It recently has become fashionable in some American and European circles to suggest that Russia is reverting to the lost era of the former Soviet Union. This has caused Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, said to be a Russian expert, to discuss this subject with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Dr. Rice served as Senior Director of Soviet and Eastern European Affairs in the National Security Council for President George Herbert Walker Bush.
When the late great Dr. Robert (“Bob”) Krieble and I met with President George Herbert Walker Bush to express the view of the Democracy Movement regarding the Baltic States, Rice and, thus, Bush ’41 supported the Kremlin line that the Soviet Union must be preserved at all costs and that the Democracy Movement caused the problems in Lithuania, for example, not the Soviets who killed 13 people when they moved in to re-claim an embattled radio station in Vilnius. (Krieble, the inventor of industrial Super Glue, funded the effort to support the Democracy Movement and to topple the Soviets. Miss Rice then was the Special Assistant to the President for National Security. Rice appeared to be hostile to our recommendation.
The question is whether the Putin proposal to revise the regulation of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) would be an end to freedom in Russia and a reversion to Soviet Union policy. Arkady Murashev, former Member of the National Duma of the Soviet Union and of the State Duma after the Communists had been overthrown, has guided my thinking about developments in Russia since the late 1980s, when he was Secretary to the Interregional Group, a group of pro-Western Members of the Duma who advocated reform. The Interregional Group was led by the late Andrea Shakarov. Recently Dr. Edward D. (“Ed”) Lozansky, who contributes to several Russian publications, and is President of the American University in Moscow, interviewed Murashev.
In the years we have been working together, Murashev has never misled me. At times his views on certain subjects were 70 degrees to the right whereas other commentators were 100 degrees to the left. I had my doubts. I should not have doubted him. Murashev proved to be correct on every occasion. He is a thoroughly honest person, unlike some involved in the political process. Arkady believes that criticism of the proposed revisions to the law governing NGOs is being blown out of proportion. He says that the amendment will grant rights to certain groups which never had such rights. Groups which are doing charity or educational work may continue to receive funding from abroad. Thus, Lozansky’s University and the Heritage Foundation would be in no danger and, according to Arkady, would be better off. Arkady is critical of the fact that many groups would be required to re-register with the government because the process would be a huge bureaucratic headache.
Arkady stresses that the proposed Putin law is intended to prevent non-Russians from funding Russian political parties. Russia does not want to see the sort of color rebellions which were funded from abroad but which successfully drove out of office regimes in Georgia, Ukraine and Lebanon. The law seeks to avoid that in Russia but Arkady points to the United States prohibition of political contributions from abroad. This issue, according to Arkady, is a non-issue despite the screams of many in this country.
One issue in Russia has received almost no coverage in American media. That is the emergence of the Rodina Political Party. In the recent elections for the Moscow City Council, Rodina appeared as if it were destined for near 20% of the vote. It reached that point by running television advertisements suggesting that illegal immigration permitted by Moscow authorities is a way to pay slave labor wages to illegal workers and must be stopped. A rival party took Rodina to court and got the Rodina Political Party stricken from the ballot before the election by citing the Rodina television commercials as inappropriate and thus unlawful. Much of the Russian judicial system is alleged to be in the pockets of politicians.
Removing Rodina from the ballot actually has helped Rodina because the action completely has separated the Rodina Party from the corrupt regime of Moscow Mayor Jurii Luzhkov. Rodina’s platform is a unique combination of old-fashioned (and appropriate) patriotism and a welfare-oriented regulated market. The Rodina leader, one Dimitri Rogazin, has emerged as a charismatic figure who could have a major impact upon the next Presidential election in Russia.
President Putin appears to be sincere in wanting to step down from the Presidency. There currently is no leading contender. Unfortunately, the democratic forces are unpopular right now. Democratic forces managed to elect Members to the Moscow City Council because Rodina voters rejected the ultra-nationalists and voted for the democrats. This is where the democratic forces are strongest in Russia.
The Rodina Political Party has some proposals which would make free marketers in the USA gag. For example, the privatization of goods and businesses upon the dissolution of the Soviet Union was ordered by President Boris Yeltsen, of the former Soviet Union. Rodina proposed a one-time windfall tax, such as on education and medicine, deemed necessary for the public good. This would allow current owners to continue to reap considerable profits that they now enjoy. This one-time tax would be a fair way of reimbursing the government for that which these owners received in the 1990s at far below market prices or in some cases for nothing. I don’t like taxes and especially high taxes but this one-time tax would solve a problem which has dogged businessmen since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Finally, the stigma of illegitimacy would be removed from business owners, who under this government (i.e., the people) would at last get its fair share.
The rather small but vocal community of so-called Russian experts in this country will discount Rodina, just as they discounted Boris Yeltsin and the Democracy Movement of 1988-1991. But Rodina, taking advantage of the patience and tolerance of the Russian people, is in this for the long haul. Those of us who again would like to see Russia as a great nation (and I write here of pre-Soviet Russia) should take a long, hard look at Rodina and Rogazin and Presidium Chairman Alexander Babokov. I had high hopes in the early 1990s that Russia would support the Democracy Movement led by Murashev and others close to him. That is no longer the case. Their day has come and gone and it is hard to envision their rising again, unless indeed there is a real threat of returning to Soviet-style Communism. Still, they would be my first choice, although when duly elected they always found it difficult to govern. My second choice may well be Rodina. That Party is a bulwark against irresponsible nationalism. It has a program which appeals to the average Russian. It absolutely is dedicated to ridding Russia of the corruption which has plagued that nation in post-Soviet times.
More than two centuries ago the Empress Elizabeth asked her courtier Ivan Petrovich Shuvalov what precept should guide her rule. He replied simply, “Preserving the people.” Not a bad idea. Rodina has adopted it. The cheap trick that Rodina opponents used to keep Rodina off the ballot in the City of Moscow will not work in the long run. Watch for Rodina in the parliamentary elections and ultimately in the Presidential race of 2008. Rodina’s time yet may not have come but I suggest that it indeed may be coming.