The Death of Russia’s Sham Democracy

In the 1990s, when political pundits were lauding the half-hearted democratic reforms of the Kremlin, then under the guide of the perpetually inebriated Boris Yeltsin, some of the more sober minds were calling for caution. After the mysterious New Year’s eve hand-off of power to KGB Colonel Vladimir Putin, that should have been enough to alert the Western world that any semblance of democracy was about to be kiboshed.

Chalk up another “late to the party” score for our predominately left-wing analysts.

The first decade after the Soviet collapse was a rough one for Russians, who saw their savings disappear in bank collapses, while the loans-for-shares program had swiped most of the equity the hapless commoners had inherited from the Soviet Union’s demise. Yegor Gaidar‘s round of shock therapy had raised a lot of worms, but not many blossoms. Along with the collaboration of Clinton administration hands like Vice President Al Gore and his foreign policy mentor Strobe Talbott, the Russian oligarchy was able to get their black hands in deep, and rip out any remaining liberal democratic impulses, roots, shoots, weeds, and all. The flowerbed of Russian democracy is now packed with fertilizer and is set to be blown up.

Two decades out from the formal demise of the Soviet bloc, a revolving door presidency looks to usher in the return of the Grey Cardinal. Former President Putin has operated openly in the shadows as prime minister, while Dmitry Medvedev, the former chief of mega-gas conglomerate Gazprom, has kept the president’s throne warm.

Although there are rumblings of discontent springing forth from the new literati regarding their confounded democratic aspirations, largely their calls for reform and civil society have fallen on deaf ears. The Russian people as a whole are fairly apolitical, apathetic, and seldom apoplectic. They like their political leaders like their vodka, strong and undiluted. That’s why we shouldn’t expect a Slavic Spring revolt when the tattered mask of democracy is finally removed. There is more likely to be applause, than furor.

We are probably going to see a repeat of the Russian experience of democratization in the Middle East, where “revolution,” a non-democratic change of regimes, really, will bring to power slightly more socialist Islamist parties. This will be enough to sate the myopic left, who intentionally conflate democracy with the redistribution of wealth; as long as that is accomplished, state power is actually broadened, and any care for individual freedom goes out the window. What the left cares about is control; and if Americans continue to esteem “democracy” in the left’s terms, we will someday have our own sham democracy to overturn.

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