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Today has likewise seen the release of The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index.

economist-democracy-index-2016

The US has been downgraded to a “flawed” democracy. The report is subtitled “Revenge of the Deplorables.”

Will Freedom House follow suit?

PS. To be fair, the scores were compiled before Trump’s victory. The US has been hovering around the border between what they call “full” and “flawed” democracy for a number of years now.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Democracy 
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This will probably be of no surprise to people who follow Russian sentiments, but still worth pointing out that according to the latest polls by Levada – an independent polling agency headed by pro-Western liberals – support for this thing called “Western-style democracy” has never been lower. This is quite a change from 2012, at the height of the post-Soviet protest fervor, when it was neck and neck with the Soviet system and the legitimacy of the current system came close to its local maximum.

russia-best-political-system

Likewise, support for free markets is also near, though not quite at, an all-time low. The catastrophic events of the 1990s, first the epically crooked privatizations, then the 1998 default, disillusioned Russians from “reform” for the foreseeable future.

russia-best-economic-system

You don’t really need many Kiselevs when two decades of geopolitical double standards and Cochita Wursts can do the job even better. In the great scheme of things, considering Russians’ enthusiasm for Western democracy and free markets directly after the fall of the USSR, which was still detectable even when Putin first came to power and mooted the possibility of Russia joining NATO (on which he was cold shouldered), this can be interpreted as one of history’s greatest ideological PR fails.

These figures demonstrate that there is more to Russia’s pride and accumulated resentment than the headline 80%+ approval ratings for Putin after Crimea. One consequence is that Russia is more or less “immunized” against coups and color revolutions until at least the next round of elections in 2017-18. Western policymakers might not like this fact or even be unduly interested in it, but reality is.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Democracy, Russian Politics 
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My latest for the US-Russia Experts Panel and VoR.

In this latest Panel, Vlad Sobell asks us supposed Russia “experts” whether Freedom House’s “alarmist stance” towards Russia is justified. Well, what do YOU think? I don’t think you need to be an expert to answer this; it’s an elementary issue of common sense and face validity. Consider the following:

Freedom House gives Russia a 5.5/7 on its “freedom” score, in which 7 is totalitarianism (e.g. North Korea) and 1 is complete freedom (e.g. the post-NDAA US).

This would make Putin’s Russia about as “unfree” as the following polities, as we learn from Freedom House:

  • The United Arab Emirates, a “federation of seven absolute dynastic monarchs whose appointees make all legislative and executive decisions”… where there are “no political parties” and court rulings are “subject to review by the political leadership” (quoting Daniel Treisman and Freedom House itself);
  • Bahrain, which recently shot up a ton of Shia demonstrators, and indefinitely arrested doctors for having the temerity to follow the Hippocratic oath and treat wounded protesters;
  • Any of the 1980’s “death-squad democracies” of Central America, in which tens of thousands of Communist sympathizers or just democracy supporters were forcibly disappeared;
  • The Argentinian junta, which “disappeared” tens of thousands of undesirables, some of whom were dropped from planes over the Atlantic Ocean;
  • Yemen, which lives under a strict interpretation of sharia law and where the sole candidate to the Presidency was elected with 100% of the vote in 2012 (which Hillary Clinton described as “another important step forward in their democratic transition process”).

Putin’s Russia is also, we are to believe, a lot more repressive than these polities:

  • South Korea in the 1980’s, a military dictatorship which carried out a massacre in Gwangju on the same scale as that of Tiananmen Square, for which China would be endlessly condemned;
  • Turkey, which bans YouTube from time to time, and today carries the dubious distinction of hosting more imprisoned journalists – 49 of them, according to the CPJ – than any other country, including Syria, Iran, and China. (Russia imprisons none).
  • Mexico under the PRI, which falsified elections throughout the years of its dominance to at least the same extent as United Russia.
  • Singapore, whose parliament makes the Duma look like a vibrant multiparty democracy and uses libel law to sue political opponents into bankruptcy. (In the meantime, Nemtsov is free to continue writing his screeds about Putin’s yachts and Swiss bank accounts).
  • Kuwait, where women only got the vote in 2005.

I’d say it’s pretty obvious that Freedom House has a definite bias which looks something like this: +1 points for being friendly with the West, -1 if not, and -2 if you also happen to have oil, and are thus in special urgent need of a color revolution. Then again, some call me a Kremlin troll, so you might be wiser to trust an organization that was until recently chaired by a former director of the CIA, an avowed neocon given to ranting about Russia’s backsliding into “fascism” among other things. If that’s the case you’re probably also the type who believes Iraq was 45 minutes away from launching WMD’s and that Islamist terrorists “hate us for our freedom.”

PS. If you want a reasonably accurate and well-researched political freedoms rating, check out the Polity IV series. Unfortunately, while it’s a thousand times better than Freedom House, it’s also about a thousand times less well-known.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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Lost in the furor and liberal butthurt over Depardieu’s defection has been a development of far greater import: Russia is going to cardinally change its elections system.

According to Putin’s directive to the Presidential Administration and the Central Elections Committee, they are to come up with a bill that transforms Russia’s current proportional system to a mixed one based on proportional and majoritarian representation.

In other words, it is returning to the system in had in 2003 and earlier, or adopting the system now in place in Hungary and Ukraine.

This change is very clever. First, it will massively favor the dominant party, i.e. United Russia. In 2003, it got almost half the seats despite only getting 38% in the proportional race and a mere 24% in the constituency races (plus a lot of UR-friendly “independents” to seal the deal). This system allows United Russia to “artificially” (I put apostrophes around it because this system is not after all considered inherently anti-democratic) bolster its results during a period when its ratings are likely to decline further. The recent example of Ukraine’s Party of Regions shows how a party with only about 30% popular support can seize virtually half the seats with a split opposition and the usage of admin resources including pro-PR “independents.”

Second, it will also massively lower the incentives for direct falsifications, which are a very prominent and undeniable stain on Russia’s elections in the past decade. After all while in a proportional system falsification will have a direct and immediate impact on the result, in a mixed system United Russia or UR-friendly candidates will be sweeping the constituency elections anyway. Ergo much smaller degrees of fraud or even the absence of fraud would still result in better results for UR than the c.8% falsification in its favor in the 2011 elections everything else being equal.

So, if played right, United Russia in 2016 can still get its parliamentary majority or close to it despite (1) a likely decline in support and (2) allowing for much lower levels of fraud. Hence also much less scope for criticism on the part of various elections watchdogs and Western governments. Even though (as in Ukraine) this system will be inherently less democratic than the current proportional one, ironically enough.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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AP asks:

No article about the Ukrainian parliamentary elections?

Unfortunately, no, as I’m very busy this week. But some quick impressions:

(1) My initial predictions for the elections. We’ll see how I do relative to about 70 other people soon enough.

[tweet https://twitter.com/AnatolyKarlin/status/262371694809841666]

(2) As the results came in, with PoR getting 37% of the vote after a count of 30% of the ballots, I began to strongly suspect widespread fraud, as it is 7% above the exit poll average (and 5% above the highest, 32%). However, with 75% of the ballots now counted, and PoR down to 33%, I am likely to have been premature with these assessments.

(3) That said, I agree with AP’s assessment that a first past the post system in the regions was an artificial trick to keep PoR in power (as Hungary’s reforms in the past year have done something similar for Fidesz… and failed to do it for Georgia’s UNM). I would not however go quite as far as to say that “first-past-the-post in a multiparty situation without runoffs does not reflect the people’s will.” If so then this can be said all the more so of the UK’s elections, which are dominated by three main parties and have no proportional element at all – making the weakest of them, the Lib Dems, permanently disadvantaged.

(4) AP also writes:

The communists and Party of Regions together got only 16% support in Kiev. I think the myth of Kiev (and central Ukraine in general) being some sort of “Little Russia” more tied to Russia’s orbit than to the West can be laid to rest.

To the extent I view it as a “Little Russia” it’s as a region that is similar to Russia but with its own sense of independent agency (after all 80% of the conversations in the streets are in Russian… or to take a less salutary example, it’s not like Kiev is any less corrupt than Moscow). All in all, a bit like, say, Germany and Austria.

(5) Map of election results abroad. No-one familiar with the US and Canadian Ukrainian diaspora should be surprised at Svoboda’s victory there.

(6) Two differences from Russian elections. First, Russia has no majoritarian element (if it did, then UR would now have a Constitutional majority too). Second, Ukraine unlike Russia doesn’t seem to be releasing station-level data, which makes analysis of any electoral fraud much more difficult. The data for individual stations has appeared.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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The latest US-Russia.org Expert Discussion Panel focused on an assessment of Putin’s historical legacy, on the occasion of his 60th birthday. Here I try to answer whether history will see Putin as the “founder of a modern and successful Russia”, or as a tragic figure who threw away his chance of greatness to the “delusion of indispensability”:

While there are several criticisms one can make of Putin’s practice of democracy, his prolonged stay in power isn’t one of them.

As Evgeny Minchenko pointed out, there are many Western examples of very long, but non-authoritarian rule. Canadian PM Jean Chrétien ruled for 20 years, the Federal Chancellor of the FRG Helmut Kohl – for 16 years. Icelandic President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson has been in power from 1996 to the present day (nobody even bothered challenging him in 2000 and 2008). Charles de Gaulle, one of the figures Putin quotes as his inspiration, ruled for 11 years; the student protests against him in 1968, ironically, only ended up increasing support for him. Another of Putin’s heroes, Franklin D. Roosevelt, was US President from 1933 until his death in 1945, and remains a political colossus in the American imagination.

Nor is there anything particularly anti-Constitutional about what Putin did. Unlike in Georgia, where Saakashvili planned to retain power by moving powers to the Prime Ministership (but was foiled in this by an oligarchic coup), or for that matter in the “new democracy” of Hungary, where the ruling Fidesz Party headed by Viktor Orbán recently rewrote electoral law to cement its dominance for what may be many decades to come, Putin has strictly abided by the letter of the Constitution. United Russia did not use its Constitutional majority to extend the number of allowed Presidential terms, transform Russia into a parliamentary republic, or tweaking electoral law away from proportional representation towards majoritarianism (this would have a far bigger effect in consolidating United Russia’s power than low-level electoral fraud – and be much less politically damaging besides).

While one might argue that Putin went against the “spirit of the Constitution” by seeking a third term, that is an inescapably vague and ambiguous concept, one suited only for rhetoric. If we are going to consider the “spirit” of things, would it not then be against the “spirit of democracy” to condemn Putin for returning to the Presidency when he remains by far Russia’s most popular politician, enjoying a 10% lead over Medvedev even during the latter’s heyday?

