Shades Of Night Descending

On the front page of today’s New York Times is a chilling account of just how bad things have got in Russia under the rapidly coalescing dictatorship of Vladimir Putin.

The article begins:

NIZHNY NOVGOROD, Russia — Shortly before parliamentary elections in December, foremen fanned out across the sprawling GAZ vehicle factory here, pulling aside assembly-line workers and giving them an order: vote for President Vladimir V. Putin’s party or else. They were instructed to phone in after they left their polling places. Names would be tallied, defiance punished.

The city’s children, too, were pressed into service. At schools, teachers gave them pamphlets promoting “Putin’s Plan” and told them to lobby their parents. Some were threatened with bad grades if they failed to attend “Children’s Referendums” at polling places, a ploy to ensure that their parents would show up and vote for the ruling party.

Around the same time, volunteers for an opposition party here, the Union of Right Forces, received hundreds of calls at all hours, warning them to stop working for their candidates. Otherwise, you will be hurt, the callers said, along with the rest of your family.

As we confront virulent Islamic fascism, the gathering economic power of autocratic China, and the lowering once again of an Iron Curtain in Russia, it should be apparent to all just how fragile, and how precious, is the Enlightenment heritage of Western liberal democracy.

Read the story here.

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2 Comments

  1. Jesse Kaplan says

    “Rapidly coalescing”? It’s already “game over,” man. The last dates anything could’ve been done were around 2002-04. Of course no one cared when Berezovsky and Gusinsky got run out; Russians are more bothered by the appearance of economic unfairness than by the deprivation of a free media. Once Putin’s party took over the Duma and Putin appointed the regional governors, it was all over except the mopping-up operation of repatriating any business Putin fancies, starting with the energy sector, which lets Russia throw its weight around once again in a more real way than submarine launchings and missile tests.

    I tried to avoid personal references, but in writing this it occurred to me that I was in Moscow watching Yeltsin on t.v. as the clock clicked the New Year 1998-99 and I was in Berlin on January 4, 2006, when the Russian-Ukrainian gas crisis exposed the vulnerability of the EU — which didn’t substantially interfere with the Rosneft IPO between then and now. Those events bracket an era. It’s hard to believe political opposition to Putin is plausible any longer; more likely, Putin and his cronies will take their money and run just ahead of the Russian economy crumbling, and with today’s oil prices that remains for the future. Meanwhile, the gleaming Land Rover, Volvo, and IKEA sites on the outskirts of Moscow represent a startling change from that New Year just 10 years ago, and most Russians believe this is because of Putin, not in spite of him.

    Posted February 25, 2008 at 11:47 am | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    Thanks, Jess; with your personal connections to Russia, I was hoping you’d contribute.

    I hope you don’t mind that I make public these further comments, which you sent to me yesterday by email:

    People like Kasparov are to be congratulated. It doesn’t sound as if The Other Russia even exists, to any extent, outside of Moscow. It’s pretty hard to wrap one’s mind around Russians’ cavalier relinquishment of their rights. I can understand it better than most Americans. Russians weren’t necessarily unhappy under the Soviet regime; everybody had food and medical care, and there weren’t any plutocrats rubbing everyone else’s face in the rather low level standard of living they all had. Then everyone had to suddenly work two and three jobs to keep up during the 1990s. Then there was a run on the banks in 1998. Now, one can buy anything one wants, wages are higher, the plutocrats are being reined in, and Putin throws Russia’s weight around in the world like in the good old days. It’s like the good old days, only better. One bad scenario, I suppose, is that we have to wait around for years until economics proves this prosperity had nothing to do with Putin, and in fact Putin set things in motion that will ultimately retard economic progress. People will figure this out, and a new wave of reform will happen. A better scenario would be if people took umbrage at Putin and his cronies taking over politics and business. Putin really is coming to seem an evil man.

    There is an interesting assortment, in today’s paper, of responses posted by Russians to the Times piece. It’s here.

    Posted February 25, 2008 at 2:03 pm | Permalink