Russia is one of the important countries and the largest country in the world, which established worldwide power and influence in the international politics. The arguable question, in which interested a lot of knowledgeable people, is what the regime has the Russian Federation after the death of Communism and how it works. The majority of Western Europe and USA has very critical opinion about Russian politics and definitely argue that Russia has not liberal democracy. They also believe that it is unlikely to thrive in post-Communist Russia. In my essay I will debate if liberal democracy could thrive or not in Russian Federation, giving the arguments and facts of both sides. Firstly I will argue that liberal democracy cannot thrive in Russia because of many arguments. The first is the high level of corruption. The second is the siloviki and oligarchs, who have enormous political power. The third is absence of media freedom. The fourth is lack of civil society. The fifth is Constitution, which give a lot of power to the president and no strong opposition. It means that Russia has a one-party system. However, there is some soil for liberal democracy. The first argument is democratic experience. The second argument is a right to create political parties. The third is a right to practise citizens’ culture and religious. The fourth is a freedom of speech, belief and discussion. I argue that liberal democracy could thrive in Russia, only if the barriers to liberal democracy will pass, such as corruption, siloviki, absence of media freedom. I will argue that to make more suitable soil for liberal democracy Russia should change a Constitution, to create a strong opposition, and emphasis for reforms, which protect individual rights, increase civil liberties, improve the well-being of citizens; develop society to pursue their interests and develop own talents. But, when these criteria would not be achieved, liberal democracy is unlikely to thrive in post-communist Russia.
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Criteria of liberal democracy
Firstly, I would like to define democracy and describe the criteria of liberal democracy, looking which of them Russia has. According to McFaul, democracy is the institutional arrangement where the individuals have the power to make political decisions by means of competitive struggle. According to this minimal definition and implicit in ‘analysis of the rule of law, civil society and the party system in Russia is an ideal type of liberal democracy rather than a minimal standard of electoral democracy’ (McFaul, 2004: 2-3). However, liberal democracy has the criteria, by which we could judge Russian regime. The first is the control of the state by elected civilian officials; the military is subordinate to the government. The second is a right to form a party and contest the elections by any group, which adheres to constitutional principles. Thirdly, a right for different ethnic, religious or different minority groups should exist for practicing their culture or express their interests in the political process. Fourthly, the freedom of belief, opinions, discussion and speech should exist. The last is that the citizens are equal under the law.
These principles do exist in Russia. Elected officials control the Russian state. However, KGB has a very large role in the government. Also, different political parties and individuals are allowed to participate in elections. But, in 1999 one party was denied to participate in elections; in 1999 some parties were scrathed from the ballot. The Chechen groups labeled as terrorirsts and could not participate in elections. Different ethnic and cultural groups can express their views openly and promote their interests. Most citizens are equal under the law and most individuals can express their beliefs and petition. But not all do. If all do not enjoy these rights it means that there is no liberal democracy. We can see that if there are some criteria of liberal democracy, but always with some exceptions which give rights not to all citizens (McFaul, 2004: 2-4).
The other components of liberal democracy: constraining executive power by other government institutions; independent judiciary; the rule of law, which protects citizens from terror and unjustified detention; the freedom of ongoing channels, independent media where citizens can express and represent their interests, opinions and values do not exist. In Russia the executive power is weakly constrained because this power at the national and regional levels is very uncertain. Individuals’ liberties are weakly protected and citizens, especially in Chechnya, are detained. The institutions that liberal democracies make work weakly.
(McFaul, 2004: 2-4).
According to Zakaria, after the death of communism in 1991, Russian regime is illiberal democracy. Zakaria argues that Russia has elected autocracy with freedoms secure in theory, but violated in practice.
The second problem in Russia is that corruption embedded in the systems of politics and economics. The third problem is governing alliance between the oligarchs and the former Communist elite. His basic arguments are that Russia failed on both: economic development and build effective political institutions. The fourth problem is the lack of civil society. It is very weak and dependent on Western assistance for support. The problem is that powerful executives do not foster to develop civil society. Siloviki and oligarchs are not interested to represent the interests of citizens. The main problem is not that Russia is a poor country, struggling to modernize, but it is a rich country with the wish to modernize.
The first president of Russia, Yeltsin was fighting for democracy survival against communist thoughts. Zakaria claims that Yeltsin weakened the legislature and courts. He prosecuted the war in Chechnya. He disbanded the system of local government; he fired the governors, when they defied him. Zakaria claims that Yeltsin is the popular autocrat. Yeltsin supporters claimed that he was fighting, using anti-democratic forces. Yeltsin did little to build political institution, weakening the legislature, the courts and regional governors. The 1993 constitution brought the disaster: weak parliament, a dependent judiciary, and out-of-control presidency (Zakaria, 2003: 89-94).