In 2004, Putin said, “Our aims are absolutely clear: They are a high living standard in the country and a secure, free and comfortable life.” This is not the place to cite reams of statistics, but on practically any socio-economic indicator one cares to mention – economic, demographic, crime, etc. – the Russia of 2012 is unrecognizable from the Russia of 1999. It’s simply another world. To find historical precedents, one needs to look far, far back. To another Putin hero, Stolypin? But the saplings he planted didn’t survive the Bolshevik winter. Both Peter the Great and Stalin transformed Russia, but in ways that were many orders of magnitude crueller and more bloodthirsty than all but the most deranged of Putin’s critics would accuse him of. Alien ideologies were impressed on Russia in these “revolutions from above”, leading to social stresses and upheaval; Putin, to the contrary, is profoundly a-ideological (and that is surely for the better, no matter the hand-wringing by some over Russia’s no longer having a “national idea” – fact of the matter is, “national ideas” have rarely led it to anywhere good).

Perhaps a more appropriate comparison is to Catherine the Great, who expanded Russia’s borders, made legal reforms, and removed internal barriers to trade. But serfdom was also further entrenched, and Russia kept slipping backwards relative to the developed world; in contrast, under Putin, Russia has gone from being the poor man of Europe to being a country where salaries and personal consumption are now converging with those of the poorer (original) EU members like Greece or Portugal. Maybe his true predecessor is none other than Yaroslavl the Wise, under whom Kievan Rus’ became unified, established links with Western Europe (which is today East Asia), formally codified Russian laws, and ushered in a golden age of culture and civilization. Although one should be careful of making parallels with developments a millennium ago, there are undeniable similarities between Yaroslavl’s achievements and Putin’s project: Consolidating the state, and now moving towards a Eurasian Union; legal reforms that supplanted late-Soviet “understandings” and Yeltsinite chaos; and the ongoing (re)integration into the world economy.

Regardless of the historians’ final verdict, it is now hard to see what Putin can possible do now to compromise the “father of the nation” status he has already gained in the popular consciousness – a status that should survive, based on comparable figures like De Gaulle or Park Chung-hee, even as the “dissatisfied urbanites” and “hamsters” – much like the Parisian student protesters against De Gaulle in 1968 – are relegated to the margins of history. The “democratic journalists” and other Putin Derangement Syndrome sufferers who portray this Goethe-quoting patriot and conservative restorer as a mafiosi thug or neo-Stalinist dictator will be in for endless disappointments as future Russians, just as today’s Russians, will continue to reject their bleak, screed-like denunciations of Putin’s legacy.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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My latest for US-Russia.org Expert Discussion Panel on whether to view the recent Georgian elections, in which Saakashvili’s United National Movement lost a lot of power, as a Kremlin coup or a triumph of democracy. My view that it isn’t really either:

Two dominant themes prevailed in media coverage of the 2012 Georgian elections

(1) The people were hoodwinked, as Georgian Dream are a corrupt band of Russian stooges – as argued by neocon Jennifer Rubin and Yulia “Pinochet” Latynina (see juicy quote from her translated below):

It is possible that Georgia will get one more chance. In that one short moment, when a confused people will look on with astonishment as the band of thieves returning to power brings back its lawlessness – but at a point of time when the army and police are not yet wholly purged of respectable people, who care for the fate of their country – in that moment, Georgia will get another window of opportunity. Like the one, for instance, that Pinochet got on September 11, 1973. But maybe, this chance will never come.

(2) The elections were a genuine victory for Georgian democracy, with Saakashvili’s very defeat vindicating his historical status as a democrat and reformer. Two headlines from democratic journalist Konstantin von Eggert summarize this viewpoint: “Georgians are no longer a mass, but a people“; “Saakashvili accomplished the authoritarian modernization that Russian liberals only dreamed of.”

The Kremlin is in confusion: A state, which they practically denounced as a fascist dictatorship just three years ago, has become a democracy… And the oft-ridiculed and cursed Georgian President, known for his chewing of ties, became practically the most successful reformer in the post-Soviet space, barring the Baltics.

I think both viewpoints are substantially wrong, but to see why we have to consider this history in more detail.

In his first elections in 2004, Saakashvili won 96% of the votes. It was fairer than it looks, but only because of a complete absence of credible candidates at the time. In his second election, in 2008, not only did turnout correlate positively with the Saakashvili vote, but its graph had what is called a “long tail”, becoming suspicious after the 80% mark and registering quite a few stations with 100% turnout. This is remarkably similar to the pattern of falsifications in Russian elections under Putin (though needless to say, Georgia doesn’t attract a fraction of the same attention).

In these elections, multiple factors came together to produce radically different outcomes. The opposition came together, held together by Ivanishvili’s money – who also claims to have spent $1.7 billion, or more than 10% of Georgia’s GDP, over the past several years on stuff like paying officials’ salaries and buying new police cars. That’s like Prokhorov spending $150 billion in Russia, or Romney $1.5 trillion on the US election – while money is far from everything in politics, sums as huge as these certainly help.

Then there were the conveniently timed prison torture videos, broadcast by two suddenly opposition TV channels. These were Maestro, which in 2012 had been investigated for giving out free antennas, allegedly as part of vote-buying by Ivanishvili; and TV-9, a recent creation of Ivanishvili himself. Until recently, these channels appear to have been fairly minor; the big two were Rustavi 2, which is firmly pro-government, and Imedi. Though it was once the traditional opposition channel, Imedi – ever since its owner Badri Patarkatsishvili fell out with Saakashvili – had been tamed by police raids in 2007, to the extent that it orchestrated coverage of a hoax Russian invasion of Georgia to bolster support for Saakashvili.

All these factors – the background of Ivanishvili’s populist spending and opposition consolidation, plus his purchase of a TV presence and the very good timing of the videos – contributed to a drastic, sudden, and unforeseeable reversal in the United National Movement’s until recently far superior poll ratings (see below).

Furthermore, this election was far cleaner than previous ones (which of course favored the opposition): This time there were only a couple of stations with close-to-100% turnout, and in any case, greater turnout now coincided with more votes for Georgian Dream, not Saakashvili or his party (as was the case in 2007 and 2008). I suspect this is because, cognizant of the shift against Saakashvili, the “administrative resource” that had previously served him and the UNM became demoralized and fearful of prosecution in a future administration headed by Ivanishvili; as such, it now refused to give him his customary +3%-5% addon.

These developments were unexpected. It was Saakashvili’s very confidence in a United National Movement victory that presumably motivated him to shift formal powers from the Presidency to the Prime Minister, with a view to taking the latter position (or inserting an ally there) once his two terms were up. Until recently numerous commentators were speaking of Saakashvili “pulling a Putin” (rarely adding that Putin didn’t change the Constitution to empower the PM). Ironically, it was this very drive for greater political consolidation that ended up hoisting Saakashvili by his own petard. From 2013, it is Ivanishvili and allies who will get all the real power, regardless of who wins the Presidency.

In this context the dominant theories can be dismissed or modified. The theory that these elections were a “Russian coup” or somesuch is laughable on its face; only Saakashvili and his supporters seriously believe it, or pretend to. But the theory it’s a democratic triumph is also problematic given the critical role played by Ivanishvili’s money, not to mention Saakashvili’s own indifference to the concept (in practice, nor rhetoric). I submit that what we saw is an “oligarchic coup”, of the type not uncommon in poor countries with weak institutions and big personalities (and perhaps, of the type that Khodorkovsky may have accomplished in 2003 in a parallel world).

As such, given the contingent and artificial events that spawned this new revolution, Georgia can hardly be said to have become a model of democracy.

It is too early to tell what relations with Russia will be like after 2013. Doubtless better than under Saakashvili, but that’s not really saying anything considering how horrid they are now. I would caution that just because the Kremlin obviously prefers Ivanishvili certainly doesn’t mean he will be its puppet once in power (one factoid airbrushed out of history by everyone is that Russia also supported Saakashvili over Shevardnadze in the Rose Revolution). He is strongly committed to NATO membership, which – if pursued with the same old vigor – will continue to cause irreconcilable problems. With 62% of Georgians favoring NATO accession, and only 10% against, it’s not like Ivanishvili will be in much of a position to halt this process even if he were so inclined.

One can only hope that under Georgian Dream these disagreements, which are unlikely to go away any time soon, will be discussed in rather more civilized ways than was the case on August 8, 2008.

PS. Also feel free to read Sergey Roy‘s rejoinder to my piece.

I must congratulate Mr. Karlin on his excellent analysis of the politics involved in the recent parliamentary election in Georgia, its causes and consequences. A few comments are due, though.

Politics and politicking, as described in Anatoly’s essay, are surely important, but it is also advisable to take the Marxian – or merely commonsensical view of changes in a society’s superstructure as mostly reflections of processes in its economic basis. Ignoring the latter is only excusable in someone like Ms. Latynina (quoted in Karlin’s piece): she writes novels, you know, and clearly has trouble distinguishing between fiction and reality. She may believe, for instance, that under Saakashvili Georgia was going through a period of unprecedented efflorescence, but that’s sheer fiction. Mere propaganda, actually. The facts on the ground are different, very much so.

In a nutshell, Georgia is a basket case, in economic terms. According to an oppositionist source, its national debt is four times the size of its annual GDP (not that the latter is anything to write home about). According to the same source, unemployment there runs at an unheard-of 70 percent which was only brought down to the official figure of 20 percent by including everyone who has a few vines growing on the plot of land their house stands on in the “gainfully self-employed” category. That’s the sort of cheating that simply does not fool anyone.

There is also the foreign trade factor. Russia used to absorb all the alcohol Georgia produced rather scandalously, I must say: before Saakashvili, Russia imported three times more wine than Georgian vineyards could physically yield. A friend of mine spent a couple of days in and out of the bathroom after drinking a bottle of unbelievably cheap Khvanchkara. Luckily I had savvy enough to spit out the first mouthful. No wonder a member of Saakashvili’s government notoriously said that those Russian swine can drink anything. Now they drink nothing nothing of Georgian origin, that is and Georgian wine and brandy producers know exactly who they can thank for it. No wonder they wish him out of the way of normal economic intercourse.

Also on the economy side, there are between 800,000 and one million Georgians (no one seems to know how many exactly) feeding their own faces in Russia and the mouths of their relations back home. Russo-Georgian relations being what they are, those wretched people have to travel to and from Georgia via Ukraine or Armenia. Again, they and their relations — know exactly at whose feet they can lay this inconvenience.

Still staying with the economy, only creative writers like Latynina can believe their own fiction that Saakashvili’s regime is squeaky clean, that under his rule corruption, endemic in Georgia just as in other lands one might point a finger at, was stamped out completely. Sure, US money contributed a lot toward computerization, and you can register a company in half an hour or so in Georgia. What will happen to your company afterwards is quite a different matter. All of Georgia’s economic life, what there is of it, is in the hands of regime-related clans, and outsiders are unwelcome to such a degree that they see their future as hopeless. Naturally they want a piece of the action which is impossible unless the present regime is changed. Well, so it has been, or is being not without a great deal of interclan fighting, one can safely predict.

