A Selective Definition of Democracy

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Not long before we marked the 15th anniversary of the revolution of 1993, when President Boris Yeltsin ordered tanks to fire on the renegade White House, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs and former ambassador to Russia William Burns made the following statement at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing: "Since 1989, the United States, under the leadership of Presidents George H.W. Bush, Clinton and George W. Bush, has supported the right of every country emerging from communism to choose the path of its own development and to choose the institutions -- such as NATO and the European Union -- that it wants to join."

If we believe Burns about the consistency of U.S. policy regarding a nation's "freedom to choose" its alliances, then it was Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev who lied when he said that the administration of President George H.W. Bush assured him in 1989 that NATO would not expand eastward following German reunification. Then-U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union Jack Matlock has substantiated Gorbachev's version.

So I tend to think Burns is the one who is not telling the truth. Burns' words reek of a double standard, particularly in the context of the anniversary of the 1993 constitutional crisis. The coup began on Sept. 21 when Yeltsin issued Decree 1,400, which dissolved the Congress of People's Deputies, the country's parliament and supreme governing body according to the Constitution at the time. After the Constitutional Court ruled the decree illegal, Yeltsin disbanded the court. Then, Yeltsin ordered federal troops to surround the White House, where the parliament was based, and he cut off the electricity and plumbing. When, on Oct. 3, the desperate hold-outs in the White House tried to break through the blockade, tanks opened fire on them.

In December 1993, there was a referendum on Yeltsin's new Constitution and elections for the new State Duma were held. Despite the pro-government media's pressure on voters, opposition parties gained a majority in the Duma.

There are strong reasons to believe that the referendum on the new Constitution, which greatly weakened the Duma and strengthened presidential powers, had been rigged in Yeltsin's favor. But it did show the people's deep dissatisfaction with Yeltsin's political and economic platform -- one that led to a breakdown of the country's industrial base, a lower life expectancy and a disastrous population decline. Nonetheless, international observers considered the elections exemplary. U.S. President Bill Clinton's administration could not find a single word of condemnation for Yeltsin's bloody, anti-constitutional coup d'etat. Moreover, the Western press praised Yeltsin for adhering to "democratic principles" -- much in the same way as it has extolled Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili in recent years.

Yet when Yeltsin, who was despised by his own people, was replaced by Vladimir Putin, who soon became widely popular at home, Washington constantly criticized Putin's policies that were aimed at undoing the damage done by Yeltsin.

Thus, we are seeing a disturbing pattern from the Western press. Similar to the nonsense that was written in the West of Yeltsin's "democratic revolution" of 1993, we hear and read the same distortions about Georgian "democracy" and Russia's "aggression" against Georgia in the August war.

By supporting aggressors and distorting the facts, the West believes it is supporting "young democracies" and "the choice of the people." Perhaps this is why the so-called young democrats, whether they be Yeltsin or Saakashvili, take such satisfaction in inflicting human losses.

Against this backdrop, it is scary to think what might happen in Ukraine, where its own "young democrats" -- President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko -- are battling each other to gain the West's admiration.

Alexei Pankin is the editor of IFRA-GIPP Magazine for publishing business professionals.