"There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with
power to endanger the public liberty." - - - - John Adams

Monday, August 1, 2011

Putin and Medvedev square off for coming elections

Elections are coming to Russia later this year.

A Dictator in Fancy Dress
Czar Alexander II

Editor's note:   The study of human government is fascinating.  The people of the earth have been ruled by a bewildering variety of leaders calling themselves:  Pharaohs, Shahs, Presidents-for-Life, Caesars, Prime Ministers, Kings, Fuhrers, Sultans, tribal chiefs, Emperors, Presidents, Czars, Emirs or Lord Protectors.  Some thought they were anointed by God to rule.  Some felt they were Gods.  Most ruled like a God.

Ask for some freedom and almost all of them would have handed you your head.  In the history of the human race no matter what title the leader goes by he is usually little more than a common thug in fancy dress backed by armed bands of fellow thugs willing to kill to protect their leader's right to loot the wealth of the nation on behalf of his backers.

Russian democracy is an interesting case to watch.  Russia is more free today than under either the Czars or the Communists.  Russia is an authoritarian state with elections.  In time the nation could move toward more democracy or backwards to dictatorship. 
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev appears to be interested in a second term in office. But he first needs the blessing of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin -- who is considering a return to the Kremlin himself.

In the summer heat, politics come to a standstill in Moscow even more than they do in Western capitals. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin leave for the Black Sea, while senior Kremlin and ministry officials bask in the sun at their dachas along the Moskva River or at luxury resorts on the Côte d'Azur. They are usually able to relax in the sure knowledge that, once their vacations are over, they will return to the corridors of power reports Spiegel Online.

But, this year, everything is different. Russia's elites are afraid -- not for the fatherland, but for themselves. "Everyone is living with the feeling that the end of the world is near," says Dmitry Muratov, editor in chief of Novaya Gazeta, a newspaper known for its critical stance toward the Moscow regime. "Careers and livelihoods are at stake."

The problem is simple: Ministers, governors and other high-ranking officials can't decide whose side to take -- Putin's or Medvedev's.

Parliamentary elections will be held in December, and the presidential election three months later. Medvedev has indicated that he'd like to stay in the Kremlin, but Putin's intentions are unclear. Worried about their jobs and benefits, his former KGB comrades and associates from his days as deputy mayor of St. Petersburg are urging Putin, their frontman, to return to the Kremlin.

'Bulldogs Fighting under a Carpet'

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (L) and
President Dmitry Medvedev
This isn't open political competition. Instead, the issue of who will ascend to the most powerful position in Russia will be determined by Byzantine, behind-the-scenes intrigues. Indeed, little has changed since Winston Churchill compared Stalin-era power struggles to bulldogs fighting under a carpet: "An outsider only hears the growling," he said, "and when he sees the bones fly out from beneath, it is obvious who won."

The courtiers are watching with growing concern the trench warfare between Medvedev's and Putin's camps. Ministers on their way to Putin's office are ordered back to the Kremlin by Medvedev's people to meet with the president. In a morning speech to workers at a nuclear missile factory, Putin sharply criticizes NATO's attacks on Libya as "calls to a crusade." In the afternoon, Medvedev condemns Putin's remarks as "unacceptable."

The heads of the state-owned television stations are tearing their hair out over questions such as: Whom should we follow? What message should we deliver? And what programs should we broadcast to avoid making any missteps?

There is also little enthusiasm to see more of the Putin-Medvedev partnership. In fact, just the thought of it distresses top officials accustomed to bowing to authority. Russia has never been a country with two leaders at the top; it has no tradition of power-sharing. The czars saw themselves as absolute rulers designated by God. Vladislav Surkov, the Kremlin's chief ideologue, made Putin part of this same tradition last week when he described the Kremlin's strongman as "sent from God."

Putin appeals to the conservative, nationalist majority that yearns for a strong leader, while Medvedev, the constantly smiling, iPad-toting president, speaks to the Internet-savvy part of the younger generation and the pro-West wing of the intelligentsia.

But now the two have maneuvered themselves into a trap. Since Medvedev constantly talks about the need for extensive reforms and sounds like a member of the opposition when he gives his keynote speeches, Russians are growing increasingly impatient with the openly criticized conditions in the country.

While not in any way perfect, the Russians are having
elections that could flower into a full democracy.  Currently
there are four political parties in Parliament.

Putin's Russia

In the Soviet era, those new to the power elite were always sure to get rid of its old members, often physically. The czar's family was murdered under Lenin, while Stalin had his adversaries killed or hauled off to labor camps. Even today, 20 years after the demise of the Soviet Union, Russia's political culture is based on subjugation rather than compromise. Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the oil tycoon who was Russia's richest man a decade ago, is now in a prison camp. Dozens of major business owners have fled abroad because they fear being brought to trial on either real or trumped-up charges.

If Putin does return to the Kremlin, he will have to explain to both the West and his own people why Medvedev should no longer be president -- despite not having made any serious mistakes and having guided Russia through the years of the economic crisis relatively well.

In fact, if Putin regains the presidency, it would seem like he had pushed Medvedev into the Kremlin as a placeholder from the very start just because Russia's constitution doesn't allow three consecutive terms.
In Moscow's corridors of power, perplexed officials are turning to sarcasm for comfort. They say that rapprochement with the West is progressing very rapidly, and that the scope of democracy and freedom of opinion has doubled in Russia. "Now it isn't just Putin who can express his opinion freely," they say. "Now Medvedev can, too."

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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