I am sure I have not covered all the economic factors that explain the Georgians’ desire to get rid of Saakashvili and much of what his regime stands for. Still, I am just as convinced that even these few factors carried more weight with voters than TV pictures of torture in Georgia’s prisons, Ivanishvili’s propaganda, and other political and circumpolitical events described in detail in Anatoly Karlin’s piece. Above all, the mood of general dissatisfaction with and anger at the populace’s economic condition had to be there. It was, and it was the prime factor in the events we have just witnessed and are going to witness.

As for politics, Georgians are no different from many other peoples: they want to eat their mamalyga and have it. They want to have Sukhum and Tskhinval back they lorded it over there for too long to reconcile themselves to the loss. So they want Russia to go away from these regions and yet have normal trade and other relations with it. What can Russia’s course be, in this situation? Withdrawing from Abkhazia and S.Ossetia is out of the question, for that would mean NATO bases practically on Russia’s southern flank. Therefore a bit of cognitive and emotional dissonance is inevitable for any future Georgian regime: it, and most Georgians, can dream of NATO and EU membership, heartily dislike Russia and at the same time keep selling it wine, their principal commodity under strict quality control, that is. No more slops with Khvanchkara labels, please.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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The latest US-Russia.org Expert Discussion Panel focuses on whether Russia was correct to expel USAID on the grounds that it interfered in domestic Russian politics to an acceptable degree. Here is my contribution:

I have no connection to USAID, or indeed to any American NGO operating in Russia or anywhere else. I do not pretend to have much of a clue as to what extent the Kremlin’s claims that it interferes in Russian politics to an unacceptable degree are true or not, and likewise for US denials of these allegations.

To a large extent I have to agree with Nicolai Petro, writing in the NYT’s Room for Debate, that foreign democracy assistance has “outlived its usefulness in Russia.” As he points out in his article “Local Groups Must Not Rely on the US“, the Russian government’s own funding of NGO’s now dwarfs US contributions, and contrary to popular belief, this includes Kremlin-critical organizations such as the Moscow Helsinki Group and the Committee of Soldier’s Mothers.

Furthermore, Russia is now an increasingly rich and middle-class society, so in most cases, a cutoff in foreign aid should not be a critical issue to the continued operation of the recipient NGO. If anything, shifting to exclusively domestic funding – as Golos once considered doing – would altogether free them from the potential stigma of being labelled “jackals scavenging for funds at foreign embassies”, as Putin described the non-systemic opposition in one his less charitable moments.

Yet with all that said, I doubt that banning USAID is a good move. Speaking of Golos in particular, which has been singled out for using USAID funds, it typically refrained from taking concrete political stands during the last election season and instead focused on the technical standards of the elections and data compilation from its own and other election observers. This is a good thing, because like it or not, there were severe falsifications in those elections, to the sum total of about 4%-5% in the Presidential elections, and up to 10% in the Duma elections. That the former figure however was much lower than the latter may in fact be partly attributed to the efforts of organizations like Golos, which helped increase the prominence of observers and increased demands for clean elections.

This is undoubtedly a good thing for Russian democracy, keeping it from slipping away into complete illegitimacy like in Belarus or Mubarak’s Egypt. It is also a good thing even for Putin himself, even if many of his acolytes don’t realize it; he is genuinely popular, and a truly fair and overwhelming victory (i.e., the c.59% he should have gotten) is surely far superior to a dirtier but only marginally more overwhelming victory (i.e., the 63.6% he actually got).

Should Golos or USAID be blamed for lifting the lid on an electoral system that looks like something from 1950′s Italy or Uganda today?

If it’s true that USAID tried to interfere in Russian politics, or even “ordered” the protests (which to be honest sounds rather far-fetched to me), that still doesn’t mean banning it is a good idea. If its aim is to subvert the Russian political system, then surely it would make more sense to just increase scrutiny of its activities? If undermining the Russian political system is part of America’s goals there, then they can just use other NGO’s… and if Russia bans them too, then there will always be the spies in its Moscow Embassy. What is to do then – take a leaf from North Korea?

Even if the Kremlin’s cynical (realistic? paranoid? – I don’t know, I suppose it depends on your political sympathies) view of USAID’s activities are correct, it would still behove it to listen to Michael Corleone’s advice: “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.”

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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And the protestations of demented democratists be damned.

[tweet https://twitter.com/MiriamElder/status/245839025204785152]

And even apart from all the HBD stuff, here is the most succinct summary of why democracy is never going to flourish in the Arab world for the foreseeable future.

Libya isn’t among the countries above, but it is conservative even by Arab standards. Benghazi contributed the most jihadists per capita to Iraq.

Mubarak, Gaddafi, Assad are (were) paragons of enlightenment and progress, at least to the extent their own populations allowed them to be. They kept the most regressive elements of their population in check while adequately developing the national economy and maintaining friendly relations with other countries. What more could one want?

To paraphrase a wise sentence from the Vekhi, “Thank God for the prisons and bayonets, which protect us from the people’s fury!” In other words, unapologetic reaction is the only sane political course in countries where 80% favor stoning for adultery.

But Western democratist idiots insist otherwise (yes, idiots: While imperialism by Islamist proxies is a tantalizing theory, the old adage that one should not attribute to malevolence what can just as easily be explained by stupidity comes into play). They think that the entire world conforms to their bizarre ideologies and if it doesn’t then a few bombs, grants, and copies of From Dictatorship To Democracy will patch things up.

So how’s that Arab Spring working out now, eh?

Would this outrageous breach of all diplomatic norms and ethos have occurred under Gaddafi? (no of course not…)*

RT was right. I was right. Even the NYT grudging admits it. Even Julia friggin’ Ioffe (kind of).

* Alexander Mercouris on the matter:

The US has now confirmed that it was none other than the US ambassador who was killed in Libya.

On the subject of whether this could have happened under Gaddafi, the short answer is no and we have conclusive evidence that proves this.

In February 2011 when the uprising against Gaddafi began the US and other western powers evacuated their citizens from Tripoli. There was considerable unease in western capitals that Gaddafi would try to hold on to these people as hostages. He did nothing of the sort. On the contrary he made sure that the Libyan authorities assisted with the evacuation, which could not of course have happened without their cooperation. Nor at any point during the fighting were any western journalists or diplomats who visited the part of Libya that remained under Gaddafi’s control any time threatened and harmed. I can only remember one incident when a British television returning from the rebel town of Zuwiyah after it had been recaptured by Gaddafi’s forces claimed to have been detained and beaten by Gaddafi’s security forces. For various reasons I had strong doubts at the time that this was true.

I happen to know various people who visited Libya whilst Gaddafi was in power. One was a Greek woman who bizarrely ran an estate agency there. The opinions of Gaddafi held by these people vary widely but all described a country that was very safe and very relaxed. Now that is “free” it is no longer either.

(Republished from AKarlin.com by permission of author or representative)
 
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One of the main theses of this blog is that in many respects, Russia is far more similar to the the “West” (and vice versa) than various democratists would have you believe.

Case in point (h/t Jon Hellevig):

When GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney visited an Ohio coal mine this month to promote jobs in the coal industry, workers who appeared with him at the rally lost pay because their mine was shut down. The Pepper Pike company that owns the Century Mine told workers that attending the Aug. 14 Romney event would be both mandatory and unpaid, a top company official said Monday morning in a West Virginia radio interview. … Moore told Blomquist that managers “communicated to our workforce that the attendance at the Romney event was mandatory, but no one was forced to attend.”

“Mandatory” but “no one was forced to attend.” Hmm… how does that work?

This episode of Ohio coal workers pressured to attend a Romney rally does in fact neatly parallel anecdotally numerous cases in the run-up to the Russian elections. I even accept that these cases are far more prevalent in Russia, though the reasons for this are structural. Whereas single industry towns with singular political allegiances – e.g., coal towns, for whom Romney is far preferable to Obama – are the exception rather than the rule in the US, there are hundreds of such “monograds” in Russia. These monograds tend to have authoritarian political cultures at the local level.

But its not like you never stumble across analogues to them in the West.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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I will be jetting off tomorrow to Washington, but before I do – a translation of Edward Lozansky’s interview with Komsomolskaya Pravda (Америка ненавидит Россию, которую сама себе придумала). Lozansky, who used to be a Soviet dissident, is the organizer of the World Russia Forum and has many strong, pertinent views on why it’s a good idea to develop the US – Russian partnership.

An American politologist and a Russian journalist from Komsomolskaya Pravda tried to find out whether it’s possible to change Washington’s attitude to Moscow.

America Hates The Russia That It Invented Itself

Discussion with Edward Lozansky, Alexei Pankin, and KP’s Aleksandr Grishin.

A new period is beginning in US – Russia relations at the start of Vladimir Putin’s new term as Russian President. Washington doesn’t hide its critical attitude to Moscow, despite mutual assurances that the Reset is here to stay. American politologist Edward Lozansky and Russian journalist Alexei Pankin are with us at Komsomolskaya Pravda to discuss what we can expect from these new developments.

For some – a partner, for others – a competitor

Lozansky: I would identify two schools of political thought and public opinion. One of them is more influential than the other. It considers Russia to be not far removed from the Soviet Union, and while there may no longer be ideological differences, geopolitical conflicts remain unresolved. That is why Russia is seen as an unfriendly country. And how do you deal with an unfriendly country? You use hard power – the Pentagon, and soft power, including the media. And you take other opportunities to portray this country in a bad light. The vast majority of the American media holds these positions.

The second school consists of pragmatists, who consider that Russia has made certain progress in areas such as freedom, human rights, and democracy. They understand that it is not perfect – there are no perfect countries. Nonetheless, Russia is an important geopolitical partner of the US, and has to be treated accordingly. No interference in its internal affairs, but a search for common problems and their solutions.

This is the main difference. The first group assumes that Russia is a competitor and an adversary. The possible future President, Mitt Romney, even claimed that Russia is Enemy Number One, a characterization to which even his fellow party members objected. The second group considers your country a partner. Unfortunately, the second school, to which I attach myself, is less significant. Its voice only occasionally seeps into the mass media, while the first one dominates.

Pankin: As the editor of the Russian version of an international publishing journal, I have a lot of contacts with foreign journalists. And I am surprised that they, who monitor the state of freedoms in Russia and – one might think – would be a highly informed public, live in a world of strange stereotypes. I was recently in Tunis, where UNESCO was marking World Press Freedom Day. I was struck by the attitudes there towards me, as if I was someone who had escaped from Putin’s torture chambers. I was unable to explain to them that I was not some kind of downtrodden person, because they simply refuse to see anything which doesn’t coincide with their stereotypes.

