Firstly nobody knows how key decisions are made
- nor the reasons behind them, nor who makes the decision. Secondly,
the political elite - the circle of decision-makers - is made
up solely of people who have been appointed and not elected.Thirdly,
issues of vital national importance are never subject to open
Issues which affect millions of Russian citizens - from the
reforms to the war in Chechnya and nuclear waste imports - are
usually dealt with behind closed doors, and take a public form
as decrees or resolutions only after the event. Even when a decision
needs to pass through parliament, it does not result from constructive
debate. With our current Duma, any attempts to use reasonable
arguments to persuade the pro-government majority in the lower
house are pointless, if that majority has different orders from
The selection criteria for members of the Cabinet, presidential
administration, or the Federation Council are not known; thus,
dilettantes with dubious reputations may end up in positions of
power. At the same time politicians with undoubted skills, expressin
views that are shared by most Russian citizens remain locked out
of decision-making, as they are not promoted to the elite.
Last but not least, while censorship has not been officially
introduced, self-censorship is on the rise. Most media outlets
present the standpoint of the president and the government as
truth, as if there can be no other solutions to a given problem.
No one argues with the opposition; the opposition is simply ignored.
It is impossible to systematically promote any point of view in
media which differs from the official point of view. Disagreement
with the president is not yet a crime, but it is universally viewed
as political suicide all the same.
In other words, citizens have virtually no influence with the
regime. The government does not have to be guided by the opinion
of citizens - as it is not dependent on citizens for anything.
Duma deputies (and Federation Council members) are convinced that
their seats in the next parliament depend on how diligently they
carry out the will of the presidential administration, rather
than on the
What is left? The right to elect the president and regional
leaders? Everyone knows, however, that elections are too serious
a matter to entrust to the people. Remember 1996, when a man distrusted
by 97% of the people six months before the election still managed
to win? Political scientists no longer discuss the policies of
candidates for regional leader positions, or their character,
or their skills.
They discuss which candidate has the Kremlin's support.
In the meantime, the independence of the authorities from citizens
inevitably leads to certain consequences, most importantly: the
authorities make decisions which promote interests that might
have little if anything to do with the interests of the people.
The president has just said that we should raise domestic gas
prices to international levels. Clearly, this is primarily the
wish of Gazprom. It is also clear that tariffs will grow after
that is done, and that prices will skyrocket. It isn't hard to
predict the results of any opinion poll on the issue, if an opinion
poll was held.
Let me provide another example: the government's determination
to impose additional telephone charges (timed calls), something
that must Russian citizens oppose: however, they are given to
understand that no one cares about their opinion on the matter...
Corruption in Russia is undeniable. What else can we expect
in a country where issues worth billions are decided by a single
signature behind closed doors?
The lack of accountability, resulting in widespread violation
of citizens' rights, is also apparent. Access to free medical
treatment, entitlement to benefits and grants, or refusal to pay
unlawful taxes, or receipt of residency registration - all these
become problems that cannot be solved, all too frequently. Why
is this the case? Because the officials who demand bribes for
such things will keep their jobs unless those who appointed them
decide otherwise. In other words, carrying out orders from above
will be more important than the law for those officials.
And finally, an authoritarian system lacking any mechanism for
feedbackworks much faster than a democratic system, of course.
On the other hand, it makes mistakes more frequently. To err is
human, after all. It is common knowledge that the president is
responsible for everything in Russia. But being responsible for
everything really means being responsible for nothing - as it
is beyond the ability
of a mere mortal to know all the problems of a huge country, much
less to know the solutions to them all. And when the president
makes a mistake, there is no one to correct it. In the past, parliament
was considered a hindrance to the reforms; now it has been pushed
aside, transformed into a purely decorative body.
Compare all these issues with what we planned to reject at the
outset of Russia's democratic era - and you will find a lot of
similarities. Why are we almost back to square one?
It is possible, of course, to blame ill will or some cunning
CIA ploy, but a different explanation (or theory) provides a much
better answer. What we see around us, and what we have in Russia
today, is an inevitable result of an experiment initiated in 1991,
involving the transformation of Russia from a parliamentary republic
into a presidential republic. Crowned by the ancient Russian traditions
single decision-making centre, and certainty that the leader is
above the law, the "presidential model" could not generate
A presidential republic - with its vertical concentration of
power – inevitably becomes bureaucratic and self-replicating
at all levels. If promoted into a position of unquestioned power,
saint would be easily persuaded that expanding power is in the
interests of the people and the nation. To expand his power, he
taxes businesses, takes over the media, and does away with potential
Is there a way out of this situation? If the system that does
not meet our needs is the result of a certain decision, that decision
has to be revised. This means we should abandon the "presidential
and its corollary, direct election of regional leaders by the
citizenry. In other words, we need to return to the parliamentary
representative model, which existed in Russia in 1990 and 1991.
Theoretical debates between advocates of presidential and parliamentary
republics have lasted for centuries. Each system has its own pluses
and minuses; each system can and does work within the
framework of democratic processes.
Of all the world's democracies, the "presidential model"
is only successful in the United States. Almost all advanced European
democracies prefer parliamentary democracy. And not only
European nations: suffice it to recall Canada or Australia, India
or Japan. Meanwhile, the presidential model is more typical of
corrupt Latin American or Asian regimes.
It is widely thought that the European way of development offers
the best way forward for Russia. If this is really the case, it
would be only logical to chose the European model of our republic
as well: the path of parliamentary democracy, in other words.
A system without a Great Leader - who poses a threat to the citizens
of his own country, regardless of his personal traits. A system
where it is impossible to
raise prices, declare war, or withdraw billions from the budget
with a single signature. Where politicians vie for seats in the
legislature, rather than for positions in the executive branch.
Where parties form
the government, and not vice-versa. Where there are no monopolies
on power, information, or ideology...
Some might call this utopian and assert that Russia has different
traditions. Well, back in 1987, calls to abolish Article 6 of
the Constitution would have been assessed as absolutely impossible.
mention a multi-party system, or independent media. And who can
say that the tradition of the guiding role of the Communist Party
of the Soviet Union was less resilient than the tradition of the
At one time there was considerable debate about Boris Yeltsin's
potential successor. Everyone agreed (rightly) that in view of
the high stakes, all methods would be used.
We should expect a discussion of Vladimir Putin's successor
sooner or later. There can be no doubt at all that the means used
to ensure the succession will be no better than last time. After
all, the end justifies the means.
It is possible to prevent such means being used - but only by
removing the goal itself.