This just came from the Associated Press via CNN. Today, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice said of Russia:
“In any country, if you don’t have countervailing institutions, the power of any one president is problematic for democratic development,” Rice told reporters after meeting with human-rights activists.
“I think there is too much concentration of power in the Kremlin. I have told the Russians that. Everybody has doubts about the full independence of the judiciary. There are clearly questions about the independence of the electronic media and there are, I think, questions about the strength of the Duma,” said Rice, referring to the Russian parliament.
While certainly true, I can’t help wonder that while Rice denounces the Kremlin’s power, she can’t help be a little jealous of Putin. Especially considering that the American Executive has moved in the same direction over the last decade and a half. Keep glaring into that mirror Condi. Often what we denounce is what we secretly desire.
As for a recommended reading tip on the architectural and political isolation of Bush see Todd S. Purdum’s the excellent “Inside Bush’s Bunker.”
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By Sean — 12 years ago
The deputy head of Putin’s administration, Vladislav Surkov gave a rare press conference this week. His comments touched on energy geopolitics and Russian democracy. The latter topic has generated the most press as critics have tried to ascertain the meaning of Surkov’s use of “sovereign democracy” versus “managed democracy”. For the latter he gave this definition: “By managed democracy we understand political and economic regimes imposed by centres of global influence – and I am not going to mention specific countries – by force and deception.” Of course Russia doesn’t try to install “managed democracies” on its borders. Yeah, right. In this sense, Russia does what every power currently does. It uses the rhetoric of democracy as a tool of geopolitical maneuvering.
Take Surkov’s democratic rhetoric as an example. His definition of “managed democracy” is a direct reference to America’s view that the only democracy is American democracy or at least the only viable democracy is one that conforms to American interests. Surkov made these comments in the context Dick Cheney’s hypocrisy in labeling authoritarian states “democracies.” “When [Cheney] was in Kazakhstan after criticizing our democracy, he gave the highest rating to Kazakhstan’s democracy. The Kazakh people are our brothers. But I will never agree that Kazakhstan has gone further in building democracy than we have.” I’d have to score one to Surkov here. For Cheney to suggest that Nazarbayev’s regime approaches anything close to a democracy should evoke rancorous laughter. The point however is Russia is itself playing the “democracy” game by measuring others and itself against imagined, and self-referential idealism about its own democracy.
In contrast, western critics use the term “managed democracy” to describe Russia as “backsliding” into authoritarianism. Surkov essentially turned the Western usage on its head. According to Surkov, “managed democracy” is given to states that are under the American neo-imperial umbrella. So Karzai’s Afghanistan, Musharaf’s Pakistan, Mubark’s Egypt, and Iraq are democracies, while Russia is not. “They [the West],” charged Surkov in specific reference to American attempts to dominate the globes energy resources, “talk about democracy but they’re thinking about our natural resources.”
Instead, Russia is what Surkov calls a “sovereign democracy”—a democracy which acts in its own national interest and, (this got the goat of many Western reporters) is no different than democracy in Europe. “It [sovereign democracy] means we are building an open society, that we do not forget we are a free society, and that we do not want to be directed from outside,” said Surkov. In his view, Russia is moving away from the “managed democracy” of the 1990s, when Russia was racked by American influenced “shock therapy” and rule by oligarchs. “What are we backsliding from?” he asked rhetorically. “We are moving further and further away from this non-democracy.”
This semantic game was not lost on Sergei Roy, who had this to say in a recent commentary on the “managed” versus “sovereign” democracy:
Consider the controversy concerning “managed democracy” vs. “sovereign democracy.” Certain “purists” insist that either you have democracy or you don’t, that real democracy comes without any adjectives, that any additions to the concept make it less of a democracy or no democracy at all. Well, those purists should pay attention to the frequency with which the phrase “effective democracy” is used in the US ideological environment and, still more, to the practice of imposing this “effective democracy” throughout the world — most notably in Iraq, of course. Surkov’s, and quite a few other people’s, insistence on sovereign democracy means, quite simply, that to have a democracy in Russia, there must first be a Russia, recognizable to its people as their birthplace with a thousand-year history and a certain future as a single, indivisible country. A sovereign country. No wonder this term, sovereign democracy, is so virulently attacked by the said purists, for whom there can be only one kind of democracy the world over — American democracy. We see only too clearly, however, that American democracy abroad is democracy for Americans abroad and at home, not for the peoples of that “abroad.” Countries like Georgia and Ukraine are too close to Russia for us to miss the effect of the loss of sovereignty on democracy. To the US, these lands may appear to be beacons of freedom and democracy. At closer range, they look more like what the irreverent French call bordel de Dieu, the brothel of Our Lord. They are not even managed democracies, as Surkov calls them. They are mismanaged pseudo-democracies.
