Monday, January 24, 2011

Window on Eurasia: Absence of Lustration Undermined Prospects for Democracy in Russia, Moscow Scholar Says

Paul Goble

Staunton, January 24 – The failure in the 1990s to exclude from government service “all the Soviet and party bureaucracy” – in a process called lustration – allowed “the direct heirs of the Soviet nomenklatura [to] seize power and resources” and contributed to “the failure of the democratic project in Russia,” according to a leading Moscow scholar.
In an article in “Gazeta” on Friday, Yuly Nisnevich, a professor at the Moscow Higher School of Economics, argues that “if 20 years ago, lustration had been carried out [by the first post-Soviet government], today [Russians] would not be living in a corrupt, authoritarian state” (
The “revolutionary aspirations and hopes” of that time that “the new state would become democratic and contemporary and that people in it would live a worthy and well-off existence have not been achieved.” Instead, Nisnevich continues, the state is “corrupt through and through” and the power of the “authoritarian kleptocratic regime” is collapsing.
As a result, “a social-political cataclysm” is approaching, he says, and that is likely to lead “with a high degree of probability” to a subsequent collapse of the country. Given that likelihood, Nisnevich argues, it is imperative to understand what went wrong in the 1990s so that Russia can avoid repeating it in the future.
(Nisnevich notes that his “Gazeta” article is only a summary of two earlier studies he has prepared, a 2007 book entitled “An Audit of the Political System of Post-Communist Russia,” and a 2010 volume called “A Vertical to Nowhere. Essays on the Political History of Russia, 1991-2008.)
According to the Moscow scholar, “one of the most serious strategic miscalculations of the political forces which came to power in the new Russia was the massive use in all structures and at all levels of the newly established system of state administration of former bureaucr4ats of the Soviet party-state apparatus.”
While there may have been some “tactical” justifications for this, the use of such people quickly undermined the new democracy because such people worked for their own interests rather than those of the people. What was needed in fact, Nisnevich says, was “not so much the de-partyization of the state apparatus” as “its de-sovietization.”
That did not happen. Instead, the new regime focused on economic reforms first and foremost and failed to think about how these holdovers would behave when given the chance. The result is the corrupt authoritarian regime of today, and “a way out of this dead end” is possible only with thorough-going democratic institutions.
The deformation of the democratic system and the spread of “the bacillus of political corruption” began with the actions of the state after the adoption of the 1993 Constitution, including the defense of the president above all and the Chechen tragedy which began at the end of 1994.
. Seeking to protect the power of the presidency above all, Yeltsin’s entourage “began to position and support this institution as an independent and immediate subject of Russian power” rather than as the expression and servant of the will of the people, Nisnevich says. And that trend only became worse during the electoral cycles of 1995-1996.
But the crowning moment of this trend was selection of Vladimir Putin and his entourage in 1999 and 2000. His and their “striving to preserve in power even ‘in the name of the public good’ at any price and by any means” led to the invocation of the Jesuitical and Bolshevik principle of “the end justifies the means” and the suppression of political competition.
The same thing happened in the judicial system, Nisnevich continues, and like the executive and legislation branches, it too has been corrupted and put at the service of those in power rather than the law and the people who must again become the source of legitimacy and decision.
And overcoming this will require in the first instance “the restoration of information competition, the reduction to a minimum of the number of government and power affiliated media outlets at all levels [and] the creation of public television and radio,” something that will be no easy task in the current environment.
Nisnevich’s argument, if one may put it in lapidary terms, is that the short-term advantages of avoiding lustration and the confusion that process might have caused are seriously outweighed by the difficulties the Russian Federation has experienced since then because lustration was not carried out.

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