The second president of Russia, who governed 8 years, is Putin. Zakaria claims that in the first years of his governance, he shrank the rest of government. His main targets were regional governors, whom he effectively disempowered. And if President believed that any of them broke the law, he could fire them. Others targets of Putin are the oligarchs and media, whom he threatened by arrests. The big problem and a big argument against the liberal democracy is the lack of freedom of media. Zakaria claims that it is difficult to believe that the freedom of press exists anymore (Zakaria, 2003: 94-95). The Kremlin controls the media. Journalists and politicians, who criticized the government, are murdered and nobody was arrested. Businessmen who take an interest in politics are exiled or arrested. The parliament connected with secret security agents. Corruption became higher and exists at all levels. Khakamada claims that in Russia is a one-party regime, which centralized in the hands of one leader with very weak opposition (Khakamada, 2007: 1). Zakaria claims that Putin is like a good czar, who wants to build modern Russia. He is a liberal autocrat, who believes that Russia needs order and to liberalize economy, even believes that Russia could democratize its political system (Zakaria, 2003: 94-95). Medvedev is a third president of Russian Federation. He appointed Putin as a prime-minister. Because of the financial crisis from 2008, Medvedev attributed the decline in the stock market. During his presidency, Russia interfered in the South-Ossetia- Georgia War. It increased the tensions between America and Russia.
Russia has a long history, where absolute monarchy, dictatorship and totalitarian regime flourished. The strong central government, cult of the leader, majestic power influenced and fixed in mentality and values of the Russian people. I agree that Russia has a lot of barriers in formation of liberal democracy. But, I think that knowledgeable people from the West do not want to see the positive side of Russian politics and have extremely critical opinions. I would like to explain the another side of views about Russia and give the arguments which confirm that Russia has the soil for liberal democracy (Lozansky: 1998, 8). I would like to emphasis to the road to liberal democracy in different time and describe what presidents made for the Russian polity. Drawing the different time of Russia’s history I will explain the steps of Russia to be liberal democratic and the prosperous state. The first is democratic experience during a long time of Russia’s polity. The second is the intensive reforms and economic growth, which make Russia’s government to be legitimacy. The third is representation of the Russian people’ interests; the practising of the culture and religious by ethnic, religious or different minority groups. The fourth is elections; control of the state by the elected officials; the occurrence of different political parties. The fifth is the freedom of belief and opinions.
The first argument is democratic experience. Russia always undertook attempts of liberal and democratic arrangements throughhout all centuries-old history of Russia. It means that Russia experienced democracy and liberal values during a long time. For example, we can see liberal and democratic experiment in the various forms until the occurrence of the Soviet Union: veche, country communes, repressentative council, zemstvo, State Duma and constituent assembly. Solzhenitsyn claimed that in 1860 Russia had independence of the courts and publications without preliminary censorship. In 1906 there was a parliament and multi-party system. The higher education of females took one of the first places in Europe. Also at that time were free quality medicine and working insurance. Samuel claimed that small amount of people abroad know about the level of freedom in Tsarist Russia: censorship destroyed, the freedom of publications appeared; the full freedom of travelling abroad; independent trade unions; independent court; the advanced level of social legislation; parliament; different political parties, included Bolsheviks. To know these facts, he claimed that we can consider Russia as a model of democracy. To compare with 126 countries-members of UN, he considers Russia as one of the 15-20 liberal countries (Lozansky, 1998: 8-13).
The second reason is the liberal and democratic reforms. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia was to become Western-style liberal democracy and moved quickly on political reforms. Even last years of USSR under Gorbachev, the steps for democratisation were made (Zakaria, 89-91). The freedom of speech appeared and press wan not controlled very strongly. Gorbachev made democratisation and political liberalization. He called for democratizatsiya, which means multiparty elections. He reduced the CPSU control of the government apparatus. He made the reforms which allowed selling product on the open market, non-communists to be elected and others. Perestroika was the reason of Soviet Union collapse.
The second step was made by Yeltsin. In the early 1990 there was a burst of economic reforms. Yeltsin wanted a free-market economy. Economy was opened to competition and foreign investment. Russia has greater respects for individual rights and press freedoms. Yeltsin made privatisation. Russia moved rapidly to free and fair elections (Zakaria, 89-91).
