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Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Sunday Slam, Part I: Nemtsov Speaks

Writing in the Moscow Times, former Nizhny Novgorod mayor and Kremlin insider Boris Nemtsov rips the Kremlin, and the lazy, cowardly people of Russia, several new ones:

It is disgusting to watch the "Vremya" nightly news on Channel One, which reminds me of the broadcasts during the Brezhnev era. It is appalling how all of the famous journalists who disagreed with the Kremlin were fired. It is disgusting that the St. Petersburg clan in the Kremlin controls billions of dollars in wealth. It is offensive that the level of corruption is now twice what it was under Boris Yeltsin, which has earned Russia shamefully low marks in international corruption ratings every year.

It is reprehensible that police beat people with truncheons, not because they are guilty of crimes, but because they have taken to the streets to demand justice. It is offensive that Putin's portrait hangs in every public office. It is disgusting that the Kremlin spends millions of dollars to bring students to Moscow by bus and train from all corners of Russia to participate in pro-Putin meetings. It is simply nauseating to see how Sergei Ivanov, Putin's best friend and likely successor, was promoted to first deputy prime minister despite the vile gangsterism that is rampant in the nation's army barracks; the tragedy of Andrei Sychyov; and the embarrassing failure of the Bulava missile launch. It is offensive that Moscow is swimming in wealth while the rest of Russia lives like a poor colony.

It is offensive that under Putin the state has taken on the role of plunderer and racketeer, with an appetite that grows with each successive conquest. It began with the break-up and expropriation of Yukos, then the questionable purchase of a majority share in the Sakhalin-2 project and now Gazprom's purchase of the Kovytka gas field in East Siberia. The country's great size and wealth only means there will be much more for the Kremlin to grab. But the greatest calamity is that nobody is allowed to utter a word in protest regarding all of this. "Keep quiet," the authorities seem to say, "or things will go worse for you. This is none of your business."

It is truly disgusting that people's opinions don't mean anything. "You are welcome to elect whom you choose," they tell us, "as long as it is one of the candidates we have put forward." There used to be 100 million voters. Now there is only one. It is offensive that we have resigned ourselves to accepting as Putin's successor whomever he happens to slap on the back. According to recent polls, fully 40 percent of Russians are prepared to vote for whomever Putin supports -- no questions asked.

It is appalling that, rather than conducting a sensible and balanced foreign policy, the current administration is drawing Russia into an arms race at a time when it is completely unnecessary. It is outrageous that the number of our enemies has increased to include Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova and Belarus. It is distressing that cynicism and lying have become an inseparable part of Russian politics and that it doesn't seem to bother anyone.

Where do we now stand? If we analyze Putin's presidency, it becomes clear that, year after year, he has taken away the rights of the people. We didn't have many rights to begin with, but he managed to take away what few we had. But Putin could not have achieved this without firing all the dissenting journalists, instituting censorship of the mass media, annulling the direct popular election of governors, passing repressive electoral laws, eliminating the cumulative pension system and de-privatization, to name only a few.

It would be reasonable to ask if only the authorities are to blame for all this. The answer is no, because it all happened with our approval, outright support, or, at the very least, our tacit complicity. The majority is either tired of thinking, is unable to think, has grown out of practice of thinking, or else simply doesn't care. And as long as the majority is content with the status quo, the chances are slim that conditions will improve in any way.

Under such circumstances, the political opposition can only represent the interests of the minority. This is the group that "can not live by bread alone." Restoring the rights lost during Putin's leadership and returning Russia to the path towards developing a democratic state is a mission that can be accomplished.

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