For instance, they tell me: “What bad luck for you, that you guys elected Putin again.” And when you try to grind in the point that Putin got a MAJORITY OF THE VOTES in the country, that he was ELECTED by the people, you can see them becoming flabbergasted as their frames of reference are challenged.

Grishin: Well doesn’t this mean that for the American political majority it doesn’t matter who’s in power in Moscow, democrats or conservatives. Putin comes in, goes out, but Russia remains a geopolitical rival or enemy. It is Russia’s very existence in its current form that the US has a problem with. Is that not so?

Lozansky: It is likely that ultimately a few things will change, if people who are prepared to help the US more come to power. Much depends to what extent your policies support American interests. Take Georgia. They got colossal financial support. The biggest in per capita terms, by the way, of all the other countries that get American aid. For all its debts – and America has huge debts – it is still able to find the funds to support Georgia, because it considered to be a country that performs certain functions that answer to US geopolitical interests.

***

You can also watch a detailed discussion with Lozansky on Prosveshenie TV.AK

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZLqsjKQHWxo]

***

Fear and loathing in Washington

Grishin: Anyone in particular in Washington that Russia bothers, and how?

Lozansky: I would identify four groups, whom Russia bothers for one reason or another. First, the neocons. For them, Russia is always wrong. And they believe that it’s necessary to change the situation in Russia, relying on both hard power, and soft. This is a fairly influential group. It was especially dominant under Bush, when Cheney was one of its main leaders. And relations between Russia and America under Bush slipped below the levels of the Cold War.

The second group of the anti-Russian lobby are the ethnic communities of the East European countries, the Baltics. Those, who suffered under the USSR. For them, the new Russia might not quite be the USSR, but it is still a threat to their security. They retain the fear that Russia might at any time occupy them. The third group is the military industrial complex. For them, Russia isn’t only an enemy, but a bogeyman which they can trot out in order to earn orders and attract funding.

There is also a new element – oligarchic capital. Those are billion dollar fortunes, uncompromising hatred towards Russia’s leader. With such capital, it is possible to hire any journalist’s pen, the media. This factor, which previously did not exist, is very significant: This powerful group creates a certain background, applies pressure on the US Congress.

Grishin: Pressure on Congress – isn’t that from the realm of fantasy?

Lozansky: Every week Congress holds hearings in which Russia is subjected to the harshest criticism. Representatives of the Russian opposition take the floor. By the way, about this lack of freedom. They arrive there without ruffle or excitement, the leaders of this very opposition, from Bolotnaya. There they say the most dreadful things. Surprising even to the Americans. This is not accepted among us. You can criticize anyone you want at home, but when you go to another country, it is not acceptable to besmirch your own country… Such demeaning criticism, which Congressmen hear from Russian citizens, doesn’t happen in any other country. And then they come back to Russia.. And nobody arrests them, or throws them into any dungeons.

Pankin: What, in the opinion of Americans, now characterizes Russia? Rollback of democracy, suppression of freedom. They feel that only under Yeltsin was there a true democracy. They have forgotten Gorbachev and don’t want to understand that Yeltsin didn’t add anything to Russian freedoms, relative to the Secretary General of the CPSU Central Committee Gorbachev.

But with that very same freedom of speech, we’ve advanced very far. It has become a market. People got the opportunity, and learned to earn themselves a decent living. But all this is tossed to the side and ignored.

Our non-systemic opposition decided to ascertain the road to democracy with the American ambassador, coming as guests to Michael McFaul almost on his first day of work in Moscow.

For a large part of the US, Russia doesn’t exist

Grishin: There’s this anecdote, some people are on a famous radio station and having a live discussion on how there is no free speech in Russia and are not allowed to express their views. (AK: Refers to Echo of Moscow)

Lozansky: As regards this radio station, it truly amazes me. The majority shareholder is a structure, in which the government has a controlling stake. (AK: Gazprom) In the US we have “Voice of America”, which exists on government money. And they have no right to criticize either US policies, nor any individuals in government. In your country, this radio station almost acts as an opposition organizer. Here Russia is ahead of us on democracy.

Pankin: By the way, there are now some very interesting developments in the “Arab Spring” countries. From the stands come the same speeches which we heard back in the early 90′s, but when you climb down, you hear entirely different conversations in the gullies. That it was iPad-toting people who came out on the streets, but entirely different people came to power. In Cairo today there is panic among female professors: They fear that they’ll have a hijab forced over their heads.

Lozansky: Did you know, that after the Arab revolution, the Egyptian authorities raided the offices of Freedom House and arrested their employees, accusing them of interfering in the internal affairs of the state. And this was all after Mubarak. Also arrested were members of the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute, which all continue to operate entirely freely in Moscow. And they had to be bought back.

Grishin: Let’s leave the Arabs aside, return to Russia and America and press freedoms. Edward, do you, with you views, get printed in the US? You do have, after all, many more freedoms than we do, according to US opinion.

Lozansky: Of course we have freedom – nobody is imprisoning me for my views. But there are problems with publication. The editors say, as you here put it, “Newspapers aren’t made of rubber.” And so it’s good when just one out of 15 articles goes through. But I also have an alternate path. I have a small business – “Russia House” in Washington – and I can sometimes just buy a page in the Washington Times newspaper and write everything I want to there.

But in general, I’m amazed by the significance that you attach to what they say about Russia in America. I can tell you that in America few people are actually interested in Russia. The Russian factor is mostly raised by those groups, which I described above, and they do it to advance their own interests. For the average American, especially during election season, the most important issue is the economy. The budget, gas prices, the unemployment rates are what most concern the American family. These are simple and human things, to which Russia is irrelevant.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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Le Nouvel Observateur recently compiled opinions on Russian democracy from each of the ten French Presidential candidates. While the Left is highly critical of the authoritarian Putin regime, the Right is more favorably disposed to the Russian President-elect. On the eve of the first round of the French Presidential elections, I provide a translation of Russie: Ce qu’en disent les candidats.

Nicolas Sarkozy

“After the crash of the 1990′s, it was at the cost of a takeover that the authority of the state was restored and the economy recovered. There was brutal repression in Chechnya, the war in Georgia, and most recently the contestations about the elections, even if they do not give cause to question the legitimacy of the next President. Today the Russians want political reform and I think it is the will of their leaders too. France’s role should be to encourage this movement, but not to read Russia lectures or stigmatize this great country which, despite our differences, is one of our major partners. Let’s not forget that it is only 20 years since Russia emerged from a long totalitarian night.”

Sarkozy is the current center-right President and head of the ruling UMP, who is likely to lose to Hollande in the second round according to opinion pollsters.

François Hollande

“Russia agreed to commitments, especially those of the Council of Europe, which she must respect. I especially wish this so that we can build the partnership with Russia which we need to create a growth-friendly environment in Europe and to construct other international balances. This is particularly the case in the UN Security Council where Russia cannot continue to go its own way, complicit in the massacres in Syria. Russian society is changing, as evidenced in the recent elections during which a real demand for democracy was expressed. It is now important that the Russian government pursue its announced democratization efforts. All over the world, France must support the rule of law, civil liberties, media independence, and respect for human rights, all while respecting the sovereignty of peoples. This requires a deep dialog and cooperation with Russia, which is a major partner for France and the EU, both economically and strategically.”

Hollande is the center-left head of the Socialist Party, and is the pollsters’ favorite to take the French Presidency.

François Bayrou

Russia’s society and economy have undergone profound changes, but nonetheless fundamental liberties are still too often stymied, notably those which concern press freedom and freedom of speech. The current situation is clearly not comparable to that which prevailed under the Communist regime, but democrats cannot be satisfied. We must convince Russia to make further progress, though the decisive impetus will come from the Russians themselves.

Bayrou is a centrist politician who is head of the Democratic Movement and polling about 13%.

Marine Le Pen

There is no evidence to suggest that Russia is not a democracy from a constitutional perspective. It is not a one-party state and no serious analyst can assert that Vladimir Putin does not enjoy a solid majority and popular legitimacy. If you read Russian newspapers, you will see that the tone of the opposition press is much freer and more virulent against Putin than it is in France against Sarkozy. The problem we have as regards Russia is that our perceptions are influenced by the strategic representations that American and European ideologized networks, hostile to the Russians’ policy of national pragmatism, installed in the heart of our mainstream media.

Marine Le Pen is a far-right politician who is head of the Front National and polling about 15%.

Eva Joly

The recent Russian elections have shown us that Vladimir Putin considers elections and democracy as mere formalities before reattaining his full powers, which he had never ceased exercising in the first place. This can be described as the exercise of autocratic power, while hundreds of thousands of Russian citizens simply asked for free elections worthy of a modern democracy. But the most lamentable thing in all this is the deafening silence of French and European leaders as regards the disputed re-election of Vladimir Putin on March 4. So during this campaign I called upon all the Presidential candidates to make a clear commitment to democracy and human rights in Russia.

Eva Joly is the head of Europe Écologie–The Greens and has insignificant support.

Philippe Poutou

If Putin’s party arrived well ahead in local elections in Russia, it is the result of massive fraud, intimidation, and arrests of activists. For the first time in Russia, the voters went out into the streets to express their anger. In Moscow, many opposition candidates did not have the right to stand and the opposition parties did not have access to the media. In Astrakhan, the incumbent mayor used gangster methods to prevent his opponent from getting elected. So I obviously do not consider the Putin regime to be a democracy.

Philippe Poutou is the head of the New Anticapitalist Party and has insignificant support.

Nicolas Dupont-Aignan

Putin’s Russia is a complex country that has come a long way since not only Communism, but also since the decade of transition that profoundly destabilized it. Putin ended a period of decline and ended the looting of the country by the oligarchs and we can understand that the Russians are grateful to him. Russia is not yet a Western democracy but it is democratizing. We hope that the coming years will bring new progress in this domain and in the struggle against corruption. Either way, I do not think that provoking Vladimir Putin through external interventions, as some will have it, will bring any progress in this field. We must give it time.

Nicolas Dupont-Aignan is a Gaullist and former UMP member, who has insignificant support.

Jacques Cheminade (Solidarité et Progrès)

There are no more democracies left in the world. Europe is not an example when it sends Greece to the garrote. If she had a real policy, which is impossible with Mlle. Ashton, it should initiate peace through mutual development starting from the complementary economic interests of Russia, China, and the other Asian countries.

Jacques Cheminade is the head of Solidarité et Progrès, the party of the LaRouche movement in France, and has insignificant support.

Nathalie Arthaud

Even going by criteria accommodating to Great Powers claiming to be “democratic”, the Putin regime is an authoritarian regime. Putin’s predecessors, from Stalin to Gorbachev, betrayed the Communism which they themselves laid claim to: They were in fact defending the interests of the bureaucratic layer that usurped the revolutionary power founded by the workers and peasants in 1917. Putin, however, does not betray the values of the capitalist world to which he lays claims to, judging by the methods of other heads of state.

