Friday, February 06, 2004

The Charade of Russian Democracy

Old habits are hard to break. Here's yet more evidence that Russia is still just a one-party dictatorship garlanded with the trappings of democracy.

MOSCOW, Feb. 5 — The Russian Parliament on Thursday unexpectedly scheduled a vote this month on a long-ignored bill that would extend the presidential term to seven years, even though President Vladimir V. Putin has publicly opposed such constitutional changes.

The legislation was introduced by a group of regional lawmakers in 2002 but languished. As written, it could allow Mr. Putin to run for two new terms, conceivably keeping him in power until 2018.

The committee that controls Parliament's legislative agenda, which scheduled the vote, called for lawmakers and others to suggest any amendments by next Thursday and to prepare for a vote this month — before the presidential elections scheduled for March 14, which Mr. Putin is universally expected to win.

Mr. Putin, traveling in central Russia, said Thursday evening that he opposed the legislation but understood that its proponents were "guided by a desire to create more stable conditions for the country" and were supported by a "majority of the population."

That last statement is right out of Joe Stalin's playbook; the brazen quality of Putin's lying mock humility reminds me of nothing so much as Uncle Joe's infamous Dizzy with Success Pravda propaganda piece from the 1930s. What is happening in Russia is truly nauseating to behold - the personality cult, the craven sycophancy of the parliament and the press, the crackdown on any independent centers of power. To call Russia a "democracy" merely because it goes through the formality of holding elections makes as much sense as saying the Soviet Union was a democracy - after all, it too held elections as regularly as clockwork, and voting was even compulsory.