And I should not be too contemptuous of Georgia, Ukraine or the like. Just a few years ago, Russia was no better, with “democrats” like Gusinsky, Berezovsky, Nevzlin, Khdorkovsky, not forgetting the Family or Mr. Chernomyrdin (aka Schwarzmordekhai), ruling the land in collusion with the IMF, tearing the country apart, snarling at each other over the more succulent chunks of its assets, and stashing away the proceeds of plunder in foreign securities. That was the type of democracy in Russia that suited the West to a T. Like Surkov said, “If cannibals came to power in Russia and gave away certain things to certain people at once, they would be recognized as a democratic government.” Recall how fervent Mr. Cheney was in praise of Kazakhstani democracy on his recent visit there. Kazakhs are no cannibals, thank God, but they have given away their oil fields to Chevron — and were elevated to the status of arch-democrats by the US vice president. One might have asked what the Kazakh opposition had to say on this score — if there was any opposition worth the name to be found, for love or money.
However, while Roy agrees that Russia needs a Putin (which he refers to as “Putin A”) to move Russia away from domination by outsiders, Russia also needs a “Putin B” to act as counterweight, “otherwise the whole structure is a bit out of kilter and prone to dangerous instability.” This dangerous instability is seen in United Russia’s one party dominance over Russian politics.
What or who does Roy wish this until now non-existent counterweight to be? “A leader of the currently totally disorganized and apathetic masses, a leader who would unite these masses around a trade unions platform somewhat along the British trades union lines of the pre-Blair era. That is what the country needs — a “labor party” and a strong labor party leader, to kick the excreta out of the rotten, currently all-powerful yet incompetent bureaucratic machine and the grasping capitalists who are now exploiting and generally manhandling the proles any damn way they please.”
Roy’s comment echoes the hopes of Boris Kagarlitsky. Kagarlistky also muses on the fact that something is missing in Russian politics. And that “something” is none other than social democracy. Though much of Europe is in the hands of social democratic parties, social democracy as it was known in the early and middle part of the 20th century has all but collapsed. Social Democrats have further reconciled themselves to the Thatcherite slogan, “There is no alternative” to neo-liberal capitalism.
For Russia, however, social democracy has been bankrupt much longer. The ineffectiveness and political stupidity of the Menshevik faction of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party in 1917 along with its branding as the ideology of “enemies of the people” in the Soviet period, has relegated any social democratic hopes thoroughly in the hands of the equally moribund Communist Party. These folks, in Kagarlitsky’s eyes, are much worse than the Third Wayers in Western Europe. At least the Blairites and Schroederites bare some resemblance to a social democracy now past. Gennady Zyuganov’s “Communists” are nothing more than conservative nationalists wrapped in the red flag of working class emancipation.
It is because of this that Kagarlitsky’s (and Roys’ for that matter) hopes for the development of a Western style social democratic alternative to United Russia are only that, hopes. A substitute will come along to challenge United Russia in the political duel for Russia’s “sovereign democracy”. It just won’t be a force with a social democratic face.
So what does this all have to do with Surkov’s concept of Russia’s “sovereign democracy”? It seems that it has strange bedfellows. Roy’s doesn’t reject the notion. I doubt Kagarlitsky would either. Russian democracy should be a contest that has Russian interests in mind. It should be a sort of nationalist democracy. (And here I use nationalist to mean that it should be conducted without outside influence.) The differences are that Surkov’s democracy looks fine without an opposition to Putin/United Russia. Democracy under the helm of these two powerful forces, though not without problems, is sailing along just fine. For Roy and Kagarlitsky, this smooth sailing is only a dream vacation cruise that is steeped in ideological smoke and political grift. The real journey will undoubtedly hit some rough and choppy waters that will inevitably veer Russia’s “sovereign democracy” into the oncoming rocks.Post Views: 1,156
By Sean — 14 years ago
Democracy or something like it rules in the Ukraine. The tenacious efforts of hundreds of thousands Viktor Yushchenko supporters have paid off in another runoff presidential election scheduled for December 26. In an unprecedented ruling the Ukrainian Supreme Court nullified the election that named Viktor Yanukovich the winner by a mere 3 percentage points and by about 800,000 votes. The standoff sparked an international tug of war between Washington and Moscow over the legitimacy of the elections. Putin, who favored Yanukovich, quickly sent his congratulations, while outgoing Secretary of State Colin Powell publicly declared the results “unacceptable.” President Bush gave a more moderated statement that his administration was watching the process closely. In all, for about two weeks Ukraine, a state of about 80 million, about the size of Texas, and has only been independent from the Russian yoke for 13 years, was on the world stage.
