Filed under: Russia
The Moscow Times reports today that "the European Commission, France and Britain added their voices Monday to criticism from Washington of the police crackdown on weekend opposition rallies in Moscow and St. Petersburg" which led the arrest of major opposition political leaders Garry Kasparov and Boris Nemtsov. It would be as if George Bush had arrested Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for attending an anti-Bush rally hosted by Moveon.org.
European Commissioner Jose Manuel Barroso said: "I was very concerned to see reports of police harassment and arrests of politicians and peaceful demonstrators in Russia. The right to peaceful free speech and assembly are basic, fundamental human rights, and I very much regret that the authorities found it necessary to take such heavy-handed action."
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner demanded an "explanation." He said: "I am surprised by this violence. To my knowledge, the world chess champion was not a threat to Russia's security. Russia wants to take its place, a large place, in contemporary history, and for that it has to evolve and not seem menacing." Ouch. "Evolve." That's as rough as it gets in diplomaticspeak.
And George Bush, God bless him, was not behind the curve. He stated emphatically: "I am deeply concerned about the detention of numerous human rights activists and political leaders who participated in peaceful rallies in Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Nizhniy Novgorod, and Nazran this weekend. I am particularly troubled by the use of force by law enforcement authorities to stop these peaceful activities and to prevent some journalists and human rights activists from covering them. The freedoms of expression, assembly and press, as well as due process, are fundamental to any democratic society. I am hopeful that the government of Russia will honor its international obligations in these areas, investigate allegations of abuses and free those who remain in detention."
These are encouraging signs that the West understands it is being probed by the Putin government and must respond dynamically if it is to prevent people like Kasparov and Nemtsov from meeting the same fate as Mikhail Khodorkovsky. But words are not enough, stern and clear action is required if the KGB clan that rules the Kremlin is to understand it must back off.
Russia is on the cusp of becoming a one-party state:
A survey conducted by the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion says President Vladimir Putin's United Russia Party will win more than 55 percent of the vote in an upcoming parliamentary election. According to the survey conducted between November 17 and 18, more than 55 percent of those polled say they will vote for President Putin's party, almost 6 percent say they will vote for the Communist Party, almost 5 percent for Fair Russia, and almost 5 percent for the Liberal Democratic Party. Twelve parties are standing in the polls, but none of the other parties are predicted to get more than 3 percent in the election. That's below the 7 percent threshold needed to win seats in parliament's 450-member lower house.In other words, it's quite clear that after the parliamentary vote scheduled for early December, Putin's own personal party may be the only one left standing. Even if some rival parties pass the 7% threshold, Putin has barred foreign election observers and the Kremlin's lackeys are boldly and openly speaking of committing fraud if necessary. The Moscow Times reports:
Election officials have been ordered to make sure that United Russia collects double the number of votes it is expected to win in State Duma elections on Sunday -- even if they have to falsify the results, a senior election official said. The Central Elections Commission strongly denied the allegation. But accounts from other people familiar with the issue -- including opposition politicians and state-paid workers, who spoke of mounting pressure to round up votes for United Russia -- appeared to confirm the election official's remarks. The official, who heads a key regional election committee, said United Russia was gunning for double the number of votes that the latest opinion polls indicate it will win. :This is a quite a hard task," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. The official said the only way out would be fraud. The official spoke of being involved in ballot stuffing in previous Duma elections but said an alternative that is less likely to raise suspicions is to change a polling station's protocol -- the record of how many voters show up and how many votes go to each party. "During past Duma elections this was the most common way to falsify the results. We would do it in front of foreign observers because they didn't understand anything on what was going on," the official said.I've been calling Russia "neo-Soviet" for years now, and it seems the world is finally starting to catch up with me. That's also encouraging. Writing in the Washington Post, ace columnist Anne Applebaum explains:
In the photographs of his arrest, Garry Kasparov -- former world chess champion, current Russian opposition leader -- is wearing a nondescript gray jacket and a somewhat retro wool cap. He is gloveless. By contrast, the Russian militiamen doing the arresting are kitted out in full regalia: tall fur hats with metal insignia in the center, camouflage coats, walkie-talkies, black leather gloves. Squint hard, and the pictures -- taken at the "Other Russia" protest rally in Moscow on Saturday -- could come from the 1960s or the 1980s, when Soviet police arrested dissidents with some regularity. The similarity is more than merely visual. In its heyday, the Soviet dissident movement was a sometimes odd, often unworkable amalgam of human rights activists, disappointed insiders, bloody-minded outsiders, fervent religious believers and nationalists of a wide range of Soviet nationalities. Some of them would have been right at home at any generic "no nukes" rally; others would have found themselves on the far right of any political spectrum in the world. But it hardly mattered. In 1983, Peter Reddaway, then the leading academic observer of Soviet dissidents, reckoned that they had made "little or no headway among the mass of ordinary people."
The Russian people have always been part of the problem in Russia, not part of the solution, and we shouldn't forget that -- as we were led to do under the Clinton administration, which induced us to drop our guard and fail to finish the job when the Berlin wall collapsed of its own weight. Clinton placed far too much trust in the Russian people and in Boris Yeltsin, and allowed the KGB to rise again and seize power. George Bush then allowed himself to be played for a sap by the new KGB regime, and he still refuses to admit his error, not a hopeful sign for his legacy. Even while properly condemning the recent outrage, when asked to repudiate his former statement about "looking into Putin's soul" his spokesperson said "no, the president believes that what he saw in Putin is what is there" and that building a democracy "just takes time, and it's difficult." Pride goeth before a fall! The clock is ticking on Bush's ability to save himself from the bitter judgment of history as having assisted the rise of the neo-Soviet state just like Clinton did.
And now we all have neo-Soviet egg on our faces. Time to wipe it off and get to work.
NOTE: The photograph at the top of this page is taken from a New York Times story headlined "The USSR is Back" which regales readers with details of how Soviet is "stylish" in today's Russia and neo-Soviet, such as shirts emblazoned with the image of dictator Putin, are more stylish yet.