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Friday, May 18, 2007

Ryzhkov on Neo-Soviet Russia

In a syndicated column, leading pro-democracy dissident Vladimir Ryzhkov (pictured) condemns the rise of the neo-Soviet Union:

The more Russian leaders pontificate about the importance of democracy and the more they swear to protect democratic values and principles, the less democracy is left in real Russian life. When Moscow bade farewell to the outstanding Russian democrat and reformer Boris Yeltsin last month, many ordinary people told me it was not just Yeltsin who was being buried in the Novodevichy cemetery but Russian freedom itself.

Young Russian democracy, which the Russian people seized from the hands of the Communists, has been almost completely destroyed under President Vladimir Putin. It has been exterminated gradually, by small lethal injections to its weakening body.

How freedom was lost

Why have Russians so easily parted with their freedom and constitutional rights? Have we thrown away our freedom like a boring toy or was it stolen from us one long winter night?

Neither the former nor the latter; freedom was simply exchanged. In an unprecedented deal, freedom was pawned in return for economic growth and growth of personal income. In the past seven years, Russian gross domestic product has increased almost 60 percent and citizens' income has doubled. That's why Russians are so tolerant of the loss of civil and social rights.

Since 2000, citizens have been losing their constitutional rights to elect and control the government step by step.

Among several other authoritarian changes, Russian citizens have lost their right to elect governors, who are now effectively nominated by the president himself. Elections to the State Duma (parliament) have also undergone considerable changes.

This December, all 450 Duma deputies will be elected from party lists, which means that for the first time in Russian history, direct elections of constituency members of parliament have been canceled. It will be scarcely different from the old Soviet council "elections." Russian citizens will choose from several parties, all previously endorsed by the Kremlin. It will not be a free choice but an imposed one.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin has passed a new law that will allow it to legally liquidate most of the remaining parties in the country, the majority of them opposition parties, of course. The presidential "election" next March is also likely to be a sham. Few Russians believe that the elections will be free, that opposition candidates will be registered, and that they will have access to TV or be able to seek financial support from the cowed business community. In the absence of a real struggle, it looks as if Putin's successor will stride into the Kremlin along a red carpet.

The sidelining of the opposition and the predetermining by the powers that be of the parliamentary and presidential elections have pushed Russia back to the old times when it was not the people, but the bosses who decided who would lead the country. That's why 60 percent of voters in some of the biggest cities have stopped going to the polls.

As the government has increasingly slid from popular control, society understands less and less about what is really happening in the country and the world. After free elections went, freedom of speech was next to come under attack.

In the years of Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin, Russians welcomed the principles of free information, openness, and independent journalism and publishing. On Russian television, which remained the main source of news for the great majority of Russians, political talk shows that presented diverse opinion and criticism of the government flourished. Now that's all in the past.

Television (all six federal channels) has turned into a tabloid-style "Kremlin TV."

Opposition politicians have been effectively blacklisted from TV. In Russia, where society is totally manipulated by television, he who is not on TV might as well be dead.

As a result, the Russian mass media have again, as in Soviet times, become obedient instruments of unbridled propaganda. Recently, one editor at a TV channel received a strict reprimand because, for an instant, a camera showed the back of the head of one of the opposition politicians.

For the first time since 1989, there are political prisoners in Russia. Apart from the world-famous Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev (former oil business partners), they include young opposition leaders who were sentenced to several years in prison for their involvement in peaceful, albeit banned, protests against the regime.

A disturbing new trend has been the introduction into legislation of the general and vague notion of "extremism," meaning that anyone who criticizes the government or takes part in peaceful protests can be declared an "extremist." A new, recently adopted law is also adding to the pressure on Russian and foreign nongovernmental organizations.

Beating peaceful protesters

Last month, many Russian citizens and journalists fell victim to or witnessed the brutality of the special police, who beat and arrested not only peaceful protesters, but also passersby. No fewer than 700 people were arrested and 80 beaten in Moscow and St. Petersburg, according to human rights activists.

Scared by Ukraine's recent "Orange Revolution," the Kremlin is using batons to beat out of Russian citizens the very idea of mass protests. Thus, the citizens of a free republic are again having hammered into their heads the idea that they are nothing but the submissive subjects of a cruel empire.

And yet, despite this authoritarian crackdown, Putin's approval ratings continue to soar at about 80 percent. A recent poll showed that 65 percent of Russians want him to serve a third term. That would require a constitutional amendment, which Federation Council Speaker Sergey Mironov advocates.

As in Communist China, modern Russian authorities have drawn their legitimacy from strong economic growth. The bicycle frame of Russian authoritarianism stays upright as long as the economic wheels spin quickly.

But the Russian people, like the Chinese, are paying an ever higher price for lack of control over the government and the distorting effect of state propaganda.