Nathalie Arthaud is the head of Workers’ Struggle and has insignificant support.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon (Left Front)

Declined to answer the questions of La Nouvel Observateur.

The leader of the French communists declined to answer the question. He is predicted to get about 13%.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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Despite the unremitting hostility of its Russian neighbor, which crescendoed in a military occupation of a chunk of its territories, plucky Georgia’s commitment to reform and democratic values will ensure its rapid development into a “booming Western-style economy.” Under its charismatic Western-trained President, Saakashvili, it has rooted out corruption, ushered in untold prosperity and freedoms, and left dictatorial Russia in the dust. ““There are barbarians there and civilization here,” summarizes Saakashvili himself, “There they have mongoloid brutality and ideology while here we have the true, the oldest Colchis Europe, the most ancient civilization.”

At least, that’s the picture you might have of Georgia if you read Saakashvili’s speeches, Western op-eds, Russian liberals like Cato Institute flunky and global warming denier Andrey Illarionov, and a sundry host of Georgian ambassadors and lobbyists shilling for all they’re worth in major Western newspapers. But rhetoric and reality can be two very different things. To what extent do objective indicators (e.g. statistics) bear out this neocon vision of Tbilisi as the shining city on the Caucasian hills?

By the numbers… Let’s start with the economy. Saakashvili deserves some credit for maintaining respectable GDP growth rates, albeit they are far from the awe-inspiring figures of China or, for that matter, several other post-Soviet republics. From 2004 to 2011, the Georgian economy grew at an average of 6.0% per annum, which is only modestly higher than Russia’s 4.5%.

However, this comparison becomes much more unfavorable once Georgian growth is adjusted for other factors. First, Russia is already much richer than Georgia – its GDP, however you measure it, is more than three times higher – so by basic economic theory, ceteris paribus its growth rate should be much higher as poorer countries have many more easy opportunities to increase productivity. (Illarionov, by the way, is ignorant of convergence theory, a fairly basic macroeconomic concept; it’s frightening that this “economist”, who is more accurately a libertarian ideologue, was once a major economic adviser to the Russian government). Second, Georgia had by far the biggest and sharpest decline in GDP during the early 1990′s of all the Soviet republics, and even as of this year, its gross output is still 20% below the peak levels of 1989. This should also, in principle, help Georgia grow much faster than Russia – which surpassed its peak Soviet-era output sometime in the mid-2000′s – because in a sense it is still “recovering” from an economic depression.

A much more appropriate comparison would be with Armenia. Both are in the unstable Caucasus region. Georgia has intermittently faced sanctions from Russia, whereas Armenia is under permanent economic blockade from Turkey and Azerbaijan. Unlike Azerbaijan, neither Tbilisi nor Yerevan enjoy an oil windfall. Their GDP per capita is almost exactly the same: About $3000 nominal, and $5000 in purchasing power adjusted dollars. Unlike Georgia, Armenia has recovered its Soviet-era production levels and then some; its GDP is now more than 50% as big as in 1989, so it is well past the period of mere “recovery growth”. Both countries suffered from destructive wars in the early 1990′s, and both remain highly militarized to this day. Nonetheless, with the exception of the past three years, when it was crushed by the economic crisis, Armenia has consistently clocked up higher GDP growth rates than Georgia. In sum terms, during the 2004-2011 period, both countries grew at approximately the same pace: 6.0% for Georgia, 6.3% for Armenia.

In the graph above, GDP per capita is indexed to 100 at 2003 for a range of post-Soviet countries. It is clear that Estonia and Armenia, despite their deep recent recessions, are highly successful transition economies; both are a lot more prosperous now than in 1989. Russia is only moderately successful. Along with Ukraine, Georgia is still well below Soviet-era peak output levels, and its growth under Saakashvili wasn’t exceptional by the standards of other post-Soviet republics, despite its twin advantages of starting from a low base (unlike Russia, Estonia) and still being in the process of recovering lost output (unlike Armenia).

Another relevant comparison is with the “corrupt” and “nepotistic” Shevardnadze administration from 1995-2003, which was overthrown to great fanfare in the “Rose Revolution”. What was Georgia’s growth rate then? 5.9%. That is within rounding error of growth under Saakashvili. It should furthermore be noted that growth was accelerating throughout Shevardnadze’s Presidency, reaching a peak of 11.1% in 2003. So there are valid questions as to the extent the high growth rates of the early Saakashvili Presidency were due to his neoliberal reforms.

What about life for ordinary people? There is no doubt that the average Georgian became significantly better off, as was the case everywhere in the former USSR during this period. Georgian statistics show nominal wages almost quadrupling from 2004-2010, from 157 lari to 598 lari per month, albeit adjusting for inflation would reduce it to only a bit better than a doubling.

However, higher wages can only be enjoyed by people who actually get them. During the same period, unemployment grew from 12.6% to 16.3%. Despite neoliberal reforms that undercut the bargaining power of labor, unemployment in Georgian urban areas – approaching 40% in the capital, Tbilisi – is now as prevalent as in the most impoverished provinces of the Russian Caucasus. About half of the Georgian labor force is “self-employed” in sustenance farming, which is a higher figure than two decades ago. In contrast, unemployment in both neighboring Armenia, and “corrupt” and “stagnating” Russia is around 6%-7%.

So bearing in mind actual statistics, does Georgia still deserve the status of a “miracle economy” conferred to it by libertarians and neocons? Don’t get me wrong, 6% is not bad. It’s no worse than under (maligned) Shevardnadze, and modestly better than the 4% average growth rates observed in Moldova, the very worst performer in the entire post-Soviet space. But even so, Georgia is not going to catch up with the developed world at its current pace of development – not like China, which has comparable income levels but is growing at 10% rates, or Russia, which is already three to four times richer.

Moving on, Georgia has also been lauded for excoriating previously endemic corruption, and becoming one of the world’s most “economically free” and business-friendly locations. The latter may well be true; objective ratings such as the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business, which measure the number of days and permission slips required to start a business, place Georgia 16th globally. This seems a genuine achievement, albeit as real world data shows, these things have at best only a marginal influence on economic growth rates, which are primarily determined by a country’s initial development level relative to the quality of its educational human capital.

On the Corruption Perceptions Index, Georgia improved its score from 1.8 in 2003 to 4.1 by 2011, which is a very significant change (in contrast, Russia languishes at 2.4, and Armenia at 2.6). But some Georgian businesses report government agents demanding political “donations” to Saakashvili’s ruling party to avert hostile raids, and in any case it must be borne in mind that the CPI is a proxy of corruption perceptions, not corruption realities per se. The CPI rating can thus be unduly influenced by good PR and lobbying. As a Western-trained lawyer, Saakashvili appreciates their importance, and has over the years paid millions of dollars to PR firms like Aspect Consulting, Orion Strategies, Public Strategies, and the Glover Park Group to burnish Georgia’s reformist, anti-corruption and democratic image abroad.

Other indicators that are not as reliant on the perceptions of anonymous experts show a somewhat different picture. In the Global Integrity Report, which is based on blind review, Georgia does only modestly better than Russia, scoring 76/100 as compared to Moscow’s 71/100. On the Open Budget Index, which assesses the transparency of government accounts, Russia actually does better, scoring 60/100 to Georgia’s 55/100. And according to Transparency International, the same outfit behind the CPI, the percentage of Georgians who reported paying a bribe in the past year in 2004 was only 6%; as of 2010, this had declined to 3%. A positive and appreciable change to be sure, but the data indicates that petty corruption was not that much of a problem in Georgia to start off with.

Didn’t Saakashvili at least democratize Georgia? Well, no. The fact of the matter is that Georgia was already a democracy under Shevardnadze, if a highly imperfect and illiberal one. The same remains true today. Unofficial protests are brutally broken up, independent TV stations have their licenses revoked, and opposition figures have their citizenships canceled or forced into exile abroad. Georgia has also become a revisionist and highly nationalist power under the charismatic President, whose actions have ranged from the petty and incompetent, e.g. blowing up a Soviet war memorial to Georgian war dead, and in the process killing a mother and her daughter in the blast, to the criminally deranged and incompetent, e.g. the invasion of South Ossetia and carpet bombing of Tskhinvali, even though virtually no Ossetian wants to live in a Greater Georgia.

If one doubts that Saakashvili is in fact rather far from being a nice liberal democrat, all one has to do is look at the indicators of political freedoms. In the Polity IV rankings, the most comprehensive democracy indicators database assembled by political scientists, Georgia increased from 5/10 to 6/10 on a scale from -10 (zero democracy) to 10 (full democracy) under Saakashvili. This is hardly the glorious transformation the Rose Revolution is often made out to be; nor is it very much different from the Evil Empire’s. Russia’s current score is 4/10, for whatever reason down from 6/10 after Medvedev’s election in 2008.

There are however two socio-economic indicators under Saakashvili that did register highly visible, concrete changes. If not for the better.

From 36% in 1991, the tertiary enrollment rate remained steady until the late 1990′s, when it began to grow, reaching 43% by 2003 and peaking at 47% in 2005. Then it plummeted to 25% by 2009, edging up to 28% in 2010. This seems to have been in substantial part due to an increase in the cost of annual university tuition from 500-600 lari in 2003 to 3000-4000 lari by 2009, an eight-fold increase far exceeding the quadrupling of salaries during the same period (even disregarding increased unemployment). Bearing in mind that the average salary was 557 lari in 2009, it is clear that for many families university education became unaffordable. Government grants have also plummeted: From wholly financing the educations of 9,700 students in 2003, by 2009 they were subsidizing only half the tuition costs of 1,000 students. University access has dropped by more than 80% in some regions.

This is particularly catastrophic for Georgia because international student assessments indicate that their schools are almost useless at imparting real world skills. According to PISA 2009, only “31% of [Georgian] students are proficient in mathematics at least to the baseline level at which they begin to demonstrate the kind of skills that enable them to use mathematics in ways that are considered fundamental for their future development.” The equivalent figure for Russia was 72%, and about 78% for the OECD as a whole. On Reading, Math, and Science, Georgian students came, respectively, 67th, 66th, and 70th out of the 75 countries in the PISA assessment. Other international student assessments paint a similarly dire picture. For instance, in TIMMS 2007, Georgian students got an average score of 410 in the Math component, relative to Armenia’s 499 and Russia’s 512. The gap is not substantially different in the Science component, or in the PIRLS 2006 literacy survey. This is unlikely to improve any time soon, as under Saakashvili, the number of public libraries more than halved.

While Georgia was disinvesting in its future workforce, tertiary enrollment has risen in Georgia’s neighbors. In Armenia, it rose from 24% in 1998 to 52% by 2010; the percentage of Russians undergoing university education rose from 55% in 2000 to 76% by 2009. That is because the leaderships of these countries, as in much of the rest of the civilized world, appreciate the importance of human capital to fostering economic growth. In Saakashvili’s world, presumably, praying to the souls of Hayek, Mises and Rothbard would suffice. More education is the road to serfdom.

