Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Russians Now Compelling Their State to Do What It Should But Doesn’t Want to, Moscow Commentator Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, December 1 – In what she calls “the Dymovsky effect,” a Moscow State professor who serves in the Social Chamber says, Russian activists have had increasing success in forcing the Russian state to do what the Constitution and laws call for it to do even though the powers that be do not want to do so, an indication of the rise of a limited kind of civil society.
MVD Major Aleksey ‘s appearance on YouTube forced Moscow to focus the militia, a petition with 90,000 signatures forced them to free Svetlana Bakhmin, and popular outrage led to the start of an investigation into the death of Sergey Magnitsky in prison – all indications Elena Lukyanova says that society is “rising up” and “at last forcing the government to stir itself” (www.specletter.com/obcshestvo/2009-12-01/tsepnaja-reaktsija-effekta-dymovskogo.html).
“This chain of events of the last year,” she argues, is highly significant because in each case, the government was forced “under the pressure of society” to do what it was supposed to do by law but did not for various reasons want to, something all the more impressive because of the increasingly tight restrictions on the media and “the repressions” visited upon the populace.
These events, Lukyanova points out, “coincided with” greater activism in the Social Chamber whose members began to declare that “we will take this question under our control!” as well as with the reformation of the work of the Presidential council for support of the development of the institutions of civil society and human rights.
So far, she concedes, “it is difficult to believe in all this. It seems that this is not a chain of events but a chain of accidents. But facts are stubborn. And an analyst does not have the right not to note them and, having noted them, not connect them -- Even if all this is only a temporary concession for the weakening of tensions in a period of economic crisis.”
Has Russian society in fact “woken up”? It appears that a part of it has and that the government has no choice but to take notice of this equally “stubborn” fact. That is because the powers that be “know from history that even the most brutal and cruel dictatorial regimes sooner or later are stripped from the face of the earth by the force of a public explosion.”
It turns out that contrary to the expectations of many only a few months away, many Russians do think they have rights under the Constitution and are prepared to demand them, and consequently they are taking action on the basis of the notion that “We are the state” rather than assuming that the state is just the bosses in the Kremlin and Government House.
Russians are beginning to recognize, she insists, that “the state is a territory and the people who live on it, with their own problems, concerns, and relations to the state.” And consequently that “we do not exist for the state,” as many Russian leaders have assumed, but “the state exists for us.”
As a result, Russians are increasingly recognizing that they “have the right to evaluate the effectiveness of its work. And it is only our hired staff, which we pay a salary to carry out definite functions, including the struggle with crime and for justice. And if the government fighters [don’t perform], then we don’t need such a state.” Indeed, “a poor worker will be fired.”
“It appears,” she says, “the people has begun to understand this. People say that the Russian muzhik can be kept in a yoke for a long time but that he also can run away fast.” Lukyanova says that she “fears” to draw a conclusion, but what is going on is clearly “the beginning of the civil society in Russia for which we have so long worked.”
That does not mean that it is now fully formed. The powers that be can ignore many things and insist on doing what is convenient rather than what is right all too often. But the experience of seeing that complaints and activism can shake the state and force it to do what it otherwise would not is important.
Lukyanova concludes her article by pointing out that in Switzerland, each of the cantons begins its school year on a different day. That creates complications for the Swiss government, but a common opening day will be possible there “only after” such a step is approved by referendum “in a minimum of 10 cantons.”
Russians are there yet, she says. That is “an affair of the future.” But the events of the last months show that movement has taken place toward a situation in which Russian officials will live according to laws and the population will demand that they do so and that they pay attention to what those who pay their salaries want in other matters as well.

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