Install

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

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EDITORIAL: Dictatorship Is No Hope For Russia




When Viktor Chernomyrdin announced his intention to establish an "economic dictatorship" this winter, Russians interviewed on the street had the common sense to ask: What's the difference between an economic dictatorship and a dictatorship?


But Chernomyrdin's speech was met with the yawns or even the approval of Western governments and media. Reuters, for example, described an "economic dictatorship" as "measures that are likely to be highly unpopular, but necessary for economic health."


"When reform is needed, democracy can prove a paralyzing force, and so it proves in Russia," wrote Matthew Paris in a recent opinion piece in The Times of London. "Is it not at least arguable that her economic and social crisis springs from democracy?"


The Independent, meanwhile, has entertained the notion that Russia ought to admit its incompetence and subcontract the administration of its government to Western managers (Generalissimo Ernst & Young?).


Those who believe a dictatorship would help the Russian economy and the Russian people rest their argument on two premises. One is that the parliament, dominated by Communists, has held up economic reforms. Two is that corruption is so pervasive that only a bloody-minded suspension of civil liberties can restore law and order.


The truth, however, is that when it comes to crafting and implementing economic policy here, the Duma has been irrelevant, the Kremlin indecisive, and the West contradictory. Expatriates have cried out about corruption and taxes; their governments have responded by applauding corruption -- as long as it comes in the form of "rapid" privatization -- and then advocating higher taxes.


The questions are: raise taxes or lower them? print money or not? protect industry or not? cut this from the budget or that? It matters which answers are picked, not who picks them. A dictator is no more or no less likely to choose and see through a successful policy than is an elected president.


The idea that a dictator would "break the oligarchy" and uproot corruption is utterly absurd. Who ever heard of a dictatorship that wasn't corrupt? There would be no more sure way to enshrine a corrupt oligarchy for decades than to jettison democracy.


Transparency in government -- not jackboots and currency controls -- is what weeds out corruption. In the United States, "sunshine laws" let citizens demand information from the state. Can you imagine a Russia where we knew who was behind the shell companies in Gazprom's shareholder list? What the Moscow Mayor's Office owned? What was in the Communist Party archives?


This is what Russia needs: not a dictatorship, but a better quality of democracy.