The Russian population continues to decline and age. Meanwhile, corruption has increased 10-fold since 2000, while the gap between rich and poor has widened considerably. A mere 53 superwealthy Russians have concentrated in their hands a capital of $400 billion, equal to almost one-third of Russian GDP. The Russian economy depends more and more on the export of raw materials and is seriously sick from the monopolies of the biggest companies.

This cannot go on for much longer. Divisions and tensions are growing, as is the level of political and social protest. 'Take back our freedom'

To answer these challenges, Russia needs change. Democratic institutions must be revived to place the government under effective control and reduce corruption.

Urgent structural reforms are needed in the economy as well as an active antimonopoly policy to inspire openness and competition.

The social sphere needs urgent efforts to improve our "human capital" and lower the level of social stratification, poverty, and injustice. The petrol-fueled authoritarianism of former KGB officers can hardly be relied on to realize the need for this program or to carry it out in practice.

So here in Russia we have to go on with our efforts to convince our people to be more active and demand changes for the better. Stability and prosperity are impossible in Russia without democratic control and freedom.

It is time to take back our freedom and our rights from the Kremlin pawnshop. Economic growth will be achieved far better by the hands and minds of free people than by the frenzied blows of police batons.

LR: That's a nice bunch of words there, Mr. Ryzhkov, but answer us this -- When are you simply going to shut up, stand and fight, as your ancestors did, for Russia's survival. Words don't mean nuthin to the malignant little troll who prowls the Kremlin's parapets.


Russian Patriot said...

Re: That's a nice bunch of words there, Mr. Ryzhkov, but answer us this -- When are you simply going to shut up, stand and fight...?

I have the answer.

It is in the text of the article.

[...In the past seven years, Russian gross domestic product has increased almost 60 percent and citizens' income has doubled.
That's why Russians are so tolerant of the loss of civil and social rights...]

And here:
[...despite the authoritarian crackdown, Putin's approval ratings continue to soar at about 80 percent. A recent poll showed that 65 percent of Russians want him to serve a third term...]

If Ryzhkov or Kasparov becomes the Russian Prezident, Russian citizens may be allowed to elect the governers and watch a few independent federal TV chanals but their income will drop for sure.

So the answer is:

When Ryzhkov gets approval rating of Putin(80%). And Putin gets today’s Ryzhkov's approval rating of 0.2%.

La Russophobe said...

Your "logic" is a bit flawed my dear. Lenin wasn't popular when he took power from the Tsar. Martin Luther King wasn't popular when he changed the U.S. constitution. Most revolutionaries begin with only small group of ardent followers.

Stalin was wildly popular. He destroyed the USSR utterly, killing more Russians than Hitler, and now the USSR no longer exists. Shamil Basayev was extremely popular in Chechyna -- does that mean Russians should accept him?

You really should think a bit before you write.

Despite modest improvements in Russia's economics picture, due solely to the accident of oil revenues, Russia is still losing 1 million people from the population ever year, AIDS is out of control, and the average wage is $2.50. Russia has alienated the entire world and finds itself surrounded by enemies. Russia's governmental performance scores from international ratings groups are consistently abysmal, lower than many third-world countries.

The Russian people destroyed their nation twice in the last century, I guess they are more than prepared to do it again. But as we say in America: Three strikes and you're out!

Anonymous said...

This is Hector,

Kim knows as much about Russia as a chimpanzee knows about water skiing. First of all Lenin did not take power from the Czar, it was a coalition of left-wing parties led by Mensheviks that forced the Czar to abdicate, although many of the workers who took part were influenced by Bolshevik politics. Lenin seized power from this provisional government, by convincing the working class that they are no hope and will continue to bleed the workers in the imperialist war. Lenin had won over the working class in October 1917 to the Bolsheviks.

You say Stalin destroyed the USSR killing more Russians than Hitler? So why do you hate him so much (especially since the vast majority of those he killed were Communists)? As I've said before, he did America, Britain, and imperialism many favors by selling out workers' struggles abroad. It was Stalinist corruption and mismanagement that destroyed the USSR, a program that started with Stalin.

Anonymous said...

elmer here.

Hector, are you really that sick and twisted an individual, that you believe people are supposed to like Stalin because he destroyed the USSR?

Don't you get it at all?

What the heck have the sovoks done to you?

It isn't about hating the USSR or destroying Russia.

Stalin killed 30 million people.

He did not do that alone - he did that with the help of many, many russkies.

Anyone with any sense of conscience or morality will cry out and say "this is wrong - don't do this, don't kill other people."

It's not that complicated, Hector.

The other part of it is - be free!

Don't have a dictatorship, or an authoritarian government.

Don't let the government beat you over the head.

Don't let the government arrest Taras Zeleniak for posting what he thinks, his opinion, on a web site in Ukraine.

Don't enact laws about throwing people in jail for criticizing Putin ("extremism").

Aren't people allowed to have an opinion?

Aren't people allowed to think?

