Russia’s don’t need Western assistance or democracy promotion, says a leading liberal, as President Vladimir Putin today “signed into law a controversial bill that dramatically raises fines on illegal protests.”
But growing discontent with the regime was confirmed by news that a growing number of Russians want to emigrate abroad.
Some 20 percent of respondents hope to permanently leave Russia, according to a Levada Center poll, a 7 percent increase over the last three years:
When asked to assess their country’s future prospects, roughly one-fifth of those surveyed said they believe that Russia will become as rich and developed as the West, with 7 percent anticipating development along the lines of Asian countries such as China and India. Seven percent had more dire predictions for the country, saying they foresee “impending collapse and ruin” for Russia.
The independent Levada Center* also finds that only 15 percent of Russians support protest marches and camps, news that is likely to prompt a re-assessment of tactics by opposition groups.
“People are angry about the new law. It’s going to drive turnout up,” said Sergei Davidis of the Solidarity movement, referring to a planned opposition rally.
Analysts believe the rally will be an indicator of the opposition’s ability to maintain momentum, but is unlikely to represent a major watershed.
“It’s an important day, but it’s not likely to be a turning point,” said Alexei Makarkin of the Center for Political Technology. “It’s important for the opposition to show that people continue
Russian democrats are confronting “a phenomenon that until recently was unthinkable: emerging anti-Western and anti-American liberalism,” says a leading observer.
“We Russians don’t need any assistance from the West! We don’t expect any help in democracy promotion!” claims Lilia Shevstova, an analyst with the Moscow Carnegie Center. Russian democrats need the West to recover its confidence and “reinvent” itself as a model for the rest of the world.
Beset by economic crisis, apparently dysfunctional political institutions and a crippling lack of self-confidence, the West’s democracies, no longer provide the compelling pole of attraction and ideologically assured alternative to authoritarian rule they represented during the Cold War, she writes in a must-read polemic in the American Interest.
I am only describing how Western developments and Western policies are seen from the outside by those who have traditionally looked to the West as an example and even an icon….. Western observers themselves admit that the West has problems. Francis Fukuyama, for one, writes about “American Political Dysfunction.” Walter Mead declares, “The core institutions, ideas and expectations that shaped American life for the sixty years after the New Deal don’t work anymore.” William Galston says, “We need a fundamental renewal of the liberal tradition in America.” ….. Even Robert Kagan, whom we can hardly suspect of declinism, agrees that “the United States must adjust to the new” (p. 140).
Europe is no different. Walter Laqueur has announced “the slow death of Europe.” Zbigniew Brzezinski concludes that Europe has become “the world’s most comfortable retirement home” (p. 36). Europeans themselves lament the crisis of Western civilization as well. Constanze Stelzenmüller acknowledges a “toxic polarization of domestic politics” and discrediting of “politicians as well as of the institutions of representative government.”
“The Western project is beginning to resemble a house with a shaky foundation,” Shevstova suggests, lamenting that the West’s opinion-formers and decision-makers are plagued by a politically disabling cynical pragmatism, rationalized as realism or realpolitik.
Recent trends mark a pronounced regression since the Cold War, when the existential challenge of Soviet Communism “forced the West to pay close attention to justice, fairness, equality and social aspects of capitalism” and to adopt a values-based approach to foreign policy:
The universalization of human rights and respect for dignity and freedom blurred the boundaries between domestic and foreign policy, entailing rejection of the concept of absolute sovereignty in the global arena. The Helsinki process and its Final Act were simultaneously a sign of the new vitality of Western civilization, an effective instrument to contain the U.S.S.R. and a catalyst for the “third wave” of democratization. The Velvet Revolutions of 1989 owed at least part of their success to the influence of liberalism in the area of international relations.
By contrast, “it seems that there is no intellectual or political force in the West that would dare repeat the breakthrough of the 1970s by re-energizing liberal civilization with a return to values and principles. Looks like we are back in the Kissingerian world,” Shevstova notes:
Western policymakers today are mainly trying to update internal politics—brushing aside interdependence with the international environment—and debating how to maintain the geopolitical and societal status quo…..
But how can Western civilization reinvent itself while pursuing a foreign policy pragmatism based on turning inward and making trade-offs with the non-democratic world? Western states do indeed face a multitude of internal challenges, but if foreign policy is a projection of the domestic agenda, how can liberal democracies hope to reform their political systems and revive their principles while refusing to follow them in the international arena?
My Western friends would argue that in order to think about values abroad, the West should first sort things out at home. And then…liberal democracies will start thinking about the integrity and popularity of their foreign policies, and of democracy, in the outside world. I just don’t get this: How can one re-energize liberal democracy while continuing with the same foreign policy model that is one of the causes of the liberal democracies’ normative crisis?
Charles Kupchan is typical of many Western analysts in claiming that by pursuing illiberal, paternalistic routes toward modernity, capitalist autocracies like China and Russia provide ”an appealing alternative to the Western model,” says Shevstova.
The notion that Vladimir Putin’s Russia is an attractive model for anyone is risible, she suggests, while noting that “if Fukuyama, Minxin Pei and Andrew Nathan are right in saying that the Chinese system ‘embeds plenty of hidden problems that will make it in the long run unsustainable’, and that the Chinese model ‘is expedient, something temporary and transitional,’ then China may soon cease being a success story and prove that its culture and past do not ‘contrast’ with liberalization.”
Equally absurd are Western analysts’ claims that engagement with so-called modernizers like Dmitri Medvedev will in some way facilitate an incremental form of democratization:
The most frustrating aspect of this hypocrisy is the role played by the Western political and intellectual communities in the Kremlin’s staged “operas”, like the Valdai Club and Yaroslav Forum, which have been used by the Kremlin to legitimize its authoritarian rule. The annual participation of Western politicians, pundits and journalists in meetings with Kremlin leaders has helped to make Russian authoritarianism appear more civilized and acceptable for the West. …. Western participation in the Kremlin’s show will only exacerbate Russia’s disenchantment with the West and highlight its double standards.
The history of Western civilization has proven that the best environment for progress is one of competition and a certain clash of ideas. Having lost its former opponent, Communism, the West has acquired, without even noticing, a much more dangerous enemy: the corruption and cynicism exported by authoritarian systems. The Russian political and business elite has personally integrated into Western society, and it has succeeded in creating there a powerful laundry machine and a multi-layered “service class” that operates that machine (made up of lawyers, bankers, politicians, journalists, experts and even entire think tanks). This service class has been successfully lobbying on behalf of the interests of the Russian system in the West.
Nevertheless, many Russian liberals believe the West can reinvent itself and rebound, says Shevstova:
We believe that there is a chance to turn global interdependence in the opposite direction, to force the new West to influence Russia and the other transitional societies that got stuck in the doldrums. But we doubt that the new West can emerge without changing its current foreign policy paradigm and the ways it deals with the world. We doubt that the West can revitalize itself with its current crop of political leaders and intellectual elites.
We Russians don’t need any assistance from the West! We don’t expect any help in democracy promotion! Indeed those words should be erased from political dictionaries. Any Western attempt to preach democracy or to assist our civil society will only discredit our agenda (especially given the West’s current reputation).
Russia’s democrats need the West to “revive the principles that it is built upon,” she asserts:
Constraints on the freedom of the corrupt elites of authoritarian states to operate in Western society (the Magnitsky bill could be one) would be healthy, first and foremost, for Western society. Raising the issue of politicians and intellectuals who damage their reputations by working for authoritarian regimes would also help us both—but would help Western society most of all.
* The Levada Center is supported by the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.