The third reason is economic growth, which made Russia’s regime legitimacy. Under the second president of Russian Federation the economy grew and made real gains of about seven per cent per year. Also, agriculture production and construction increased. During Putin’ governance, industry grew. Russia’s GDP increased from 22nd to 10th largest in the world.
It was made better conditions for small businesses. To compare with some European countries, in Russia the overall taxes are lower.
Until 2007 Russia’s graphs were moving up. The first is birth rate. Under communism, birth rate was very low. It means that people are confident in their future. Russia is a country with a lot of minority groups. These groups do not support some nationalist parties; they followed and trust Putin. The third reason is the representation of people’ interests and a right to practise their culture and religious. The idea in the Russia’s policy of Putin was a creation of ‘National Champions’ with the basic aim not only to seek profits but also to promote the interests of nation. We should notice that Putin is very popular and supported by Russian people. It is easy to understand why Russia is developing, not just because of oil prices but it making well-run cities, like Archangel with the high level of wealth. Russian people remember with fear Chechen War; what happened in Beslan and scaring event in the Moscow theatre. That these events are in the past is to Putins’ credit. It means that Putin supported and support as Prime-Minister nowadays the interests of Russian people. It gives the legitimacy to the Russia’s regime (Stone, 2007). Also, Putin created the big Youth Organisation ‘Nashi’. The aim of this organisation is to develop the talents and promote the interests of the Russian youth. The criteria of liberal democracy are a right to practise the different religious and culture. In Russia the main religious is the Orthodox Christianity. Also, in Russia there are a lot of different religious groups, such as Muslims, Buddhists, Protestants and Catholics. For Muslims the mosques were built. For example, there is a Buddhist temple in Saint-Petersburg, a Muslim mosque in Kazan. Also, the different ethnic associations exist of Jews, Kazakhs, Ukrainians, Tatars and others.
The last reason is the government apparatus with different political parties. There is opposition to ‘United Russia’ party, where the leader is Putin, Liberal Democratic Party of Russia with its leader-Zhirinovsky.
How to make more suitable soil for liberal democracy.
To be a liberal democracy Russia should cross a lot of barriers and a lot of work to do. The first step is the struggle with corruption and criminality. According to statistics, Russia is one of the state with the highest level of corruption. (Lozansky, 1998: 195-196). The second step is changing Russian Constitution, which gives a lot of power to the President. The problem is that a Constitution contain the liberal principles was used to establish the control of the regime by president, who practised unchecked power. According to McFaul a Constitution is like a play, where the elite can create a hymn of freedom and a story of loosing and founding ‘order’ (McFaul, 2007: 9). The Constitution should build the executive change of command; to build good relations between central government and the federal center, which are very weak. The third step is the struggle with ‘siloviki’ and oligarhs, who have the power, the struggle with autocracy. The siloviki make up one-quarter of the governmental apparatus and have a few understanding of the institutions of democracy and market economy. These people have their own aims, having political power: pursuit of the war in Chechnya, may be even a challenge to America hegemony and the projection of Russian power in foreign countries (Brudny, 2004: 16). The oligarchs are caring more about their business and investitions; they do not do the reforms for improving education, culture, science (Lozansky, 1998: 196). They do not care about improving the conditions of life of law class. The fourth step is a struggle with the absence of media’ freedom and propaganda. Putin closed the independent channels, such as NTV and TV6. Russia’s TV hides the bad side of the events, showing only one party who has the political power (United Russia) and manipulating the people (Brudny, 2004: 16). The fifth step is the creation of a strong opposition, a political party with liberal democratic values. Nowadays Liberal Democratic Party of Russia has very different values and ideology. It has more nationalistic priveleges.It is also critisized that LDPR did not do anything to oppose the United Russia (Brudny, 2004: 17). I think when all these criteria will be achieved liberal democracy could thrive in Russia.
In my essay I debated liberal democracy could thrive or not in Russia. I argued that Russia has both the soil for liberal democracy and also has the barriers for that. The first argument for is democratic experience. The second is the rights which give an opportunity to create political parties, to practice culture and religious. The third is the freedom of speech and beliefs. Considering the all facts for and against, I think when the criteria will be achieved, such as the creation of strong opposition, media freedom, no siloviki in governmental apparatus, changing a Constitution, absence or the law level of corruption and if Russia’s governance put emphasis to achieve the main criteria of liberal democracy such as protection of individuals’ rights; improvement of civil liberties and civil society; development society to pursue their interests in Russia could thrive a liberal democracy. However, when these concepts such as corruption, absence of media freedom, oligarchs and siloviki at governmental apparatus exist, liberal democracy could not thrive.