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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EDITORIAL: Information Is a Pillar of Democracy




One of the tragic flaws of every branch and twig of government in President Boris Yeltsin's Russia has been a pervasive disdain for providing the public with information.


This can be seen in the Central Bank's tight-lipped response to the 1998 collapse of the banking system (and in its subsequent contempt for those who have questioned its sleazy offshore dealings). It can be seen in the FSB's refusal to publish the "secret laws" supposedly violated by environmentalist Alexander Nikitin. It can be seen every day in the refusal of major Russian corporations to reveal basic information about their ownership structure.


This disdain is flaunted by the heads of ORT and RTR, who have frankly moved to politically skew news coverage on state-owned television. And it is at the heart of the government's Cheshire cat smile whenever asked who is managing its 35 percent stake in the nation's wealthiest corporation, Gazprom.


Isn't it obvious that a democracy can't function when its citizens are denied all relevant information?


Unless people demand to know what is going on, demand an accounting, demand to be included, then their well-being will remain hostage to corruption, graft and court intrigues.


Russia needs a free press. It needs for the Kremlin to release its chokehold on the national television stations. It needs for the Kommersant newspaper, one of the nation's finest achievements in recent years, a true national treasure, to stay free and independent (particularly from the likes of Boris Berezovsky, Anatoly Bykov and Lev Chernoi, an undesirable troika if ever there was one).


And Russia needs to hold its census on time and as planned.


The Russian government's decision to postpone indefinitely the 1999 census is an outrage. The government argues that it is too expensive at about $120 million. But this is not some debatable white elephant project, like a high-speed railway between St. Petersburg and Moscow, or a tunnel to the Sakhalin Islands (or, for that matter, a vanity contingent of Kosovo peacekeepers at $65 million a year, just so Yeltsin can attend G-7 meetings and pretend it is called the G-8).


Holding a regular census is a basic duty of the state. It's not something the Kremlin can ignore on a whim.


Yeltsin has faced down a Communist-led impeachment charge of "genocide" over the dizzying demographic collapse on his watch. So it's not surprising that the Kremlin is thinking: "Why tell the people more than they need to know?" Because the more they know, the less they like. And if they learn too much, they might even demand ? change.