responsibility” and voted for him.
In order to buttress his claims, Ryzhkov says, “Putin and his ideologues” – liked Surkov – “try to package their disdain in pseudo-historical terms,” arguing that “Russia has a unique ‘historical tradition’” and has “always been dominated by a strong autocrat in the Kremlin,” something no one is in a position to change at least for the present.
And while “Putin allows for the possibility that one day Russians might be able to overcome this 1000-year-old legacy” and become “mature and responsible enough” to take charge of their own affairs,” he makes it clear that that will occur only “sometime in the future, presumably long after Putin retires.”
This view, Ryzhkov says, allows Putin and his supporters to argue that “the systematic destruction of [Russia’s] democratic institution” that they have carried out was “not the result of manipulation, usurpation and the abuse of power but rather a natural and unavoidable manifestation of [the country’s] ‘predetermined historical path.’”
Such an argument “completely ignores” the history of liberal reform movements in Russia’s past, “including those pursued by Alexander II, Nicholas II, and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev,” Ryzhkov says, and thus should be dismissed as “cynical” and “cheap” political propaganda.
But at least, Putin is pushing this line to advance his own power. What is worse, Ryzhkov suggests, is when others in Russia and even more abroad “reinforce the myth of Russia’s historically pre-determined path toward enslavement and authoritarianism” by their writings.
They are whether they know it or not “providing a valuable service to Putin” and other opponents of democracy and freedom in Russia and thus making “their own contribution to the continued suppression of human rights in Russia now” whose people deserve the chance to take control of their own fate.

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