Not in the Public Interest

26 April 2007
An unimpressive turnout on the Dissenters' March in Moscow shows that the Russian people are resigned to rule by demagogues as a fact of life, writes Boris Kagarlitsky.
Last year's debate over Ukraine's Orange Revolution has more or less quieted down. After three upheavals in as many years between 2004 and 2005, political analysts were talking as if the same results could be achieved anywhere merely by channeling millions of dollars into the right nongovernmental organizations. They made it sound like a "made to order" regime change kit molded to fit the wishes of any client and as easy as shopping over the Internet. Alas, subsequent events have proven otherwise. This is because not every regime is so easily toppled and these revolutions -- even if successful-- are completely senseless. The sponsors of the revolutions in Georgia in 2003 and Ukraine in 2005 did not win much. The names and faces changed in Ukraine, for example, but in the first months under the new rules the members of the Orange coalitions turned to squabbling and their opponents returned to power without a struggle. In the current, second round of battles, it's not hard to see that average Ukrainians stand to gain little. Anyone who believed that Russian-speaking politicians from Donetsk would do any more for their native language and culture than Russian-speaking politicians from Kiev is naive. Neither group has any culture, Russian or otherwise. It doesn't really matter which language crooks use to decide how to divvy up stolen goods. Kyrgyzstan has pretty much returned to conditions prior to the uprising there, and chronic instability and a political vacuum have undercut any hope of success. The opposition is again out protesting, the government is again calling for order and, under these conditions, nothing can change for the better. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's regime is the lone post-revolutionary government that seems to have created some stability -- essentially because it has continued the policies of former President Eduard Shevardnadze. It is no coincidence that Shevardnadze was already grooming Saakashvili to become his successor. So the general post-revolutionary trend has been less stability with little change in conditions. That the Orange Revolution happened so easily indicated that it was not a true revolution at all: It was simply the replacement of one political elite by another, while the larger system remained more or less intact. Of course, for those who gained office and political action groups receiving outside funding, the results are of supreme importance. In the meantime, the phantom of the "Orange Revolution" has found a haven in Russia -- the only former Soviet republic where nothing of the kind has happened, or ever will. Capitalism is already too developed and the public too cynical and experienced for these games. It is not surprising that the turnout for the Dissenters' March in Moscow was less than impressive. This says less about general apathy than the public's need for better-defined and more honest slogans and platforms than the current opposition leaders can offer. Russians have resigned themselves to rule by demagogues as a sad but necessary fact of life. Having to listen to yet another stream of lies is too much for them to bear. Had the authorities not intervened, The Dissenters' March would have been of less significance than the parades staged by owners of Japanese cars to defend their right to drive from the right side of their vehicles. Thousands of riot police were thrown into the mix to augment the formless mass of protestors, along with enough armored vehicles to quell a violent uprising. Ambiguous films have been shown on television documenting U.S. sponsorship of non-existent revolutionary plots, while prominent officials and can find nothing else to discuss than the threat of a Ukrainian-style revolution. It looks like the country really does have a lot of money to burn. Unfortunately, it looks like using it to fight the specter of revolution is much more attractive than channeling it toward building roads and repairing schools.