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December 8, 2003 by AK

Right thoughts for the right reasons

I hope I won’t be misunderstood: my reservations about Putin’s regime are not the same as the WaPo‘s. His KGB past doesn’t please me, but there’s nothing wrong about being an intelligence officer. He’s no anti-Semite, either: no one has dug that on him. He’s better educated than any Soviet or Russian leader since Lenin. Whatever methods he has used against his opponents were made possible or tested by Yeltsin’s government. He was a member of Sobchak’s St. Pete mayoral team known for both reformism and corruption, but no one has come up with proof of Putin’s own corruption. In other words, he’s not nearly as bad as he is portrayed in various respectable publications. Russians respect him for non-masochistic reasons.

The problem with Putin is his hopeless position: leading a country where every democratic institution has been captured by special interests. Most political observers in the West take no care to investigate the institutions underlying a democracy or dictatorship; for them, Japan, the US and Turkey are all simply democracies. Than so should be Iran: they have elections, right? Institutional problems run so deep in Russian society that most writers prefer to neglect them altogether. Putin is trying to fix them from above, resorting to ugly hand-wringing and brute force in general. As should be expected, his efforts crowd out those of ‘civil society’, driving a wedge between Putin and the civilized subsection of his electorate. In other words, Putin is too skeptical of his own people; he is trying to crudely manage democracy instead of cooperating with civil society. He’s afraid of all things grassroot, and that stinks.


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