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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

POWER PLAY: Russia's Moral Vacuum May Never Be Filled




Two events have coincided. The first is the one-year anniversary of the still-unsolved murder of Galina Starovoitova, the famous politician and human rights defender. The second is the announcement by Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov of a Russian diplomatic triumph in Istanbul. The cause of his excitement is that the Russians managed to eliminate a principle paragraph of the OSCE charter that would have spelled out that human rights violations are no longer a country's sovereign right.


Galina Starovoitova spent her life standing up for the priority of human rights and interests over the rights and interests of the state, including fighting against the "right" of the authorities to kill their citizens with impunity. Minister Ivanov, to the contrary, lobbied in Istanbul precisely for the right of a sovereign nation to dispatch with the lives of its people however it wants. The murder of Starovoitova as well as the murder of millions of our countrymen during Soviet times and the murder of children and the elderly today in Chechnya all happened or are happening precisely because life was and still is worth zero in Russia. The Russian authorities are fighting for exactly that kind of audit of human life today. The hawks over at the foreign and defense ministries would not allow themselves such open disregard for the value of human life if they detected resistance within the country. But the niche that was violently vacated by Starovoitova hasn't been occupied by anyone.


By now it is clear that Starovoitova's murder had a lasting effect: The rank and file lost their defense against infinite power for the authorities, the democrats lost a voice capable of making itself heard, and the intelligentsia lost a face.


War hysteria, marching under slogans like "Kill the Chechens," and "We will show the West we are a great power," has seized all the political classes and practically all the passions of society: from the right to the extreme left, from big-brained intellectuals - who were just yesterday quoting Dostoevksy on street corners about how nothing is worth a child's tears - to bums. According to opinion polls, 65 percent of Russians support the war in Chechnya, while 45 percent assume that the war will have to continue until the complete destruction of all gangs in the rebellious republic is complete. Even in well-educated Moscow, Grigory Yavlinsky's suggestion about ceasing military operations turned 55 percent away from the threshold, and he was forced to publicly denounce his proposal as "neither peace nor war."


Politicians likely think that, after bridling voters and achieving success, they can change their rhetoric and spit in the voter's face. The question is in how great the costs will be and whether there are resources for changing society's bellicose mood.


I am afraid that, by supporting the current military hysteria, the democrats are digging a ditch and burying themselves - if not the liberal idea of Russia - in it.


We can only hope that the life expectancy in Russia - and excuse my cynicism - drops steadily and that people for whom the idea of individual rights and civil liberties will be rationally self-evident have already been born. Can we survive until then?


Yevgenia Albats is an independent political analyst and journalist.