MOSCOW — Today’s Kremlin thinks that democracy was being built too quickly in Russia. The government does not say that it is against democracy, only that it is untimely and needs to be delayed — a logic that manifests itself in most official decisions. Thus, at the beginning of the current decade, the democratic system of political checks and balances that had been created in the 1990s began to be dismantled.
Before 2000, there was an influential, independent press and a parliament loyal to the president, but still independent. The Federation Council (the upper chamber of the Duma), too, was generally loyal to the president, as were regional governors, while remaining independent. There were also influential entrepreneurs and business organizations that were actively involved in the decision-making process. As a result of the disappearance of these checks and balances, the quality of the government’s decisions has fallen sharply.
The notorious law on monetization of social benefits, which transforms in-kind benefits into cash, is a typical example. Despite the fundamental soundness of the step, it was poorly prepared and implemented, and the government seriously miscalculated its effects on the national budget. Moreover, it generated mass social protests, which the government evidently had not envisaged.
Never would the law in its current form have passed through the old State Duma. Members of Parliament would have read and analyzed it attentively, asked ministers many questions and, if necessary, insisted on rewriting various tables presented in the draft. They would have understood that the calculations provided were at complete odds with reality, and they would have considered what to do about it.
If there is no independent press able to caution against mistakes and a parliament that can do the same, then the mistakes will eventually manifest themselves on the streets. Democracy was not invented by fools. Experience tells us that if you don’t let the steam out of a pot, the pot will explode.
But when we stifle, step by step, all that remains of a free press, and when even small television channels that provide uncensored information seem dangerous, we are keeping the lid firmly on the pot. I would say that this is worse than a crime. It’s a mistake.
As someone with some background in politics, I understand the strategy of today’s government: create an extreme threat, first and foremost through shadowy associations with fascist organizations, and then say to citizens, “You can’t deal with this threat on your own, so you should trust us to figure out what to do with it.” The message is then constantly reinforced by the view of the world formed by the media.
I understand the reality of the fascist threat, but I also understand what the government wants us to take from it. I firmly believe that we should not allow ourselves to participate in these games; nor should we believe that Russia’s fascist organizations don’t have anything to do with the government.
I think that when the authorities conceive such strategies, they assume that the outcome will be manageable. In reality, this is not always the case. When you open a Pandora’s box, nobody can predict what will happen. It is very risky to create a dangerous situation for political ends because, more often than not, it is likely that the situation will become uncontrollable.
Indeed, the threat of fascism is real. But the more people who don’t accept the fascist alternative are mobilized politically, the smaller the threat will be. The most important question of the day is not the government’s perspective — that is, its desire to instill fear and eliminate checks and balances on its power. What matters are the actions of those who don’t want fascism in Russia and instead simply want Russia to be free. There are many such people, tens of millions, but they are not always politically engaged and united.
The good news, then, is that there are far fewer people who seriously want to see a fascist regime in Russia than the government claims. We should not lose heart, but we do need to be politically active and united. After all, the Soviet Union was a totalitarian state that could rely on a powerful and ubiquitous secret police. And look how it ended up.
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