Already Ukraine’s “Orange Revolution” is getting top billing as one of the most significant developments in the former Soviet Union over the last decade. And in retrospect, there is no doubt Russian specialists in the United States will place it within the pantheon of other “colored,” that is peaceful, “democratic”, pro-free market, and most importantly, pro-Western, revolutions of Eastern and Central Europe. The way many Western commentators are narrating the events of the Ukraine, you would think the Cold War was won all over again. Take for example, the weekend edition of the Moscow Times (an free English language newspaper here in Moscow), where a columnist from Agence France Presse likened Putin’s opposition as stamping “the big paw of Russia’s authority and influence in the former Soviet Republic.” The NY Times, for example, wrote that a resolution to Ukraine’s crisis was “especially incumbent on President Vladimir Putin of Russia, who, apparently forgetting that he’s no longer in the K.G.B., has been trying to ram last month’s fraudulent election results down the country’s throat.” I wish they would write something this forceful about Bush. Other headlines called Putin’s support for the pro-Russian Yanukovich his “biggest blunder” and his “Ukrainian dilemma.” Longtime Washington Post correspondent Michael McFaul wrote a long piece in the Weekly Standard, the neo-con equivalent of Bolshevik Party’s Pravda, declaring that Putin gambled and lost big and that his position on Ukraine should give Bush second thoughts on his relationship with Pootty-poot. It is hard not to read too much bravado in such swill. All I can say is, hey Condi, if you’re listening, Michael McFaul is looking for a job in the State Department. Such analyses could also be nostalgia on the part of the McFauls of the world for an enemy that you could locate on a map instead of the amorphous international terrorist network.
Whether the triumph of Yushchenko will actually mean a blow to Putin’s political capital is mere speculation. The reality is that whoever leads Ukraine cannot exactly ignore its Slavic big brother to the east. If anything, the situation in the Ukraine should make Putin more apprehensive and hard-line in reinforcing Russia’s sphere of influence. It should make him question his relationship with Bush. After all, it’s not Putin who is placing Russian military bases in and wooing America’s neighbors into a military alliance. Nor was it Putin who suggested the Bush Administration negotiate with Al-Qaeda after September 11, though the Bush Administration made such suggestions after Beslan. I can only imagine how the Bush Administration would act if such a situation happened in Mexico, and say the Chinese government made similar statements that Colin Powell made. What’s clear, is that many politicians, diplomats, pundits and experts still see the world as a bi-polar struggle between East and West. Despite the Bush Administration’s attempts to recast this global binary in religious-ethnic terms under the euphemistic “War on Terrorism,” Russia still remains that ambiguous midpoint that cannot be fully trusted. Russia continues to be almost Western, but not quite.
This is no defense on my part of Putin’s actions or policies. It is just to suggest how the narrative of the “Orange Revolution” is being written in the West. Nor is it to suggest that the situation in the Ukraine was not a triumph for Ukrainian democracy. It was, but not because Yushchenko will be any better than Yanukovich, but because the Ukrainian people stood up and stood firm against clear election violations. And election fraud there was. The Moscow Times reported on December 1 that the Ukrainian Central Elections Commission reported that there was a 9.1% voter surge in regions that supported Yanukovich. In Donetsk, one of the regions that threatened to succeed, voter turnout was up 18.6% to remarkable 96.7%! To think 96.2% of them voted for Yanukovich (Did they think that the 0.5% was going to be convincing?). An estimated total of 1.7 million votes were added by Yanukovich’s people. And Kathleen Harris and Jeb Bush thought they were good at rigging elections.
No, this was certainly a great victory for the Ukrainian people, though to call it a “revolution” is to engage in all sorts of Western hyperbole and self righteousness. As most level headed experts have noted, the difference between Yushchenko and Yanukovich is about as big as between Bush and Kerry. There is no indication that there will be any sweeping changes to the Ukrainian system. Nor is there any real indication that Yushchenko will risk poor relations for Russia in exchange for EU or NATO membership. Given the corrupt bastard that Yushchenko apparently is, there is no indication that anything will change. That is unless, of course, the protests in Kiev have really reinvigorated, if not revolutionized democracy from below. The people now have a sense of their power. As Misha Kolodiy, a brightly, orange haired Ukrainian 20-year-old, put it to the Associated Press, “It’s very cool to be Ukrainian now.” Yep, cooler than Jesus. Its seems there is a possibility that the forces Yushchenko unleashed to catapult him into power might force him make some compromise to the masses, who, it seems supported him because he isn’t Yanukovich.
