What is happening with Russian democracy? According to the Financial Times website, there is censorship in Russia. According to the Guardian, "the last critic of the Kremlin," Leonid Parfyonov, has ended his TV career. The Washington Post has reported the creation of legislative obstacles to the organisation of national referendums in Russia, which it interprets as an offensive against civil liberties in the country.
Unsurprisingly, I did not find such touching consensus on the above issues in the Russia press. It also writes about Parfyonov and the draft law on referendums but makes different conclusions on censorship and the offensive on civil liberties. Why? Has censorship already become a fact of life in the Russian media?
I doubt this. Like almost anywhere, censorship is not profitable in Russia. For example, the information that forced Parfyonov to leave NTV - about the alleged involvement of the Russian security services in the assassination of former vice-president of Chechnya Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev in Qatar - had been reported by the press and television channels, not to mention on the net, in one form or another. In this case, it does not matter if this information were true or not. What matters is that it was reported and censorship did not stop its appearance.
Besides, Parfyonov is far from the last critic of the Kremlin; moreover, he has never been a dedicated critic at all. As for the new, stricter rules of organising referendums, Russians have not even used the old rules since 1993, which I interpret as meaning there is no major offensive aimed against their rights. And, the bill is only being discussed and hence amended and geared to the requirements of society.
Personally, I think that Russian democracy and the situation in Russian society are viewed differently in Russia and the West right from the start. The West (meaning Europe and North America) interprets democracy, democrats and liberals in Russia as above all organisations and people who have been encouraged or at least recognised by the West. It views them as "our people" and so assesses developments in Russia on the basis of what happens to these people.
Take an exam paper question, "What is civil society in Russia?" The perfect answer (from the Western viewpoint) would be, "A civil society is a network of organisations created or financed in Russia by Western non-governmental organisations and foundations."
From the viewpoint of common Russians - citizens, in legal terms - these people are not a civil society at all but some alien additions to Russia's civilisation, sometimes useful, sometimes useless, and at other times harmful, especially when they try to protect terrorists and thieving oligarchs.
Accordingly, a TV presenter who does not take the side of our boys who are on trial in Qatar could lose the majority of his popularity and in this way harm his channel.
Most importantly (from the Russian viewpoint), no foundation, no corporation that stands behind him, and no country can finance civil society in Russia, which is much bigger than a small East European nation. Therefore, spending on its civil society would be exorbitant. This is why (from the viewpoint of an average Russian), to become truly civil and democratic, Russian society must finance itself, though not now, but when it becomes richer.
To become richer, it must double GDP, defeat poverty, build available and befitting housing, raise living standards per average Russian capita, and defeat international terrorism in the North Caucasus. In short, this will become possible after it fulfils the key tasks set in this year's presidential address to the Federal Assembly.
This is when we will be able to talk to journalists from respected foreign newspapers about democracy, censorship and civil rights. And maybe our opinions will coincide, at long last. Democracy for Russia is not an exotic imported fruit eaten on major national holidays, but something it wants to grow in its own orchards, which everyone can enjoy to their heart's content.
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