A leading democracy advocate has been jailed in Russia after being arrested at a New Year’s Eve demonstration, arguably the latest manifestation of the political degradation that threatens Russia’s future as a coherent state.
Former deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, a leader of the Solidarity opposition movement, was among 68 activists arrested after participating in a Moscow rally, one of a series of coordinated protests to demand freedom of assembly.
He was convicted of disobeying police orders and sentenced to 15 days in prison.
Video footage of his arrest shows Nemtsov calling for calm as police arrest him.
“Is there no place in our country today for dialogue between the government and society?” said Anatoly Chubais, a former colleague.
He said that the sentence undermined the court’s credibility.
The shoddy reputation of Russia’s judiciary is already suffering from the fallout of this week’s sentencing of former oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
The sentence means that the former head of the Yukos Oil Company “will now spend as much time in the Gulag as many Stalin-era political prisoners,” writes analyst David Satter.
But the prosecution is of more contemporary than historical significance, he adds, since it facilitates “the transformation of Russia into a controlled society with a permanent political leadership and a president for life.”
The case “has proven Russia’s willingness to fall into the Beijing consensus with respect to issues of human rights and rule of law,” writes international lawyer Robert Amsterdam, “emphasizing super-sovereignty and non-interference above institutional frameworks and universality of rights.”
China’s belligerent campaign against the Nobel Peace Prize award to jailed dissident Liu Xiaobo was widely viewed as confirming that it is committed to undermining the norms, conventions and institutions of the international human rights system established in the aftermath of World War II.
Khodorkovsky cannot be released, writes André Glucksmann, because he both advocates and represents a form of democratic modernization that will undermine Russia’s political-economic mafias.
His vision is the antithesis of Putin’s power vertical which has “rediscovered the stagnation and ‘juridical nihilism’ of the Brezhnev decades,” but he hopes that Russia may yet develop an alternative based on its own indigenous cultural and political traditions.
“This ‘other’ Russia—the Russia of Dostoyevsky and Chekhov, of Sakharov and Solzhenitsyn, of Anna [Politkovskaya] and of Natasha [Estemirova]—is not dead, as Khodorkovsky’s indomitable resistance proves,” Glucksmann insists.
But a former leading Duma deputy fears that Russia’s political, social and cultural deterioration is already so pronounced that its prospects of survival as a single, coherent state are in doubt.
The country is “slowly but truly continuing to be converted into the largest and most militarily and politically powerful ‘failed state’ in the world,” writes Vladimir Ryzhkov, a steering committee member of the World Movement for Democracy.
Several destructive trends have intensified over the past year, he writes, including
“the criminalization and growth in the ineffectiveness of the state”, exemplified by the recent outrage in Kushchevskaya; “an atmosphere of general distrust, anger and cynicism,” attitudes that have generated growing crime, xenophobia, and violence.”
Russia’s best-case prospect is a period of sustained “economic stagnation and social decline,” marked by “super-high corruption” and the flight of both financial and human capital. But a feasible alternative scenario is that the current policies of “corruption, monopolization, centralization and illegality can lead to the de facto collapse of the country.”
This is all a far cry from President Dmitri Medvedev’s commitment to modernization upon assuming office.
Of course, his vision differed from Khodorkovsky’s in so far modernization did not entail democratization. His approach followed the precepts laid out in a Center for Political Technologies report on ‘Democracy: the Development of the Russian Model’ which ”denied the need for a significant liberalization of the social-political system and the creation of conditions for pluralism,” instead advocated maintaining the status quo through “pseudo-democratic accessories”, including state-controlled “opposition” parties.
The regime’s Strategy 2020 aspires to make Russia the world’s most desirable place to live within the next ten years.
But analysts insist that the Kremlin won’t be able to meet the old Soviet anthem’s injunction to turn fairy tales into reality.
Endemic corruption is only one of the insuperable obstacles to meeting Strategy 2020’s objectives of increasing the middle class to 60 percent of the population, becoming the world’s 5th largest economy, and doubling per capita GDP to $30,000 (it took the UK 24 years and the US 35 years to do so).
The country is experiencing “demographic decline on a scale that is normally associated with the effects of a major war,” writes Martin Walker.
“History offers no examples of a society that has demonstrated sustained material advance in the face of long-term population decline,” Nicholas Eberstadt notes.
Under Putinism, Russia has developed “a unique new profile of mass debilitation and foreshortened life previously unknown in all of human history.”