The power of the Ukrainian protests seems to have been forgotten in the effort to narrate the “Orange Revolution” as yet another triumph for the Western values, as grave mistake on Putin’s part, and as the Cold War reborn. This is even true, and somewhat surprising, among the American Left. One would think that the successful protests in the Ukraine would be a shining example of the global power of slogans like “Power to the People!” and “Who’s streets! Our streets!” And perhaps there was some of this, but it was overshadowed by a mourning of the death of democracy in America. This is seen in the fact that most left commentators framed the Ukraine as the United States’ democratic Other onto which they could project all their hopes and dreams for a popular movement to raise similar questions about our recent Presidential election. The similarities of which, I noted a few blogs ago. Unfortunately, when the American Left held up the Ukrainian mirror and struggled to see their reflection cast in a Ukrainian key, all they got back was an atrophied visage, withering further despite recent calls against despair and for organizing and struggle. Perhaps the real blow came to the American left, when they realized that last week marked five years since the glorious Battle in Seattle, where anti-globalization activists facilitated the collapse of World Trade Organization talks. Yet this deeper irony, that five years after Seattle the American Left seems weaker than ever before, seems to have escaped many.
Instead, the Ukrainian elections and protests were harnessed as yet another opportunity to damn Bush. While I don’t disagree with this in principle—such incidents of Bush’s hypocrisy are just too good to pass up—the effort to cast US involvement in Ukraine as some sort of omnipotent force misses the fact that hundreds of thousands of people were on the streets longer and in worse conditions than any American Leftist, perhaps even including your humble writer, would ever spend. Many Leftists jumped on the article in the London Guardian that noted the presence of groups such as the Soros Foundation (hey didn’t he also bankroll MoveOn.org?), the National Endowment for Democracy, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and Freedom House in Yushchenko’s camp after he got the United States’ public support. The masses in the streets were frequently portrayed as completely manipulated by the mystical powers of advertising, campaign spin, focus groups, and other nefarious American electoral mainstays. Ironically, the Left analysis sounded a lot like Putin’s camp, except they never made the connection between Yushchenko’s wife and her service in the Reagan Administration. Hell, even my khoziaka, Natasha, came home from work one evening and accused the US of being a hibernating snake. When you get it close to your warm body, it suddenly awakens and bites you.
Yet again the Left analysis was narrated in terms of two dueling states, the US and Russia, for little young Ukraine’s affection. US neo-imperialism with all its arms sales, IMF loans, WTO membership, and World Bank projects, seeped into the scene only to manipulate the poor Ukrainians who are too inexperienced to understand democracy. For example, Gary Leupp’s article, “Poll Results Aren’t the Real Issue: Ukraine and Inter-Imperialist Rivalry” on Counterpunch.org portrayed the Ukrainian crisis as imperialist rivalry and that the Ukraine was part of the US larger campaign to get control of Central Asian oil. A Yushchenko victory would open the possibility of Ukraine opening oil deals with its Caucausian neighbors to bypass Russia. Leupp then went on to place Ukrainian “democracy” in a Cold War context with a reference to Henry Kissenger’s statement about “irresponsible democracy” in Chile after that nation elected the soft Marxist Salvador Allende in 1973. Now I don’t disagree with the gist of Leupp’s article. However, there is no need to overdetermine US power. Plus all of this is predicated upon Yushchenko doing the bidding of his western masters at the risk of pissing off Putin. Overall, the narcissism of the American Left analysis where all roads go through Washington is almost too much to bare. It seems that according to the Leftist view, Ukrainians are almost democratic, but not quite.
I would suggest that even if Yushchenko was bankrolled by the West, his victory is a good thing. Not because he will be in power, but because of the means he came to power. The fact that hundreds of thousands of people were on the streets for days to challenge the electoral system, and not leaving until something was done, is a positive development. We don’t know how much this really galvanized the political grassroots of Ukrainian society, partially because no one has bothered to report on it. Moreover it is one of the few times mass protest actually worked. If American Leftists want to learn something, perhaps they should take a gander at how their Ukrainian comrades did it. What was it about this election that made some many people get personally involved? How were these protests organized and sustained? How much pressure did they put on the Ukrainian government? What was the binding ideology? Was it Yushchenko or something else? How did it sustain its peacefulness? What happened to the police?
Perhaps more important is not what Western organizations came to Yushchenko’s aid, but how and why? Would this have occurred if they didn’t? What exactly was their role? Is this really an inter-imperialist rivalry or the Cold War revisited as the pundits would have us believe or is this how democratic “revolutions” now occur? What exactly is the local context of the Ukraine and how it tied to the global?
I don’t have the answers to these questions. But I certainly will be looking for them in the coming weeks and months.Post Views: 398
By Sean — 3 years ago
Eliot Borenstein, Professor of Russian and Slavic Studies at New York University. He is the author of Overkill: Sex Violence, and Russian Popular Culture after 1991 and blogs about Russia at All the Russias Blog.
John-Paul Himka, Professor Emeritus in the Department of History & Classics at University of Alberta. He is co-editor with Joanna Beata Michlic of Bringing the Dark Past to Light: The Reception of the Holocaust in Post-Communist Europe. His recent article is “Legislating Historical Truth: Ukraine’s Laws of 9 April 2015” published at Ab Imperio.Post Views: 900