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Thursday, November 01, 2007

Latynina on the Cost of Democracy

Writing the Moscow Times, Yulia Latynina explains the difference between democracy in Ukraine and "democracy" in Russia:

On Oct. 13, there was a powerful natural gas explosion in Dnipropetrovsk, located in eastern Ukraine. About 30 people died. Ever since the explosion, almost every Ukrainian politician has attacked Viktor Vekselberg, the owner of DnipropetrovskGorGaz, which is the local gas company that may be responsible for the blast. Actually, Vekselberg owns only 50 percent of the company. The other half is owned by Mikhail Abyzov, but this is beside the point. Since Vekselberg is a public figure and a Russian oligarch to boot, he is a more attractive target to blame for the accident.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko declared that he would teach Russian oligarchs a lesson about "criminal liability, if they don't understand their moral responsibility." Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko has "assembled a group of 10 lawyers that will force Mr. Vekselberg to pay for all losses caused by the accident."

Ukrainian Emergency Situations Minister Nestor Shufrych, a member of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych's coalition, announced that he would press for nationalizing DnipropetrovskGorGaz if Vekselberg failed to reimburse the ministry to the tune of $20 million, the amount the government apparently spent handling the disaster.

The primary cause of the gas explosion is not known. It could have been caused by the dilapidated condition of gas lines, a high-pressure surge or tampering with gas meters by residents of the apartment building. People are lining up to hurl accusations at DnipropetrovskGorGaz. And the populist threats to nationalize the gas company are very disturbing. In the end, not a single Ukrainian politician has missed the chance to exploit the deaths from this tragedy as a personal public-relations opportunity or to promote the interests of their financial backers. And some are guilty of doing both.

"Is this the glorious democracy we were fighting for?" you might ask.

Yes. In fact, this is democracy in its best form. As a result of this public outcry, Vekselberg announced that he would pay the families of the deceased $100,000 each and $10,000 to each of the injured. It should be reiterated that the cause of the accident has not been established yet.

Do you recall how much was paid to victims after a similar explosion in Arkhangelsk took the lives of 60 people? I'll refresh your memory: The families of the deceased received 100,000 rubles (about $4,000) each.

And how much did the victims of the Dubrovka theater attack receive as compensation? In 2004, even the most persistent plaintiffs managed to win a maximum payment of only 327,000 rubles (about $13,000). And then there was the Moscow City Court ruling that increased the compensation for Alla Alyakin, a Dubrovka hostage, by 2 kopeks.

Contrary to what many think, democracy is not justice at all. It is all a bunch of lies, demagoguery and populism. It is also about politicians who exploit a tragedy -- and the public outrage that emerges as a consequence -- to grab shares of profitable industries under the false mantra of "justice."

But in this case, the result of this demagoguery and corruption is that Tymoshenko's political bloc will pay each victim 2,000 hryvnas ($395), while the government will allocate 5,000,000 hryvnas (roughly $1 million) to compensate the victims and help them acquire new apartments.

Democracy has a price -- an absolutely concrete price.

Compare the $100,000 that each victim in Dnipropetrovsk will receive with the additional 2 kopeks paid to Alyakina in Moscow. This clearly underscores the difference, in arithmetic terms, between

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