But in the end, I guess it’s all a matter of priorities. The Georgian army and police are now well fed. Who needs math, science, and literacy anyway? “Military-patriotic education means training in civil defense,” Saakashvili says, “Stimulating soldierly spirit, which historically was always in nature of people in Georgia; as well as courses in Georgia’s military history” is what is really important. Hear hear? Meanwhile, the prison population has tripled from 182/100,000 in 2004, to 536/100,000 in 2011. Under Saakashvili’s democratic guidance, Georgia has acquired the dubious distinction of being the European country with the most prisoners per capita, displacing Russia (the irony!) in the process.

This is not to say that Georgia is a corrupt, stagnant tinpot dictatorship, its tottering foundations stabilized by huge inflows of American capital (though the latter sums, ranging in the billions, are very substantial relative to the tiny size of the Georgian economy). Saakashvili has maintained a mediocre level of economic growth, wages have risen substantially, and corruption has been reduced. Nonetheless, its performance is far less impressive than that of a comparable neighbor, Armenia, and on almost every socio-economic indicator it massively lags Russia. It is a democracy, but the quality of its democracy is not substantially better than that of Russia, which countless Western pundits describe as an authoritarian kleptocracy returning to the USSR.

In place of building the foundations for sustained long-term growth, Saakashvili has instead been busy undermining what little of it exists. No amount of reforms to make life easier for capitalists can compensate for the abysmal quality of the Georgian education system, and Saakashvili’s wanton curtailment of the only partial remedy for it, university access. He is at essence a blowhard, passable perhaps as a mercenary lawyer, but utterly unqualified for the work of statesmanship. He pontificates about building huge new cities on swampland (complete with “seven star hotels”), demands Slavic countries stop calling his country “Gruzia” as they have done for centuries, and arrests Russian tourists who dare holiday in his country for the mere suspicion of having passed through breakaway Abkhazia. Russian language schools are closed down, and the main Tbilisi boulevard is renamed in honor of G.W. Bush, while the latter was still President to boot!

What emerges of Saakashvili is a small, petty and vainglorious man, who blames all of Georgia’s problems on his “Mongoloid” northern neighbor and deflects all criticism of his ham-fisted rule by arresting the critics as Russian spies. He presides over “Potemkin Georgia”*, hyped as a tiger economy of the Caucasus by ideologues and paid-up PR men, but in reality fast becoming an isolated Cuba of the Caucasus.

If the good people of Georgia accede to this, it is of course their right as a sovereign people. It is also understandable that neocons who appreciate his irrevocably pro-Western science, libertarians dreaming of culling labor laws and defunding public services, sundry Russophobes operating on an the-enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend basis, and plain paid-up PR men would defend Saakashvili’s record. But it is also then incumbent on people of honesty and integrity to publicize the lies of his apologists (Andrey Illarionov, David Hamilton, Garry Kasparov, Valeriya Novodvorskaya and Vladimir Bukovsky, Giorgi Badridze, Randy Scheunemann, Jennifer Rubin, Eli Lake, Melik Kalyan, etc), and continue revealing Saakashvili for what he really is – an emperor with no clothes.

Because even if Saakashvili is hellbent on undermining the future of his own country, he should not be allowed to do the same again to Abkhazia or South Ossetia – or for Potemkin Georgia to be portrayed as a model of good and effective governance for other countries to follow.

* Yes, I’m aware that “Potemkin villages” are probably a historical urban legend. But as the term is regularly and uncritically used as regards Russia in the Western press, I don’t see the problem in turning the tables on them.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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Yes, this WAS the cover to one Economist issue.

It’s all so predictable. In its main piece on the elections, The Economist wrote:

And by some estimates vote-rigging added at least ten percentage points to Mr Putin’s tally. The main victim was Mikhail Prokhorov, a business tycoon and the only fresh face in the election. Officially he got 8%. His real vote was probably nearly twice that, says the League of Voters, a group set up by civil activists after a rigged parliamentary election in December.

Note that the “at least” (my emphasis) part is supposed to give the impression that Putin’s result may well have been less than the 50% needed to avoid a second round, thus making him illegitimate.

They totally glide over the inconvenient fact that the League of Voters observers were concentrated in Moscow, where the results are naturally lowest. Even Dmitry Oreshkin, the head of the project, is forced to admit this even if he does do a lot of weaseling about in the process: “Most likely, our sample isn’t entirely adequate.” As I showed in this post this is a detail that CARDINALLY changes the picture.

Furthermore, note two more brazen lies. First, the Economist asserts, “middle-class Muscovites… mostly voted against Mr Putin.” No, they didn’t; even in the richest neighborhoods Putin got 10% points more than their beloved Prokhorov.

Second, they make out that Putin is “not recognised as a legitimate president by a large minority of Russians and by a majority in Moscow.” Note their unstated (but self-evident) assumption that Russians who didn’t vote for Putin are so partisan and contemptuous of the democratic process that they would all refuse to accept the majority’s choice. Perhaps this describes some of The Economist’s idols like Navalny or Yulia “Pinochet” Latynina or Chirikova (We must dissolve the Russian people and elect another!” – Alex Mercouris, by way of Bertolt Brecht) but I for one think that far from all Russians who didn’t vote for Putin hate democracy.

Needless to say, for every straight out lie and misrepresentation like the above there are about ten different smears and aspersions. But what else can one expect of The World’s Sleaziest Magazine?

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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Analysis of the election data is now trickling in, so I feel I can now make some real preliminary estimates of the degree of fraud (eventually, I will compile a list of estimates as I did for the 2011 elections). My assessment is that in these elections it was on the order of 3%-4%, which is lower than my estimated range of the 5%-7% fraud in the Duma elections, but still far too high by developed country standards. The geographical distribution of fraud has changed significantly: Moscow actually appears to be very clean this time wrong (in stark contrast to 2011, and 2009). However, there were little to no changes for the better in the ethnic minority republics, which is where the great bulk of the falsifications are now concentrated.

The most reliable evidence, in my opinion, is the FOM exit poll which gave Putin a vote of 59.3% in contrast to the 63.6% official tally – a difference of slightly more than 4%. (VCIOM gave him 58.3%, but I consider it slightly less reliable: It polled 63 regions, to FOM’s 81, and the missing regions included places like Ossetia and Daghestan where support for Putin is higher than average – even if so is the level of falsifications). Below is a table of regional falsifications, courtesy of Kireev. As you can see, the highest discrepancies between official and exit poll results – and the only ones exceeds the margin of error – are now in Federal Districts with many national ethnic minority republics: North Caucasus (Daghestan, Chechnya, etc), the Urals (Tatarstan, Bashkortostan), and the South (Kalmykia, Adygea). Across Russia as a whole, the discrepancy was 4.3%, relative to 6.3% in 2011.

FOM exit poll Official Difference
Central FD 53.8 56.6 2.8
Northwestern FD 56.3 59.1 2.8
Southern FD 59.0 63.8 4.8
North Caucasian FD 68.4 82.7 14.3
Volga FD 61.3 68.1 6.8
Urals FD 64.4 67.0 2.6
Siberian FD 61.0 62.1 1.1
Far East FD 60.3 59.9 -0.4
Russia 59.3 63.6 4.3

Moscow May Not Trust Tears But It Does Trust Gauss

Readers of the blog will know that my assessment is that Moscow was marred by extensive fraud in 2011, with United Russia getting 30%-35% as opposed to its claimed result of 46.6%. Now Putin is always 10%-15% more popular than United Russia, so the very fact that he got virtually the same score – 47.0%, to be precise – in Moscow as did United Russia three months later is damning of the capital’s 2011 elections by itself. But there is also stunning graphical evidence of this, courtesy of Maxim Pshenichnikov. The graphs below show the votes for turnout (horizontal) vs. the votes for UR/Putin (vertical), in the 2011 election (left) and the 2012 election (right). Observe the vast change from two clusters in 2011, with the bigger one around 55% representing stations where there was fraud, and the very tight, elegant cluster around 45% representing the vote for Putin in 2012.

Question to everyone who expressed skepticism that there was mass fraud in Moscow in 2011: How would you explain this difference?

The ironic thing, of course, is that the cleanness of the 2012 elections implicitly condemn the results of the 2011 elections in Moscow. Nonetheless, its still a huge boost for Putin’s legitimacy, first and foremost because Moscow is the focal point of the protests against his rule. The protesters, at least at their local level, will no longer have a leg to stand on; nor will they be able to be able to parade about with signs like the one below.

Moscow trusts in Gauss, so they will now have to trust Churov too as the two now agree with each other.

Fraud in St.-Petersburg

The picture was far worse in St.-Petersburg, with it seeing significant falsifications to the tune of perhaps 5%-6%.

There appears to be little difference between 2011 and 2012; if anything, this year there were quite a few stations with close to 100% turnout and 100% pro-Putin votes, as shown by the cluster to the top right. There is also a second cluster at a turnout of 60% and pro-Putin vote of 80%; there, too, are falsifications beyond doubt, as they are all concentrated in just two Territorial Electoral Commissions and 32 identifiable polling stations. Beyond those two patently false clusters, the spread too is very suspicious, contrasting as it does with Moscow’s elegant oval.

Graphs For All The Russias

Again from the same source, the 2011 and 2012 elections visually compared.

As I argued in my epic post on statistical methods for detecting fraud, a positive correlation between turnout and votes for Putin, or United Russia, is not necessarily indicative of fraud (First, different socio-economic subgroups are known to have different electoral patterns in Russia under fair elections, e.g. rural areas have higher turnouts, higher votes for incumbents, and bigger spreads; Second, if this correlation were proof of fraud, one must then also conclude elections in Israel, Germany, and the UK are falsified too).

Nonetheless, they are useful in the sense that they can be compared from one year to the next. And as we can see above, overall 2011 seems to have been substantially more fraudulent; in particular, the unnatural cluster near the 100%/100% mark is both bigger and darker (i.e. denser) in 2011 than in 2012.

Furthermore, the center of the huge circle in 2012 – largely representing results from the ethnic Russian urban areas – is unambiguously above the 50% mark, at about the 55% point, compared to the official result of 64.6% (difference: 10%), which means that Putin definitely got enough votes to avoid a second round. In contrast, the center of that big circle was at around 30% in 2011, compared to the official result of 49.3% (difference: 20%). Though one cannot glean direct figures from this – again, urban ethnic Russians vote more uniformly and less enthusiastically for the establishment candidates – one can get a sense of the relative scale of fraud, and this back of the envelope calculation implies that overall fraud perhaps nearly halved in 2012 compared to 2011. As fraud was 5%-7% in 2011, with an absolute reasonable upper limit of 10%, this constitutes further support for my estimate that it was close to 3%-4% this time round.

