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Russian Democracy Fail: Lessons For Middle East?

Twenty years after the fall of the Soviet Union, the leader who presided over its demise isn’t happy about the Russia he sees.  Said Gorbachev:

Our senior management should be updated…There comes a time when you need to get out of this rut….If the regime behaves just to increase its own power then this is already partially authoritarian.

The Kremlin doesn’t worry about what Gorbachev thinks.  The FT has it right:

Russia’s next presidential elections are in March 2012, but the results will in all likelihood be preordained by political backroom deal-making. Dmitry Medvedev, president, and Vladimir Putin, prime minister, will decide between themselves whether Mr Putin will return for a third term as president, or whether Mr Medvedev will continue for a second term.

It’s sad to reflect on the twenty years since Russia was swept by democratic revolution and a collective hope for an open society. The forgetfulness and despair of many Russians, who once held out hope (“our naive, romantic belief”, said one Russian journalist) that western style democracy could be implemented in Russia, is clear in a WSJ article:

Today, Dmitry Komar, Ilya Krichevsky and Vladimir Usov [the only three democracy activists killed in the August coup] are all but forgotten—obscured by deep disillusionment with the political and economic chaos that for many Russians defined Mr. Yeltsin’s attempt at democratic rule in the 1990s. Russia’s current leaders, who have reimposed a large dose of authoritarian control, speak nothing of the three men and little about the event that consumed them—a last-gasp Communist coup, 20 years ago this weekend, to salvage rigid Soviet rule.

Vladimir Putin, the former KGB colonel who succeeded Mr. Yeltsin as president in 2000, called the Soviet collapse “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.” Now prime minister, Mr. Putin brought former KGB men into government office and revived the Soviet national anthem, with slightly modified lyrics. With most Russians’ approval or acquiescence, the regime, nominally a democracy, keeps a tight lid on genuine opposition politics.

Will Egyptians, Tunisians, Syrians and Libyans feel this way twenty years from now?  Probably, but not necessarily is the frustratingly gloomy but tantalizingly inconclusive answer that Swami Mead’s crystal ball has to give.

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  • tg

    It could be argued most Egyptians already feel this way.

  • Mietopol

    Huge differences are apparent. Under tyranny of communism Russians realy desired freedom and democracy but they failed because they left the communists and KGB alive . They simply regrouped, renamed themselves and are still in power. No revolution without the bloodshed. In Arab revolution there is much blood being spilled but the concepts of freedom and democracy are foreign to islamic thinking The Islamic Republics they are dreaming of will turn into nightmares realy soon not just for Arabs but the entire World.

  • Alan Kellogg

    It doesn’t help that Russia is a dying nation, her demographics on a downward spiral leading to the eventual disintegration of the Russian Confederation as she literally loses the population she needs to keep her economic, political, and physical infrastructure intact.

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