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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Gray Cloud Looms Over Democracy

Deep from within the bowels of the Russian bureaucracy, from the endless cohorts of gray men who know "the system" and how to play it, has come a proposal to save the country from itself.

Rather than rely on elections to decide who should rule the country, these men are proposing the formation of a "government of popular trust."

The bureaucrats stretch across parties and ideologies. Indeed, they have a name for themselves: They are the gosudarstvenniki, a word that is really quite untranslatable, but refers to people whose primary interest lies in promoting the greatness of the Russian state, rather than in communism, democracy or any other such belief.

There are gosudarstvenniki in the Communist Party, in President Boris Yeltsin's administration, in the armed forces, the Federal Security Service and even in the business community. In other words, they are a force to be reckoned with. And they have a plan.

To avoid a possibly deadly post-election struggle over power, the plan is to agree ahead of time that a grand state council will be formed after the vote that includes everybody. If there are no losers in the elections, then nobody will be driven to whip up the population to civil war.

But who are these people? They are, first of all, the unelected and the unelectable, joined by a lack of faith in democracy and by an overweening desire to protect their own positions and property. And what really motivates them?

It is fear, not of civil war as they say, but of an unknown political system for redistributing power. June's presidential election, after all, represents the first time that the ultimate seat of power in this country has been put up for transfer through democratic vote. Ever. Can the masses be entrusted with such a decision? "No," say the gosudarstvenniki, "that could mean civil war. Let us handle it."

The gosudarstvenniki's plan has some gaping holes, however. Who, for example, would wield ultimate power in this unwieldy government of people's trust? How would power be shared? The bankers say Yeltsin would appoint the government. The communist gosudarstvenniki say the president's powers would be greatly reduced and the state council would run the country. Those positions are diametrically opposed.

The ball is in Yeltsin's court. It is up to him to let the elections take their natural course or to cut a deal. In the first case he remains Russia's first democratically elected leader, possibly for the next five years and certainly for posterity. In the second, kiss Russian democracy goodbye for now and prepare to be ruled by the conservative and fearful wisdom of the gray cohorts.