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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Balancing the Accounts for 2001

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The most important positive political development of 2001 was without doubt the decisions taken by the country's leadership in the wake of Sept. 11. President Vladimir Putin, despite opposition from the political elite and from his own entourage, came out in favor of Russia joining the international counter-terrorism coalition. The decision was the right one, not only because of the show of solidarity with the victims of the ignoble attack, but also because the threats with which the United State was confronted are no less and possibly even greater for Russia.

The main point is that the direction of foreign policy following Sept. 11 has considerable strategic potential and could provide a basis for Russia to become a European state. In the light of this, the agreements signed in Brussels in October during meetings between Putin and the leaders of EU member states are significant.

However, the fact is that a serious shift toward Europe can only be achieved if foreign policy steps are attended by real and profound changes in domestic policy. So far, no such changes have taken place. On the contrary, domestically, there have been no positive developments, only negative ones. The main one is the crackdown on independent national television companies, in part through the authorities' attack on NTV's editorial team and later on when it moved to TV6. The upshot is news coverage on different channels is becoming more and more uniform -- this is a huge leap backwards to the absolute supremacy of a single "correct" point of view.

And it is but one in a long list of things that includes the liquidation of the Presidential Pardons Commission and the conviction of Grigory Pasko on charges of treason -- something that should be taken as a clear warning to all democratic politicians and journalists, and indeed to all people of independent views.

The direction of domestic policy toward "managed democracy" and an administrative-bureaucratic corporatist system -- in which emasculated democratic institutions and procedures serve as some kind of fig leaf -- remains unchanged. This system operates for the benefit of bureaucrats and functionaries. In this country, bureaucrats and the majority of politicians neither want nor are capable of running the country under democratic conditions, they merely want to look respectable in the eyes of the international community. Thus, instead of democracy, they are creating a Potemkin Village, whose facade merely has a European appearance.

In reality, power is concentrated in one single center: the Kremlin. The State Duma has ceased to play any serious role and merely acts obediently on the instructions of the executive branch. The government is entirely technocratic and largely represents the interests of natural monopolies and big business, which is intertwined with the state.

Our judges are not independent and frequently do not so much pass sentence as render services to the authorities, as in the case of Pasko, TV6 and many, many others at different levels.

Civil society is developing dynamically, but its participation in political and public life remains extremely limited. Last year, there was a very real danger of the authorities establishing control over certain civic organizations and the danger persists, especially for those organizations that monitor the state's compliance with human rights and liberties laws. I am convinced that the whole organization of the pompous "Civic Forum" in the Kremlin Palace of Congresses was undertaken with a view to taking control of these organizations.

The advantages of "managed democracy" are very seriously discussed. The so-called political elite effectively foists upon the country the following choice: either managed democracy or none at all.

However, managing democracy is tantamount to destroying it, and with its destruction, the only hope for a worthy future for the country and its citizens will also be lost. Last year showed very clearly that the administrative-bureaucratic system veiled in sham democracy is extremely ineffective.

Federative reforms and the construction of a "vertical executive chain of command" have clearly failed. Presidential plenipotentiaries in the federal districts can by no means be called key political figures, even in individual regions of their districts. In regional elections, it has become normal practice to use the dirtiest of smear tactics. The courts, the prosecutor's office and law enforcement agencies carry out political "orders," and the elimination of candidates (on some technicality) on the eve of elections is widespread. Furthermore, governors and the presidents of ethnic republics who pledge loyalty to the Kremlin are not only given carte blanche to continue their arbitrary and unchecked rule, but also get to run for an unconstitutional third term in office.

The authorities' propagandists have declared victory in the Chechen "information war." However, the silence does not undo what is happening on the ground. Every day people are dying -- including Russian soldiers and innocent civilians -- and every day is marked by the complete absence of the rule of law. The policy toward Chechnya is at a complete impasse and is both senseless and dangerous. It has made the situation much more difficult than it was in 1999, when the federal government had a unique opportunity to win the support of the majority of the civilian population of Chechnya. The situation has deteriorated to such an extent that now a huge amount of preparatory work will be required for talks, which cannot be avoided, to produce some positive results.

Is capitalism in Russia becoming more civilized? Gradually enterpreneurs, some major industrialists, certain journalists and the public in general are coming to the realization that "wild capitalism" is hostile to an open society, democracy and the observance of human rights. It is not only inadmissible and anathema to modern liberalism, but also hugely counterproductive to the emergence of a competitive, modern market economy. The problem, however, is that the state is closely tied to this system and is shored up by it, in spite of all the talk about "distancing from the oligarchs."

Economic growth, about which so much has been said for most of the past year, has been primarily a product of high world oil prices. This cannot be considered an achievement of the government, but rather a stroke of good fortune that cannot be relied upon to endure.

In fact, there have been very few significant reforms. Yes, taxes have been reduced and an acceptable budget has been passed, the parameters of which to a large extent coincide with the alternative budget produced by the Yabloko party.

In general, obstacles are not being overcome and problems are simply being put off until tomorrow. This could result in Russia irreversibly falling behind Europe and the developed countries of the world. The necessary structural reforms, new technologies, real private property, and support for small and medium-sized enterpreneurs are not in place. In addition, there are serious demographic problems, as well as the problem of reforming the armed forces, on which the security of the country directly depends. And time is running out. This year will in many respects be decisive, and success or failure depends on whether measures will be implemented to make good on the lag. If the problems of structural economic reform, attracting investment, creation of a modern, independent judicial system and stamping out corruption are not resolved in the next year or year and a half, Russia's statehood may be under threat.

A great deal depends on the actions of the democratic opposition. Yabloko is completely and irreconcilably opposed to the course aimed at establishing a full-blown corporatist police state. A broad coalition is only now beginning to be formed. Last year, there were two sessions of the Democratic Consultative Meeting, which brings together political and civic organizations of a democratic orientation. The formation of a democratic coalition will be achieved by working out common positions on the most important issues in the life of the country, coordinating actions for the defense of human rights, democratic institutions and independent media.

For Yabloko, 2001 was not a bad year, although it was also not an easy one. Over the past six months, more than 6,000 people joined the party. We are building a party on new principles. In elections for the party's leadership and for selecting a candidate for the presidential elections, we for first time in Russia plan to hold primaries.

Our goals for the immediate future are to promote the necessary reforms for the country. In the economy this is the continuation of tax reform, creation of a functioning banking system and the development of legislation to facilitate investment. In state building, top of the agenda is to make the Federation Council an elected body. We will also do all within our power to push military reform forward. This is absolutely essential and can be achieved in the immediate future.

Grigory Yavlinsky is leader of the Yabloko party. He contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.