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Published:December 2nd, 2007 13:30 EST
Democratic Russia? No, Thank You!

Democratic Russia? No, Thank You!

By Krzys Wasilewski

According to the latest opinion polls, President Putin's United Russia party may score over 60 percent of the votes in the Sunday parliamentary election. The president himself runs for a parliamentary seat – a move that will enable him to stay in power even when his second term ends. Although the current political system in Russia can hardly be called democratic, the West should not forget that it guarantees stability. The December 2 election has already been dubbed the most boring one in modern Russia's 20-year-long history. The victor has been known for at least six years, when President Putin decided to form a party that would give him parliamentary support. In 2003, the United Russia had its debut and won 305 seats out of 450 in the Russian parliament. Now, after four years in power, the United Russia has monopolized the Russian political scene, marginalizing the Communist Party (which had been the main political power up until then). 

Vladimir Putin has not given the Russian people democracy, but democracy has never been what the Russian nation wanted. The privilege of free elections and high human rights standards are reserved for the countries with well-established democratic systems whose roots stretch to decades and centuries into the past. Visiting Argentina in 1968, Richard Nixon said, “United States-style democracy won't work here. I wish it would.” The future president was right: autocrats and military junta had ruled Argentina since the 1940s, much to the approval of its citizens. Russia is in the similar position, with the murderous communist regime crumbling only in 1991. Those 16 years were hardly enough to build a free market economy, let alone a working democratic system, prove the example of many African countries, which have not been able to free themselves of the vicious circle of dictatorships. Russia is no different. The first decade since the dissolution of the Soviet Union was marked with widespread corruption, skyrocketing unemployment, and impotent governmental agencies. Vladimir Putin, who assumed power on the first day of 2000, managed to stabilize the falling giant that Russia had turned into. Seven years within his presidency, Russia is a country reborn – it enjoys one of the highest development indexes in Europe, has a strong currency, and makes its citizens proud. 

In addition, the United States and the European Union should be pleased with Putin's presidency. It is true that under his rule Russia has been exercising an imperial foreign policy that is often at odds with Washington and Brussels. Every winter, Moscow blackmails its former republics, threatening it will cut off gas supplies, if they veer off the pro-Russian course. However, there is also the other side of the coin. Putin has stopped homegrown radicals from the left and right who popped up on the political scene and seriously jeopardizing the security in Europe. One must bear in mind that Russia has always changed its leaders by fire and sword, not by voting booths. Critics of Putin forget that, had it not been for him, a politician in the mold of Vladimir Zhirinowsky, who continually claims that Russia’s historic mission is to expand its borders westward to the Atlantic Ocean and destroy the West, could have ruled the Kremlin. America's diplomacy is already overstretched by unpredictable regimes in Iran and North Korea, which are on the threshold of producing the first nuclear warhead. In comparison, Russia stocks around 10,000 nuclear warheads in its arsenals, equaling the number of U.S. nuclear weapons and considerably outstripping the arsenals of China, France, Great Britain, India, and Israel put together. Such an annihilating force in the hands of a lunatic could seriously undermine any peace efforts. What is more, Russia seems to be the only country which can influence Iran and other Arab states traditionally hostile to the U.S., but which have a long history of good relations with Moscow. 

There is no doubt that under Putin's presidency, democracy in Russia has deteriorated. But it would be mistake to say that it has been achieved only by police control on the streets and extensive censorship in the media. The honest truth is that democratic opposition can win the support of only a fraction of the Russian people – even in the 1990s, when elections were held according to the western standards, liberal democrats never won more than seven percent of the vote. In a country which has never known democracy – and such a country is Russia – citizens prefer stability and predictability to democratic chaos, which they tasted before Putin's presidency. 

We should encourage democratic reforms in Russia. But as Rome wasn't built in one day, it will also be years, if not decades, until Russians will enjoy the same rights as Americans and Europeans. Until then, President Putin guarantees that the political and social equilibrium he established will not be upset. 

If you have any comments, please write to krzys_wasilewski@yahoo.com