Aren't people allowed to say "no" to the brutality of government?

Aren't people allowed to gather peacefully?

Aren't people allowed to travel freely?

Aren't people allowed to be safe and secure in their own homes?

What on earth have the sovoks done to you?

Your only criticism of Stalin is that he "mismanaged" the USSR?

Apparently, the USSR is a huge corporation to be managed by a manager.

Hector, government is not merely a corporation.

What on earth have the sovoks done to you?

Russian patriot said...

Don't enact laws about throwing people in jail for criticizing Putin ("extremism").

Do you mean Boris Stomakhin case?

And now imagine this:

Some guy, journalist in the USA says: "The USA is shit! It does not deserve to exist. Fight, fight, this stupid bloody country. Drawn it in its own blood. More attacks like the one on 9. 11. 2001. The USA President is a bloody stupid covboy, he must be killed...the american people do not deserve to live because they support him... Such a nation must be destroyed... Kill, kill, kill!..." and so forth and alike.
And he printed all this in his own newspaper to sell people out on the street, and he sent it to the Al-Caeda to be posted on their Internet site.

How would American Law treat that guy?

That was what Stomakhin did.

Anonymous said...

To Elmer

Re: "Don't have a dictatorship, or an authoritarian government."

Democracy itself is not a social goal.
The goal is a better living for people. People want to have food, housing, healthcare, social wellfare, education for their children.

Democracy is one of the ways to provide a better living.
But not the only possible way.

In the Sultanat of Bruney, for example, people live happily under the rule of their absolutly autoritarian ruler. They have free higher education, free health care, housing, family support programs. Do Americans have the same?
Try to convince them to accept your democracy.
The right to demonstrate against the government is a good thing too. But if the government is doing a good job, what use of this right?

Secondly: Democracy can be harmfull for the state and for citizens when the nation is in crisis or in danger. At war time, for example. People understand that, and yeld some of their freedoms. You already agreed to take you shoes off for checking before boarding the plane? Your phone calls monitored? Tomorrow a terrorist may hide the bomb in his rectum and you will be asked to show you anus before getting allowed to board. And you will understand that's reasonable and you will not appeal for your anus's right for privacy.
When Putin became the president Russia was in crisis.
In 2000, before Putin took over, Condoleza Rice said: 'Now the danger for us is not from a strong Russia but from the weak one".
He has managed to save the country. He is pulling her out from that crisis. For that he had to press on the separatists and oligarhs. He made them to pay taxes.
Not everything is well yet? Well, not at once, it takes time.
There is no other person to do a better job in Russia now. So Russians have what they have.
Russians agred with some freedom limitations to save their country. They still have as much of the freedoms as they need. If they need more they will get more.

Anonymous said...

elmer here.

You russkies really, really are way off the mark.

Democracy is only about a better way of living? About getting a better glass of vodka and a better piece of kolbasa on your table?

"Russia has what is has"?

What utter, blubbering nonsense.

Where have I heard this before?


From all the former commie thugs.

Who now call themselves "capitalists," but are just a bunch of commie thugs, meaning that, through privatization and rigged bids, they stole all the property, and now want government to step on the necks of people, so they can hold on to wealth and power.

I wonder what the Oily Russkie Orthodox Church has to say about democracy? Oh, yeah, that's right - they're all former KGB agents also.

You missed the whole point.

Democracy is about freedom. It is about the relationship of government to the individual. It is the relationship of individuals to each other.

It's not about the government putting a better piece of babka, or better quality kasha on the table, or a nicer DVD player in your dining room, or more CDs of Via Gra (the girl group, not the drug) in your home.

And it's not about wealthy people being able to bribe their way around everything, like they do in Russkie land.

Do you people have no concept of freedom at all? Have the sovoks really messed you up that badly?

And by the way, trading security for liberty is a very, very serious question in democratic countries.

I was talking about the Taras Zeleniak case. From his own home, he posted some very, very mild things on a Ukrainian web site.

And, in the time-honored russkie tradition, he was arrested for nothing at all. He doesn't pose any sort of threat to Putin or to any of the other russkie thugs in power. But, the russkie way is to smash individuals for no reason at all.

And, by the way, people really don't have to go through body cavity searches in the US in order to fly on airplanes.

Anonymous said...

elmer here again.

I am amazed at the extent to which russkies will try to rationalize brutal, authoritarian government in Russia. And it happens all over, on numerous web sites.

Now, apparently, the model for Putin's authoritarian government is - the Sultan of Brunei.

Russians, especially women, have left the "managed democracy" of Russia for a better life elsewhere.

They have predominantly fled to Western Europe, the US and Canada.

I'm not aware of any Russians beating on the door to try to get into Brunei.

"Mighty" Oily Mother Orthodox Russia modeling itself after tiny Brunei to justify Putin's (and Stalin's) dictatorship.

Who would ever have thought such a thing was possible? What a hoot!