Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Russia isn’t a Democracy and Needn’t Become One, Some United Russia Advisors Say

Paul Goble

Vienna, June 10 – Russia should not be considered a democracy nor does it need to pursue democratization in the immediate future, according to a report prepared by a Moscow group which enjoys close links to and thus may well reflect the thinking of Vladimir Putin and his United Russia Party.
The Institute of Social Forecasting, “Vedomosti” reports today, reaches those conclusions in a new report based on discussions with more than 100 officials, politicians and academics that is slated to be delivered to the November 4th Liberal-Conservative Club of the United Russia Party (
The Moscow newspaper obtained an advance copy of the report and quotes liberally from it. According to the Institute study, “it is difficult to recognize the political system of Russia as a liberal democracy.” Governors are appointed in much the same way that “obkom first secretaries were in communist times, and the media now resembles that of the stagnation period.
There is now “an imitation of party democracy” of the kind that existed a generation ago, the Institute report continues, and just like in Soviet times, in Russia today, “it is better not to have any dealings with the militia,” whose members are corrupt and largely unrestrained by law or the courts.
But having said this, the report argues that “the democratization of the political system of Russia cannot be a priority.” Indeed, its authors insist, promoting the dissemination of liberal values and practices would be “harmful and useless.” Instead, it says, what the country’s leaders should be seeking is “effective” governance.
That is especially the case now, the report continues, during the economic crisis, a time when leadership requires “charisma,” something that does not fit all that well “with ordinary competitive democracy.” And Russians must recognize that “democratization is far from the only path to effective rule.”
That “does not mean,” however, that the authors of the report “are against democracy.” Rather, it reflects their judgment that, in the words of the Institute’s deputy director Mikhail Rogozhnikov, “the existing level of democracy” in Russia is “sufficient” for its requirements at least for the short and medium term.
And Valery Fadeyev, the director of the institute and a leader of the November 4th Club, says that before any further expansion of democracy is contemplated, the Russian government must effective state institutions so that the will of the leadership and ultimately of a broader swatch of the public can be realized.
Just how much these ideas reflect those of the leadership of United Russia, of course, is uncertain. But Rogozhnikov said that his institute had prepared some of these arguments two years ago for that party and that in April, “certain theses” of the current report were discussed at the ruling party’s forum on a strategy for 2020.
Nonetheless, he stressed, the current report is piece of “scholarly research and not a document which has been confirmed by the leading organs.” And other United Russian officials, including Valery Ryazansky, who is the first deputy head of that party’s fraction in the Duma, said that this report was intended to provoke discussion.
That it will certainly do, “Vedomosti” concluded, pointing out that in many ways, the new study is a response to the December 2008 report of the Institute of Contemporary Development (ICD), an institution with which President Dmitry Medvedev is closely associated and whose conclusions he has praised.
That earlier report called for further democratization and for an end to more personal authoritarian approaches. Indeed, one of its authors, Igor Yurgens, who heads ICD said that Russia will be able to live with its current problems without further democratization but that if it tries to do so, “this will be a very short life.”

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