Friday, October 08, 2004


Russia: Bush's kind of country

The hostage crisis at the school at Beslan has given Russia's Vladimir Putin a number of opportunities to consolidate power. You might say that Beslan was Russia's 9/11.

First, Putin has decided to relieve the 89 regional governors from the debilitating experience of campaigning for election. He will just appoint them himself. He will also change the manner in which representatives to the Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament, will be elected.

According to the Washington Post,

Under his plan, Putin would appoint all governors to create a "single chain of command" and allow Russians to vote only for political parties rather than specific candidates in parliamentary elections. Putin characterized the changes as enhancing national cohesion in the face of a terrorist threat....

Unity über alles was an oft-repeated theme of Bush and Cheney in the recent debates.

Actually, the direct appointment of governors is not the only power that Putin is after. How about the judges? According to the Moscow Times,

A Federation Council bill to give the Kremlin the right to hire and fire judges would become the last nail in the coffin of Russia's already weak judiciary system, said two former senior judges who say they lost their posts after refusing to obey informal orders from the executive branch of government.

If the bill is approved, the judiciary system will be fully under the Kremlin's control, and the Kremlin will be able to get unconstitutional bills passed into law, Pashin said.

"The judiciary system is already under the Kremlin's influence," Kudeshkina said. "But if this terrible bill is approved, it means that we will lose any hope of seeing an independent judiciary system in Russia, since it will be completely in the hands of the Kremlin."

But there's always the media. NPR did a story on September 21, "Russia's New Terror Law May Restrict Media."

A Russian print journalist who was at Beslan relates her story of being drugged aboard a plane. The government's chief concern was apparently to hide the true number of hostages.

NPR's Emily Harris reported,

Most Russians get their news from television. Two of the three national channels are state-run, and the third is owned by the state-owned gas company. From Beslan, state television broadcast the official count of 354 hostages without question, although the actual number was about four times that. The OSCE report says journalists working in Beslan were then attacked by angry local citizens who knew the official number was far too low.

But are the Russians really enraged? The NPR story continues,

Some observers here credit President Vladimir Putin's easy re-election and a Parliament packed with supporters to his tight grip on television. But Alexander Galz, the deputy editor of the liberal weekly [Russian title] says that might be okay with a lot of Russians. "I spoiled a few discussions about freedom of press when I said, OK, guys, let us stop. Tell me, please, what freedom of press means for rank-and-file people. It means the ability to receive bad news. People want good news, and Putin and his people use this phenomenon perfectly." [my transcription]

So just how far are the Russians willing to go in trading off democracy and personal freedoms for a sense of security? The AP reported a new poll taken by a Russian polling organization, the Levada Center, that gives some answers—

With fear running high after a series of deadly terror attacks, many Russians would agree to significant limitations on their rights and freedoms to ensure security, pollsters and analysts said Wednesday.

... 60 percent of those surveyed said they would accept a temporary suspension of the right to travel abroad and move freely within Russia.

Fifty-nine percent would agree to the closure of organizations and publications that criticize Putin's policy on terror, it said - bad news for independent media and nongovernment groups that Putin has said are often out for their own good and not Russia's.

The poll said 89 percent favored more thorough document checks and searches of suspicious-looking people - which in Russia, where Chechen rebels have been blamed or claimed responsibility for most terrorist attacks, often means Chechens and others who don't look like ethnic Russians.

Fifty-seven percent said they would agree to let intelligence services monitor communications by telephone and the Internet, according to the agency, which polled 1,600 people nationwide Sept. 24-27. The survey's margin of error was 3 percentage points. [emphasis added]

It would be interesting to see the results of this poll if it were conducted in the United States. How do you think we would compare?

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