More graphs for Russia as a whole:

Number of votes vertically, result for each candidate horizontally. Putin is dark red, Zyuganov is red, Prokhorov is green.

Prokhorov has an interesting bimodal distribution, because of the influence of subgroups: The bulk of the Russian electorate (first peak), then the urban metropolises of Moscow and St.-Petersburg (second bump).

Part of the “long tail” of Putin’s and United Russia’s results are because of fraud, however part of them are also the innocent result of, again, subgroup voting patterns, namely that of rural voters among whom turnout and support for Putin are both higher than in the urban areas.

Number of votes vertically, level of turnout at which they got those votes horizontally. Putin is dark red, Zyuganov is red, Prokhorov is green.

The above shows the turnout (horizontal) vs. the median vote for each party or candidate at that level of turnout.

Anyway you look at it, all graphs would suggest aggregate falsification was less in 2012 than in 2011.

The North Caucasus: Is It Fraud, Or A Communal Voting Culture?

The most egregious discrepancies come from the Caucasus. Whereas the exit polling evidence does indicate that Putin has very high “true” support at 68.4% in the North Caucasus Federal District – when one discounts the ethnic Russian region of Krasnodar (where he got 65%) then perhaps as high as 75% for the Muslim republics, the official results – 90%+ in all the Muslim republics, including 99%+ in Chechnya – are nonetheless incredible.

Kireev has a very interesting post on the mechanics of voting in Daghestan, where officially there was 91% turnout and a 93% share of votes for Putin. An observer watched one polling station via the http://webvybory2012.ru/ website, and as the station was equipped with a voting machine, it allowed him to calculate both the correct turnout and share of votes for Putin (i.e. by excluding the people throwing in more than one ballot). The results of those who voted fairly, with turnout at just 36.3% with Putin getting 60.3% and Zyuganov getting 28.1%, differed substantially from the official tally of 94.3% turnout with 84.7% votes for Putin and 10.8% for Zyuganov.

Of the non-standard voters, there were many people who turned up there with 2 or 3 bulletins, i.e. they were not “mass” ballot stuffers. The possibility exists that they were simply voting for absent family members, and as such that not all the “stuffed” votes in this category were for Putin. Then there were a few people who came in with big packs of bulletins, who really did fit the characteristic of ballot stuffers.

In their case however, my pet theory is that it may not be quite so much a case of nefarious fraud as a reflection of Daghestan’s and the North Caucasus ethnic republics’ voting cultures; namely, the practice of voting not by individuals but by teips, i.e. the clans that form the heart of Chechen, Ingush, and Daghestani society. The teip decides on a single candidate for the teip to support; Putin would get the nomination in almost every case (after all, the exit poll shows ordinary Daghestanis giving him twice as much support as the next nearest candidate, Zyuganov); and the headman would send a representative to vote for Putin on behalf of everyone in the teip.

The “non-stuffed” result in that station, with 36% turnout with 60% voting for Putin, may then represent the true “representative” feeling of urban Daghestani society, as expressed by its urban residents that are not closely affiliated to a teip. The other part of Daghestani society works on communal principles, that if you think about it actually – de facto if not de jure (because the practice is formally illegal under Russian law) – resemble the winner takes all “first past the post” system in the UK.

That said, I stress that this is a theory, an alternate way of looking at the voting in places like Daghestan, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria and Adygea that shines a slightly more positive light than the standard interpretation that their elections are marred by huge fraud; it is not fact. The possibility that communal voting is an accepted electoral practice in those regions is further supported by the presence of a similar phenomenon in local elections in Arab villages in Israel. The topic needs further research.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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Latest results are getting in that Putin got 63.8%. That a second round would be avoided was never really in serious doubt for the past month, nonetheless the election would still be important from several other perspectives, such as the level of falsifications (in particular, in comparison with 2011), and the relative performance of Zhirinovsky, Mironov, and Prokhorov.

I’m afraid there was still substantial fraud, greater than the 2%-3% I predicted (relative to 5%-7% in the Duma elections). The FOM exit poll gave Putin 59.3% (80,000 respondents, 81 regions), the VCIOM exit poll gave him 58.3% (159,000 respondents, 63 regions). That is a 5% point discrepancy that is too big to explain by their margins of error. In particular, the results from large parts of the North Caucasus remain as hopelessly ridiculous as ever.

That said, there were improvements, especially in Moscow. Putin got 48.7% there. This is close to, if still higher, than the 45.1% recorded in Golos observer protocols. The Citizen Observer initiative says he got 47%. (Recall that United Russia, which always lags Putin by 10%-15%, got 46.6% in Moscow in 2011, whereas Putin got only 2% points higher; this is further, if indirect, evidence of mass falsifications in 2011).

The Golos observer protocols gave Putin 54.7% nationwide. The average of observer protocols from all election monitoring organization gave Putin 50.7%, with some giving him less than 50% (one example is Navalny’s RosVybory project, which gave him a mere 49.0%). Overall, I trust the exit polls more. They are more accurate than observer protocols for sampling reasons. Exit polls try to cover the whole country, and FOM/VCIOM largely succeed. Observers are more concentrated in the more central, accessible areas, where Putin is less popular than average. Furthermore, observers in this election took special care to focus more on stations where there was evidence of fraud in 2011. As such, the effects of “bad apple” stations figure more prominently in their figures.

I prefer exit polls, post-elections polls, and statistical evidence. Grainy videos on YouTube where it’s impossible to work out what is happening, photos of lines of buses or big groups of “carousels” going about stuffing for Putin, etc are next to worthless. Speaking of those carousels, note that Moscow is a city of about 12 million. 75% are eligible to vote, and there was 60% turnout. This means there were about 5 million voters on March 4, 2012. You need tens of thousands of carousel workers and hundreds of buses (50,000 people, 1,000 packed buses = 1% for Putin) just to make the slightest uptick in the figures in support of Putin who has an unchallenged lead anyway.

In the courts, its been shown that whereas witness testimony is the type of evidence that is most frequently believed in by jurors, it is also the least objectively reliable. Same for these anecdotes about carousels and coerced voting. I view all evidence on these lines with great skepticism and recommend readers do the same.

Prokhorov did far better, getting more than 7%, than I expected, in significant part thanks to Moscow where even beat Zyuganov with almost 20%. Far more tellingly, perhaps, he only got 6% in Norilsk, where he is well-known as the owner of the nickel combine and main employer. Perhaps too well-known.

I was disappointed to see Mironov flopping, not even eking out 4%. Also a bit surprised, as I though he did very well in the TV debates. I guess most Russians disagree.

Overall, Western coverage hasn’t been quite as hysterical as in 2011, though if past experience is any guide things can change quickly for the worse (best example: First day coverage of the Ossetian war was actually fairly objective, only later becoming a propaganda fest in support of Saakashvili’s aggression).

Other things of note:

  • Putin crying
  • FEMEN booby protest. PS. A documentary on them.
  • Ballot stuffing in progress in Daghestan. The results at that station were annulled, but the 91% turnout and 93% Putin vote in that region indicates this was far from a isolated case.
  • Komsomolskaya Pravda: Караул! Лови фальсификаторов! An account of how the liberals have portrayed several things as falsifications (with “video evidence”) but which in fact were nothing of the sort. E.g., supposed “ballot stuffer” in Vladivostok was testing the machines before the start of the voting as required by regulation.
  • Georgia TV blasts Russia for fraud. Because Saakashvili is such a great democratist.
  • In case anyone was wondering why the Guardian censors users who support Putin and criticize its journalists, Luke Harding has the answer: “Many thanks for your comments! For those wondering why some have been deleted here’s Miriam Elder’s piece on Kremlin internet trolls.”
  • Mark Galeotti tweets: “Disgraceful! None of polling stations I’ve yet visited feature wheelbarrows of fake ballots, etc. Can’t they put on a show for a guest?”
  • On Mark Chapman’s blog, kievite calculates that US funds Russian opposition movement to tune of $500 million a year.
  • Alex Mercouris notes that the web cams were a genial idea.
  • The Wall Street Journalist (let me remind you, a plagiarist institution) resorts to outright, mendacious LYING to support its anti-Putin agenda: “Supporters were bused into Moscow to boost Mr. Putin’s vote in the capital, where his support has been below 20% in polls.” This is completely, utterly wrong. VCIOM predicted Putin 43.7% there; FOM, 45.0%. The real result was 47.0%, within the margins of error of both polls. Say one thing for the WSJ, though, they don’t censor my opinion there (unlike The Guardian).
  • CNN: “”The point of an election is that the outcome should be uncertain. This was not the case in Russia,” said Tonino Picula, the head of an observer mission from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).” – Erm, that’s not the point of an election at all, Mr. Picula.
  • Eminently satisfying to see Russia Today give Luke Harding, Miriam Elder, and Shawn Walker well-deserved drubbings for their smearing, lying ways.
  • Also courtesy of Moscow Exile I found this old post by Vadim Nikitin about Luke Harding’s plagiarism, which apparently extended well beyond riffing off the eXile and Kevin O’Flynn.
(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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Here it is: Reading the Russian election.

Please comment at their site, rather than here, if possible.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DvAYV6-ZN0I&w=480&h=360]

“Despite it being a sad and fearful prospect, in my opinion a totalitarian reversion for a certain period of time is possible. But the danger lies not in the law enforcement agencies, the power organs, and not even the Army, but in our own mentalities – our people’s, our population’s, in ourselves. It all seems to us – and I admit it, at times it seems that way to me as well – that if we restore order with a firm hand then our lives will become better, more comfortable, and more secure. In fact, this sense of comfort will pass by quickly, because that same firm hand will soon start to strangle us. We will feel it on ourselves and on our families. It is only under a democratic system that officers from the law enforcement agencies – whether they are the KGB, MVD, NKVD, or go by some other name – know that tomorrow could see a replacement of the political leadership in their country, region, or city, and that they would have to answer this question: “Did you comply with the laws of your country? How did you treat the citizens under your power?” – Vladimir Putin, 1996.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P6y-AgDvxnY&w=480&h=360]

“When Russia has no Tsar, there appears a Time of Troubles. When the supreme power weakens, civil war flares up. You understand, the precise name – Tsar, President, General Secretary, Chairman of the Supreme Council – has no relevance whatsoever. There has to be a strong power, a strong executive. If there is no strong power – there will be no united Russia, but constant wheeling-dealings, violence and reprisals.” – Boris Nemtsov, 1997.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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This is the Karlin Freedom Index for 2012, a political classification system I formulated more than a year ago in response to systemic bias on the part of traditional “freedom indices” such as Freedom House and The Economist Democracy Index (hint: they give massive bonus points for neoliberalism and pro-Western foreign policy orientations).

