Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Crisis of Irresponsibility

Among the pictures hanging in the rotunda of the Capitol in Washington, there is one depicting the signing of the U. S. Constitution. The artist, who evidently had a sense of humor, painted one of the founding fathers stepping on another's foot. If anyone ever gets the notion of painting a similar moment in Russian history, he will probably have to draw half of our politicians stepping on the other half's feet.


As the decision on the proposed referendum draws nearer, Russian politicians are trying to outdo each other in discrediting their opponents. They are trying to frighten each other with the danger of a deepening crisis.


But the current Russian political crisis is nothing out of the ordinary. Similar situations develop in other countries. Presidents sometimes dissolve parliaments. and parliaments, sometimes, bring down presidents. No one sees this as a national catastrophe.


But in Russia things are different. The danger springs from a totally uncontrolled political battle. The creators of the new Russia have been somewhat hasty in announcing that the country has espoused democratic values. These values have been proclaimed, but a significant part of the political elite has not absorbed them. What is worse, many have completely misinterpreted these ideas.


To take just one example: People have begun to believe that political struggle in a pluralist society cannot help but be dirty. It is an activity where the only rule is the absence of all rules.


It seems that we Russians, intending to drink at the well of Western political values, have, in our inimitable fashion, hooked up to the sewer instead. It's true that politicians outside of Russia are no angels. There they also play the game at times with no regard to the rules. But any Western politician understands full well that these rules exist.


In Russia there simply are no rules. and for this reason politicians conduct themselves as impulsively as children who have no idea what is permitted and what is not. The source of the present crisis is, first and foremost, the fact that the government feels no responsibility to the people.


There is a reason for this. In the parliamentary and presidential elections, the candidate's attitude toward the Communist Party and toward the existing system was the deciding factor. There are still no political parties that could seriously be said to express the interests of specific social groups, and that would depend on those groups. This is why the people's deputies are uniting into factions, with no clearcut political platform. There are no powerful political organizations behind them, capable of ascertaining the views of one social group or another, capable of developing a well thought-out program.


The absence of serious political institutions has a negative effect on the position of the president and the government. In essence, bare economic theory has been their only ally in these difficult reforms. The forces that brought the present leadership to power have split and have lost much of their effectiveness.


Under these conditions of general irresponsibility we can expect that the discussion of any controversial question will provoke yet another fierce confrontation. The caustic Winston Churchill once compared political struggle in Russia with a bulldog fight underneath a carpet. The only achievement of our present system is that the carpet has been removed.


Of course, one could hope that the referendum, if it is ever carried out, would finally force the legislative and executive branches to bear some responsibility before the people. A new constitution must be adopted, and elections must be conducted along party lines. But economic collapse could bring about a country-wide conflict, not just a fistfight among the deputies.


What about the people? For now they are just calmly observing the fracas. But I will not venture to predict how they will react when they are forced to make a choice. It is not out of the question that they will follow the one whose fists seem most powerful.


Alexander Goltz is a political observer for the newspaper Krasnaya Zvezda.