Install

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

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EDITORIAL: A Vertically Integrated 'Good Tsar'?




There is a foggily reasoned argument that goes something like this: The nation has become a "weak state;" this has led to corruption, particularly in the regions, where governors rule like feudal princes; and this corruption and crime has crippled the entire national economy. So the answer is to work toward "a strong state." This is essentially understood as moving away from democracy and decentralization and toward authoritarian rule from Moscow.


Such has been the ideological drift ever since the ruble sank in 1998 and dragged Sergei Kiriyenko's government with it. First we had candidate-Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin promising "an economic dictatorship," whatever that might be. When he failed to impress, the Kremlin turned to the KGB crowd, and the nation was treated to a series of spetzsluzhby prime ministers.


Yevgeny Primakov talked of "optimizing" the use of jails by filling them with "economic criminals," of scrapping democratic elections for the nation's 89 regional princes; instead, the Kremlin would appoint its own princes. Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko has this sort of an authoritarian arrangement. He calls it his prezidentskaya vertikal, his "presidential vertical" (in the jargon of the business world, it could be translated as "a vertically integrated executive branch"). The terminology is intended to evoke images of a resolute president picking up the telephone and getting obedient results in a distant corner of his land. Primakov's proposal was also billed, in a nod to Lukashenko, as a presidential vertical.


Next came Sergei Stepashin, who as prime minister felt the need to volunteer that he would not be Augusto Pinochet. And now we have Vladimir Putin, ex-KGB and proud of it, who this week graciously agreed to consider staying in office for the next 12 years or so, and wrote in a letter to the voters that "democracy is the dictatorship of the law."


Putin has yet to weigh in on the revived proposal from a troika of governors - led by Novgorod's "young reformer" Mikhail Prusak - that governors be chosen by the Kremlin and not the people.


So the nation is feeling its way toward authoritarian rule, and this is sad indeed. Because anyone who believes that less democracy, less accountability and less transparency will somehow also result in less corruption is living in a dream world. Show us that great dictatorial regime that is not corrupt. China? Indonesia? Kazakhstan?


Reviving the economy does indeed mean reining in corruption. But doing this means bringing in more democracy, not a 12-year vertically integrated presidency and some sort of "dictatorship of law."


- Matt Bivens