Happy life picture

08 October 2009
The debate sparked by an article written by Dmitry Medvedev reflects the Russian authorities' lack of reliable ways of interaction with the society and even with their own subordinates.

At first, I did not understand why that article should be read and discussed, since many various articles are published every week. So, I refused to take part in the round tables discussing the article “Russia, go ahead!” by Dmitry Medvedev. Having looked through it, I found neither original ideas, nor refined language, nor some other advantages that would make the article better than all the Internet publications.

The picture of happy life painted in the second half of the article contrasts sharply with the description of great distress in which, according to the author, we are today, and the article can be inserted into a textbook for young essayists, as in that way the Russian articles have been written since, at least, the middle of the 19th century.

Meanwhile, the President’s article is still being discussed, which is unusual for me. Only about two weeks after publication, I came to realize that the officials regarded the article as the presidential instructions rather than just as a text. As the President gave instructions to the officials as his abstract article, not as a concrete decree, the officials have been in perplexity. What is to be done? How should they understand that?

The current disputes have nothing to do with discussions about social and political essays. The discussion participants are not expected to assess the text. They are expected to help the officials understand what conclusions they should draw after reading this material. A workbook: “How to read the President’s articles” is needed.

It is clear that an official can’t modernize Russia and make it independent from other countries in terms of raw materials export, that’s why he should focus mainly on study of political part of the article where the democratic institutions are briefly described, which also can be inserted into a school or university textbook.

I repeat that the important thing is not only the information itself, but also who reads the information and how he does that.

The author of the article is driving at the idea that there is a need to enhance the political parties' role. Here is one of the key paragraphs:

“The political system will be renewed and improved in the course of free competition between open political associations with the inter-party consensus about strategic issues of foreign policy, social stability, national security, the fundamentals of constitutional system, protection of the nation sovereignty, the citizens’ rights and freedoms, protection of the property right, unacceptability of extremism, support of the civil society, all forms of self-organization and self-government. Such a consensus exists in all modern democracies”.

Two conclusions can be drawn here. The first one is the political parties should be given more rights. Unfortunately, the author does not take into account that the political parties have been totally discredited in the people’s eyes and whether they will get more rights or not will change nothing, and, as a matter of fact, they need no rights and powers. United Russia is all right because it is not a political party, but a part of the executive power machine, it copes with its role very well. If one would try to make United Russia a parliamentary party, it will break down. As regards other Russian parties, they are alright too: they have their nominal functions and keep up appearances of pluralism in the Russian political system which lacks practical politics.

The second conclusion is that it is necessary to come down hard on the parties and verify if they are consistent with the “inter-party consensus”. Calling for more pluralism and for discussions, open competition and improvement, the author of the article sufficiently limits the freedom of action for the participants of this process.

The limitations apply to those important issues that should be discussed. Take, for example, nationalization and review of the results of privatization which increasingly looks to be the only way to solve the problems Dmitry Medvedev himself defines in the first part of the article, or principles of foreign policy that at present have no other meaning but the expression of interests of several corporations that are involved in international markets. Or how to change the society, putting an end to the catastrophic “social stability”, which has already resulted in the current situation in Russia and which may make the society die out.

All of those discussions had been considered to be acceptable till Dmitry Medvedev wrote his article where he called upon us for dialogue. Alas, from now on the discussions may not be held within the framework of the “inter-party consensus”. Of course, today’s parties will not hold those discussions anyway. The reason is not that the party leaders will obey the President’s words about the consensus, but rather that they simply can't have discussions, not even think – it is completely outside their competence. But what's if the “inter-party consensus” notion (God forbid!) is interpreted broadly?

Strictly speaking, the only thing, which is unlawful now, is stirring up of national hatred and calls for violent overthrow of the constitutional system. Even those limitations are not fully democratic. It is necessary to punish people for concrete actions or, at least, for trying to take them, not for calls for the actions. For example, if a man just talks how useful pogroms are, he is disgusting and nothing but. But the law enforcement agencies interference would be needed if he raised funds from his accomplices to purchase weapons.

So, the first condition for a free discussion is to limit it in no ways except those meeting the Criminal Code demands.

There are moral limitations, of course. For example, a principle of having no discussions with fascists is a natural political condition in the majority of West European countries. But the limitation results not from the government’s prohibition (except Germany), it results from the countries’ moral norms and collective notion about rules of play that are worked out by the democratic process participants. The problem is that in Russia participants of the political process (I find it impossible to call it “democratic”) have no moral norms, even elementary ones. The Russian authorities themselves place restrictive “moral” demands upon the politicians. But these demands do not call for moral self-restrictions, they are administrative instructions, at any rate they will be understood in this way.

In other words, it is typical of Russia that a call for dialogue and free discussion risks turning into tightening the screws and limiting the space for political debate. The reason is not that it was an insidious plan of the Russian authorities, but rather that the authorities have no plan at all. What is still worse is that the Russian authorities have a very unclear view of the situation in their country.

It looks like the President really does not know who will read his articles, what conclusions the local authorities will draw from them and what consequences all of that is fraught with. The bottom line is the Russian authorities seem to have no reliable ways of interaction with the society and even with their own subordinates.

If the case was different, the President would not write newspaper articles and we would not have to discuss them.

Then everyone would do his own work.