Unlike political democracy, political stability and economic growth are the highlights of modern Russia, which are becoming its business card in the world. President Vladimir Putin admitted this in his May 26 state of the nation address to the Federal Assembly.
"We must provide a critical assessment of the state of our democracy," he said. "Our social system is not ideal so far; we are only at the beginning of the road." He is certainly right. But what are the reasons for the inadequate development of democracy in Russia? Numerous foreign and Russian critics say the main obstacle to stronger democracy is the authoritarian policy of the Kremlin, with Vladimir Putin standing behind it.
Moscow is criticized for the situation in Chechnya, the arrest of Russia's biggest businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the attempts at legislative curtailment of civil rights to demonstrations and manifestations, and so on. These are only a few of the list of claims which Russian and foreign human rights organizations present to the current Kremlin dwellers.
They have been criticizing the Kremlin for more than four years, since Russia's first president Boris Yeltsin left the Kremlin. They say that the economy declined but the freedom of the speech prospered under him.
Today, the world public frequently views Russia as a country where economic achievements and political stability (the key achievements of the Putin administration) are impossible without authoritarian rule, and the Russian president is viewed increasingly frequently as an authoritarian ruler. The main conclusion from the above is that democracy is impossible in Russia. One can hardly imagine something more bewildering and offending for the Kremlin (and Russia as a whole).
It is apparent that President Putin does not agree with this conclusion and believes we must answer to criticism. What his opponents view as authoritarianism is the strengthening of the state, he says, and there are economic reasons for the inability of political and public organizations to see obvious democratic achievements of Russia.
"They cannot bite the hand that feeds them," Putin said, hinting that the actions of public organizations directly depend on the policy of the funds that finance them. Of course, the president added, far from all public organizations working in Russia do this, but the formulation of the question is indicative.
Putin's attitude to public organizations reflects his pro-economic outlook. A successful state manager who views Russia as a big corporation that must work to the benefit of all its members, he looks at public associations in the same way. They "ignore the real interests of citizens," he says, because this benefits them, and hence the task of the state is to redirect this benefit to an area that would be more favorable for society.
Hence the formula, which can be called "democracy according to Putin" - civil society in Russia should develop in the process of the transfer of a part of unjustifiably broad functions of the state to public associations.
How can this happen? And will this result in the development of democracy? Impossible to predict. Vladimir Putin has four years to prove that democracy is possible in Russia and to demonstrate the advantages of his "democratic" plan. However, if the plan has drawbacks, criticism will not be long in coming.