Russians and Democracy
It’s encouraging to see yet another leader of Russia’s “Solidarity” opposition movement break onto the pages of the Wall Street Journal. First it was Garry Kasparov, then Boris Nemtsov, and now it is Vladimir Kara-Murza.
Kara-Murza blasts the cowardly Putin regime for purging every single candidate fielded by Solidarity from the upcoming local election’s ballot in Moscow. He mocks the Kremlin’s ham-handed, neo-Soviet tactics: “One Solidarity candidate had his own signature discounted as fraudulent. Another’s ‘invalid’ signatures were found to account for 104% of the total submitted.”
He makes the important point that this will be the first major election since the onset of the devastating economic crisis that has paralyzed the entire nation for over a year now. Obviously, the Kremlin is afraid of a backlash and it isn’t taking any chances.
Then he gets busy.
Russian authorities no longer care for appearances. Unlike Robert Mugabe or the late Slobodan Milosevic, who allowed opposition candidates onto the ballot to keep the pretense of legitimacy, Russia’s leaders simply do not care. Last year, during the stage-managed “election” that transferred the presidency from Vladimir Putin to Dmitry Medvedev, both candidates nominated by the democratic opposition, legendary Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky and former prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov, were barred from the ballot to avoid unnecessary surprises.
He argues that Russians do not support this barbaric tactics:
The myth that Russians do not want democracy is used by Mr. Putin to justify his actions, as well as by his apologists in the West, who maintain that there is no alternative to collaboration with the Kremlin. This fantasy does not withstand the test of facts. In elections to the very first Russian parliament, in 1906, conducted on an unequal but mass franchise, a majority of seats were won by the Constitutional Democratic party, which advocated for a British-style parliamentary system with full political freedoms. Indeed, the czarist government had to restrict, not expand, the franchise in order to reduce liberal influence in parliament, which it did in 1907. The first Russian elections held with universal suffrage in 1917 (three years before the U.S., incidentally) resulted in a crushing defeat for the Bolsheviks, who had usurped power by force of arms. In 1991, when Russians directly elected their head of state for the first time in history, opposition candidate Boris Yeltsin won on a platform of democratic reforms, beating the then-ruling Communist party nominee by 57% to 17%. Even the 1993 parliamentary elections, usually remembered for the first-place finish of the ultranationalist party of Vladimir Zhirinovsky, showed significant support for pro-democracy parties, which, combined, received 40% of the vote against 35% for Zhirinovsky and the Communists. And in the 1996 presidential election, Russian voters re-elected an unpopular incumbent when faced with the alternative of a communist restoration.
Even today, with the Kremlin controlling the airwaves, one opinion poll after another shows Russians consistently supporting the basic tenets of democracy, such as a free press and a multiparty system. A June poll by the independent research firm Levada Center showed that 57% of Russians want the return of direct gubernatorial elections—a practice abolished by Mr. Putin in 2004. Indeed, if the democratic opposition had no popular backing, as the regime’s supporters claim, why is it that pro-democracy candidates must be removed from the ballot and pro-democracy rallies brutally dispersed?
So why then do Russians stand mute as they watch their government behave in a way that makes thugs like Robert Mugabe look like Thomas Jefferson?
They must be cowards.