The explanation: Reconciling democracy with liberalism is really hard: since people are illiberal by nature, there is usually a trade-off between the two. The more frequent result is Semi-Liberal Democracy (describes most “Western” countries), which in turn can degenerate into a full-blown Illiberal Democracy (as did Russia around 1993, or the US and Hungary around 2011). Oligarchy is meant in the sense of rule by a few. It should be noted that some legislation ostensibly enacted to protect the public interest, such as libel laws, surveillance laws and anti-terrorist laws – in practice serve more to undermine liberalism. When they go too far, there appear Semi-Authoritarian states of permanent emergency. In the lower rung, Authoritarianism consolidates all political power unto the state (Semi-Authoritarianism tries to, but isn’t as successful). Totalitarianism extends the political realm over all spheres of life, bringing us into the realm of (Viereck’s) Metapolitics.

Liberal Democracy

  • Iceland – In the wake of its post-financial crisis constitutional reforms, this small country may claim to have the most direct democracy on Earth.
  • Netherlands
  • California (state government)
  • Germany
  • Finland
  • Sweden – Not as high as it might have been due to the politically-motivated prosecution of Assange.
  • Spain
  • Czech Republic


Semi-Liberal Democracy (tends to be corrupted by moneyed interests and/or other influential interest groups)

  • Canada – A good democracy, but a whiff of a downwards trend under Harper. ↓
  • Belgium
  • Italy – Not a personalistic regime once Berlusconi left, but not helped by the fact that an appointed technocrat now runs it.
  • Portugal
  • Australia
  • Brazil – Arbitrary power structures; extra-judicial murders.
  • France – Paternalistic; corporatist surveillance state; discrimination against minorities. ↓
  • Chile
  • Estonia – Has excellent Internet democracy ideas, but is hampered by discrimination against Russophone minorities.
  • Japan – Paternalistic; ultra-high conviction rates; no gun rights; but ceased being an (effectively) one-party state with recent election of DJP. ↑
  • Bulgaria
  • Mexico – Drug cartels challenge to the state may lead to curtailment of freedom. ↓
  • Switzerland – The last canton only gave women the right to vote in the early 1990′s, and the banning of minarets restricts religious freedom.
  • UK – Corporatist surveillance state; repressive libel & PC laws, regulations; no gun rights; strongly trending to Illiberal Democracy. ↓↓
  • India – Strong tradition of debate & power diffusion, marred by caste inequalities, privilege, political cliquishness, bottom-up free speech restrictions.
  • South Korea – Paternalistic; surveillance state; restrictive regulations, freedom of speech restrictions.
  • Poland
  • Indonesia
  • Latvia
  • Colombia – Pursued illiberal policies vs. FARC, but transitioned to a Semi-Liberal Democracy with recent transfer of power. ↑
  • Romania ↓
  • Argentina – New sweeping media laws bring Argentina close to the bottom of the Semi-Liberal Democracy rankings. ↓
  • Ukraine – In “anarchic stasis” since independence; arbitrary power structures; recently trending to Illiberal Democracy. ↓

Illiberal Democracy (tends to feature oligarchies and personalism)

  • USA – Highest prison population; corporatist surveillance state; runs transnational Gulag; increasingly arbitrary power structures; despite strong freedom of speech protections and surviving separation of powers, it can no longer be considered a Semi-Liberal Democracy after its formal legalization of indefinite detention under the NDAA 2012. ↓
  • Armenia
  • Israel – Severe national security-related civil liberties restrictions; growing influence of settler & fundamentalist agendas over the traditional Zionist foundation; severe new NGO laws, and discrimination against Palestinians makes Israel a downwards-trending Illiberal Democracy. ↓
  • Hungary – The recent Constitutional reforms in Hungary have effectively ended separation of powers, constrained the media, and established a basis for indefinite one-party dominance. It is now the only EU member to qualify as an Illiberal Democracy. ↓↓
  • Russia – Super-presidentialism with no real separation of powers; arbitrary power structures; surveillance state; and as recently shown, elections are subject to moderate fraud. However, new reforms (e.g. opening up of the political space), technical measures (e.g. web cameras at polling stations) and permits for opposition protests at the end of 2011 portend an upwards trend. ↑
  • Venezuela – Increasingly illiberal, especially as regards media laws. ↓
  • Thailand
  • Georgia – Arbitrary power structures; opposition protests broken up; main opposition candidate to Saakashvili stripped of Georgian citizenship.
  • Algeria
  • Turkey – Maintains severe restrictions on free speech (a country that has the world’s largest number of imprisoned journalists, many under bizarre conspiracy charges, can’t really be any kind of liberal democracy); ethnic discrimination; arbitrary power structures; paradoxically, both authoritarian & liberal principles strengthening under influence of Gulenists & AKP. ↓

Semi-Authoritarianism (tends to feature permanent states of emergency)

  • Egypt – Despite the revolutionary upheaval, the military retains wide influence and shoots at protesters in Cairo; this cannot be a democratic state of affairs. The future is uncertain. ?
  • Libya
  • Pakistan
  • Singapore – Overt political repression; repressive laws (esp. on libel); surveillance state.
  • Kazakhstan – Overt political repression; Nazarbayev is Caesar.
  • Azerbaijan – Overt political repression; Aliyev is Caesar.
  • Belarus – Elections completely falsified; overt political repression, and getting worse. ↓
  • Iraq – ↓
  • Iran – Overt political repression; though Velayat-e faqih has embedded democratic elements (under formal clerical “guardianship), in recent years, the system is strongly trending to Authoritarianism as the IRGC clan tries to wrestle the old clerics out of power. ↓

Authoritarianism

  • Vietnam
  • China – Overt political repression; no national elections (but exist at village level & in some municipalities); the Internet is restricted by the “Great Firewall”, but print & online getting freer to discuss issues unrelated to a few unacceptable topics (e.g. Communist Party hegemony, Tiananmen, etc); may implement new form of political model of “deliberative dictatorship”; trending towards Semi-Authoritarianism. ↑
  • Cuba – Overt political repression; pervasive Internet & media censorship.
  • Uzbekistan
  • Syria
  • Saudi Arabia – Overt political repression; pervasive censorship; very repressive laws; political Islam permeated everyday life, esp. in regard to women’s rights; one law for the Saud family, another for the rest.

Totalitarianism (the realm of metapolitics)

  • North Korea – Not much to say here.
(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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In the years since 9/11, the US has built a mosaic of national security powers that undermine its claim to be the “land of the free.” According to this useful summary by Jonathan Turley, these include: Assassination of its own citizens; warrantless searches; use of secret evidence and secret courts; the rise of an unaccountable surveillance state (more on that by Glenn Greenwald). This is in addition to hosting the world’s largest prison population (both in relative and absolute numbers), which includes what for all intents and purposes can be considered a transnational Gulag as part of its efforts in the endless-by-definition “war on terror.” At least for many Muslims and minorities, the US has already not been a liberal democracy for a long time.

But at what point can a country be considered to have definitively retreated from liberal democracy? After all, though much of the above are common to authoritarian states, they are sometimes present in liberal democracies too; and besides, the US does have some mitigating features (e.g. strong freedom of speech provisions that are relatively free from PC and libel laws, unlike in the UK and much of Europe).

The argument can be made that the US ceased being a liberal democracy on December 31, 2011 – the day the NDAA 2012 was signed into law by Obama. This legalizes the indefinite detention of US citizens by the military on the mere suspicion that the suspect is “associated with” terrorism or committed “belligerent acts” against the US or its allies. Bearing in mind the incredibly broad and flexible definition of what “terrorism” actually means, this could potentially encompass any number of anti-elite groups: Anonymous, Wikileaks, Occupy Wall Street, the Tea Party, etc.

AK Edit: Regrettably, all the old polls have gone.

Even if we are to (very generously) assume that this law will only be conscientiously wielded against genuine terrorists, there is room for doubt that indefinite detention is compatible with liberal democracy. After all, no other countries commonly considered to be liberal democracies – so far as I’m aware – have indefinite detention powers as sweeping as those contained in the NDAA. Even many countries considered to be illiberal democracies (or outright dictatorships), such as Russia, don’t have anything like it. And, of course, this assumption of good intentions is pollyannaish, given that the government has given no cause for trust whatsoever in this matter (what with the FBI setting up terrorist plots, the numerous cases of wrongful detention at Guantanamo, etc).

Of course, this is not to say that in a few years the US will come to resemble a tinpot dictatorship. Some historical perspective is necessary. Indefinite detention and imprisonment without trial aren’t unprecedented: See the 1950 McCarran Act, introduced at the height of the red scare, didn’t exactly lead to authoritarianism (though the US at the time was a great deal more illiberal that many care to admit). Furthermore, it’s also important to note that the NDAA legislation merely codifies powers that the executive has both claimed (through the AUMF) and exercised for the past decade, and besides it is only building on past efforts such as the flopped Enemy Belligerent Act of 2010; so one can argue that the change is not so abrupt as to constitute a crossing-the-Rubicon type of event.

Perhaps. Then again, there are caveats to that viewpoint too. The 1950′s-60′s were a period of fast growth and prosperity, so there was no real base for authoritarian regression. The prospects for the next decade don’t look anywhere near as good; in fact, they are downright dismal, and may well see some combination of high inflation and default. And democracy tends to wane in days of depression. Faced with challenges from the far left and the far right, the elites may find it necessary to consolidate a profoundly different social order, a post-constitutional Third Republic of sorts: One that is fiscally and socially conservative, and more authoritarian than the current one. To do this they will need to enlist the support of the billionaires; as far as this is concerned, the Wall Street bailouts, Citizens United and corporate citizenship, SOPA/PIPA, etc. may well be only harbingers of what is yet to come.

But this is all speculation. In the here and now, the fact of the matter is that the US now has national security laws on its books far more draconian than those of any other country considered to be a liberal democracy; indeed, I doubt you would find anything similar even in countries whose democracies are often criticized, such as Russia, Venezuela, or now Hungary. These laws apply to “terrorists”, a grouping every bit as ephemeral and ill-defined as “counter-revolutionaries” under Article 58 of the Stalinist lawcode. I have no choice but to lower the US from a “semi-liberal democracy” to an “illiberal democracy” in this year’s edition of the Karlin Freedom Index.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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Anatoly Karlin
About Anatoly Karlin

I am a blogger, thinker, and businessman in the SF Bay Area. I’m originally from Russia, spent many years in Britain, and studied at U.C. Berkeley.

One of my tenets is that ideologies tend to suck. As such, I hesitate about attaching labels to myself. That said, if it’s really necessary, I suppose “liberal-conservative neoreactionary” would be close enough.

Though I consider myself part of the Orthodox Church, my philosophy and spiritual views are more influenced by digital physics, Gnosticism, and Russian cosmism than anything specifically Judeo-Christian.