“A futura memoria, se il futuro avrà una memoria”. In the name of Anna Politkovskaja
Here is, Anna Politkovskaja has been killed again: first from what are called western legal systems, like America and European Union, then from Mr. Putin, the executer of the murder, as well as one of the Berlusconi’s best friend, whereas the other fine example of Italian politicians, the democratic/democristiano Mr. Prodi, has refused to meet Dalai Lama. Well-done guys
What lies behind this weekend’s sham parliamentary electionspan
From the Economist print edition, Nov. 29th 2007
“MARIA”, a teacher in Tver, near Moscow, felt ashamed when she told her 15-year-old pupils to join a rally in support of President Vladimir Putin before this weekend’s parliamentary election. The order came from the local administration, staffed by members of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party. “I would not have lost my life or even my job if I had not followed the order. But I felt I could not refuse it, perhaps because I am not a free person.
Ten years ago I would have told you my real name,” she sighs. Her pupils were given Russian flags to wave, but the sound system was so bad they could not hear the speeches. It was not until later that they learnt from television that they had joined in an “outburst of patriotic feeling”. Tver was chosen because it is the land of Mr Putin’s forebears, but similar “voluntary” demonstrations have been staged all over Russia. A local theatre in Tver hosted a council of pro-Putin groups. Anyone who is for Mr Putin is for United Russia, they decreed. Or, to put it the other way round, anyone who is against United Russia is against Mr Putin. When the president decided to head United Russia’s party list, its poll rating jumped from 50% to 63%.
Yet Mr Putin is not even a member of United Russia. The party is no more than a vehicle. If the advertising banners hung across streets in every Russian town are a guide, most of the country will vote for their president on December 2nd, even though he is not up for election. Indeed, the exercise is not really an election at all. It is not about political competition and does not have fair rules. It is about confirming that power in Russia lies with Mr Putin, who has presided over an oil-driven bonanza for his country.
Only candidates approved by the Kremlin are allowed to take part. Besides United Russia, which could secure 70% of the vote, these include the toothless Communist Party (which may get 12%) and the Liberal Democratic Party, a clownish far-right party set up in the late 1980s with the help of the KGB. (Its party list includes Andrei Lugovoi, the ex-KGB officer accused of poisoning his former colleague, Alexander Litvinenko, in London last year.) The results were fixed months ago, when the Kremlin changed the rules. To keep the opposition out of parliament, the Kremlin raised the threshold for seats to 7%, and banned small parties from forming coalitions to meet this requirement. The minimum turnout rule was abolished, as was the option to vote against all candidates. Regional parties and single-mandate seats that let in independent deputies were scrapped. Opposition leaders have been harassed or arrested and their financing blocked. Television has given blanket coverage to United Russia and dished dirt on all opposition. This propaganda has been so effective that, despite United Russia’s refusal to participate in TV debates, 8% of viewers believe they have seen it win them. The opposition Union of Right Forces (SPS) has not been allowed to air an advertisement warning the country against a return to the Soviet past. Why have a people used to Soviet elections, when they had only one candidate, found the Kremlin’s machinations so palatable? One reason is that Russian economic growth, sparked by the privatisations of the 1990s and kept going by the oil-price boom, has brought rising living standards and a new sense of stability. This, as well as his control of television, has made Mr Putin genuinely popular. Even the teacher from Tver says her life has improved. The sense of stability is based largely on hopes that the crises of the 1990s will not return. Opinion polls suggest that half the people do not expect anything from this election; most believe that elections serve only those in power. Most voters say the results will be rigged anyway. Only 5% of Russians are ready to protest. “Nothing depends on us,” says one woman. Yet she will vote for Mr Putin—who else? Even those who once backed the SPS will stay at home: what is the point if they are bound to lose? Worse, some 35% of Russians prefer the Soviet political system. Two-thirds of Russians consider the concentration of power in Mr Putin’s hands to be a good thing. Most would like him to stay for a third term. The strength of the Kremlin lies in the lack of any resistance to it, says Lev Gudkov, head of the Levada Centre, an independent pollster. Indeed, the only danger for the Kremlin is the possibility of an embarrassingly low voter turnout. To guard against that, Mr Putin recently gave a rousing speech at a stadium in Moscow, broadcast on every television channel. Standing on a neon-lit catwalk in a black turtle-neck jumper, surrounded by thousands of flag-waving Putin youths, the president said Russia was in danger from ill-wishing foreigners and thieving liberals. “Those who oppose us need a weak, sick state, a disorientated, divided society, so that behind its back they can get up to their dirty deeds and profit at your and my expense,” he said. “Unfortunately there are jackals inside the country who sponge off foreign embassies.” The message is clear. Russia’s enemies are the liberals who in the 1990s squandered its wealth, cut defence spending and led people into poverty. They are now the candidates and sponsors of the opposition. The security services and police took Mr Putin’s words as an instruction. When the opposition gathered in Moscow and St Petersburg as part of the Other Russia movement, which has not been allowed to register for this election, many people, including journalists, were beaten up and arrested. These scenes, broadcast around the world, were not shown on Russian television. Russians did not hear opposition speeches; they were not told that candidates had been unlawfully detained by the police; nor that Garry Kasparov, leader of Other Russia, was forbidden to meet his lawyer and jailed on bogus charges. Equally, Russian television has largely ignored angry anti-government demonstrations in Ingushetia, a republic next to Chechnya where a six-year-old boy was killed recently in a skirmish between Russian commandos and local militants. Three journalists and a human-rights campaigner who came to cover the protest were abducted from their hotel and beaten up. What viewers have seen instead were pictures of fountains in Chechnya and of polite policemen in Moscow helping old ladies and children. The paradox is that the Kremlin would surely have won even had this weekend’s election been free and fair. Its heavy-handed tactics betray the nervousness linked to the transition of power in any authoritarian system. A power struggle is clearly taking place within the Kremlin, as shown by the arrests of senior officials in different camps. Mr Putin needs to retain power after his second term expires next March, but at the same time to preserve legitimacy. It is not an easy task. This is why the parliamentary election has been turned into a ceremony of approval for him. A score of 70-75% of the vote, on a turnout of 60%, as planned by the Kremlin, would strengthen his claims to continue to lead the country. If Mr Putin cannot stay as president because the constitution bars him from a third consecutive term, he should take power with him wherever he goes. Dmitry Peskov, his spokesman, is adamant: Mr Putin will not be president after next March. But his every word will still be awaited, his every written statement demanded by newspapers. A servile president handpicked by Mr Putin and elected with a majority of, say, 51% will be unable to compete with Mr Putin’s “legitimacy”, says Mr Peskov. Some Kremlin insiders think Mr Putin could make himself head of the powerful Security Council, whose functions may then be pumped up. Others suggest he could become prime minister, with extra powers, before returning to the Kremlin to replace the president, who could conveniently fall ill. The only problem of Mr Putin’s system is that stepping aside even for a short time could be lethal for him and his cronies. And that is why Russia, despite the predictability of this election, feels like a country heading towards crisis.