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

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

For Accord, Or Against Democracy?

Last week, when 15 of Russia's most esteemed business leaders signed a public statement calling for a compromise before the election to avert the prospect of civil war, their words were certainly worthy of consideration.

Trouble is, the business leaders, who include the bosses of the biggest banks, oil companies and industrial firms in the country, expressed themselves in such a mishmash of Soviet doublespeak that it was also hard to work out what they were getting at.

The key paragraph of their statement reads, "Russian politicians must be moved to serious mutual concessions and strategic political agreements that must then be backed up with laws ... Neither side has the right to forcibly impose their point of view on the whole of society."

What lurks behind this urgent-sounding abstraction?

Some sections of the letter undermine the whole idea of elections as a basis for appointing a government and call instead for some division of power before the election without any regard to the results of the vote. If this is the point of the address, it is ill-conceived and fundamentally anti-democratic.

For instance, the letter starts by casting doubt on the legitimacy of elections as an expression of popular will. As soon as the elections are over, the letter says, the politicians will immediately become puppets of other forces now lurking in the shadows.

Or again, the letter says that the winner in the election will in fact receive a "mandate from only a minority, be it red or white." The logic is impenetrable. Surely the winner of second round of the election will be the candidate who has indeed gained a majority of votes freely cast?

At other times, and more creditably, the business magnates appear to be calling on the two opposing sides to conclude a pact guaranteeing that the victor in the election will not carry out a witch hunt on past enemies and will observe basic constitutional rights.

The weight of these calls appears to fall on the Communists. The letter warns of the dangers of trying to rebuild the Soviet Union without due process. It also specifically warns of the serious risk that Communists might attempt an "ideological revanche" -- and these businessmen probably have the most to fear from such a revanche.

Yet it is hard to see what they have in mind when they called for a pact to prevent such excesses. What kind of agreement could enforce good behavior after the election? That Russia's businessmen should be trying to throw their weight around is only natural, but it is worrying that apparently even they are casting doubt on the value of the democratic process.