In the discussion of the results of the Presidential elections in Russia, Sen. John McCain claimed the result was an insult to all Russians. Israel Shamir on the pages of The Unz Review claimed they were rigged just a little. Some pro-Western Russian critics argued that that the very fact that Putin received over 75 per cent of the vote proved that the election results was not normal, because in normal countries there usually are two candidates who run in close proximity and then follow in a run-off. In the view of this speaker, that in itself is proof of the democratic nature of elections.
The overall reaction of Western media is disbelief, suspicion of foul play or at best reluctant and cold reception of the fact. The smashing victory this landslide shows exactly the opposite. Russia is normal, rallied around its leader, and the West is in a deep domestic crisis. The run-off in France or close results in the USA or Germany or Italy are symptoms of a serious malaise or as one political scientist put it, turbulence in Western Democracy as a system.
Russian West-looking Liberals have habitually accustomed themselves to thinking that anything that is in the West is better. This kind of attitude is unfortunately very Russian or at least very typical for the Westernizing part of Russian intelligentsia.
Remember that in 1914 Russia’s educated society was almost entirely pro-Western. The Constitutional Democrats, the leading party then (Kadets) wanted Russia to be like France, the Socialists Revolutionaries wanted to overthrow the hated Tsarist regime and worshipped the Russian peasants as the repository of wisdom and goodness, and the Marxists of all varieties were inspired by the Western Marxist ideology of liberation. Lenin’s priority was not Russia but world revolution. Of course, there was a Stolypin, the murdered Prime Minister who wanted not great upheavals but Great Russia. Yes there was Petr Struve who claimed that Russian intelligentsia lacked gosudarstvennost or concern for the wellbeing of the state. He thought it was too destructive and mimicking of the West.
What is particularly repulsive in the reactions of these western critics, is the contemptuous disdain for the votes of millions of Russians. Who gave McCain the right to evaluate the wishes of the Russian people? Who is in crisis? Look at the Western democracies.
In France the totally new party En March of Macron won the run off against Marin Le Pen, the leader of the National Front, a party that wanted to shut down frontiers, restore French sovereignty and reconsider relations with EU and maybe even the Euro, scoring 30 per cent. 20 per cent of electorate were for the leftist Green party, also critics of the regime. The establishment parties of Socialists and Republicans all suffered losses. Macron offered no more than efficiency, integration with Germany, reform of the EU and stricter border controls. In other words, he offered a watered down version of the National Front platform, and seized the center of the political spectrum.
The run-off was not a sign of a stable democracy but a sign of a society in crisis, of deep divisions among the French over such issues as labor codes, immigration, EU, and integration with Germany. The fundamental crisis of the French society is in that they cannot afford to live the way they used to and are reluctant to face to the new reality, hence the desire to let Macron go at it again trying to do what Holland had failed to achieve.
The latest election was a total disaster for the ruling CDU party. From over 40 percent of the national vote it came down to slightly over 20. The SPD lost heavily too, The CSU in Bavaria was in open revolt about immigration policy. The winners were the Alternative for Germany, the Left and the Greens, i.e, the anti-establishment parties who do not like each other but all detest Merkel. Moreover, the coalition is deeply unpopular, as some SPD people are warning that that is a suicide course for the SPD, that it is going to keep losing voters if it stays with Merkel and yet they chose to keep doing the same, as they fear Alternative for Germany and the former Communists Die Linke. Is that a sign of a healthy political spectrum? No, it is a sign of turbulence, a sign of fragmentation and inability to form any government other than the one that lost all this support i.e. the grand coalition CDU/CSU and SPD.
The latest elections showed a rebellion of the electorate against the establishment. All the winners were anti-establishment: The Five star movement is leftist and anti-immigrant. The League is rightist and anti-immigrant and anti-EU and Berlusconi has joined with the right and anti-immigrant movement. The liberals and the European integrationists have lost miserably and Italy is, as they say, ungovernable with a huge debt, with a revolt against immigrants, with a rift between North and South and with a political system what is basically discredited. Is that something to be admired? Is that a healthy stable democracy?
USA: a shining example of democracy for Russian western looking liberals.
The US political system is likewise in crisis. Many people wore a sign: Not my President. The courts overruled the President’s executive orders. The Congress technically in the hands of Republicans is in fact pursuing the Democrats’ agenda of incriminating the President of some kind of collusion. The FBI is alleged to have spied on a Presidential candidate. Government high-ranking officials lied to Congress in favor of their party affiliation. The Democratic party nomination process was manipulated; the super delegates picked a pre-arranged candidate. Clinton broke the law and got away with it. The Justice department covered up the email investigation. The Pentagon ignores the President and is on its own in Syria. Are these signs of a normally functioning democratic system? No, these are all signs of a crisis of dysfunction in the American political system. These are signs of turbulence, gridlock, and powerlessness of the President
Here you have a government that is committed to Brexit by a public referendum but in fact, the ruling party or at least its half wanted the opposite result. You have a deeply divided society: some want Brexit, other want to stay, but all want to keep their pound sterling and their sovereignty. You have both major parties who have reluctantly accepted referendum results, but are procrastinating in its implementation without having any clear policy. The issue of Irish border is unresolved, the issue of Scotland independence is dormant for now ready to explode at any new crisis. The trade relations with EU are not resolved; the relations with US are on hold. Are these signs of a stable democratic government? No, these are signs of a crisis, of malaise, of indecision and of turbulence.
Despite all these signs Western observers point a fingure at Russia as having some kind of impure democracy or worse a rule of a bloody dictator, poisoning innocent spies on British soil. Continued adoration of Western democracies by Russian so called liberal westernizers is simply pathetic. They either do not know or refuse to know or are deliberately blind to what is unfolding in Western countries.
Now let us turn to Russia. What the critics just cannot comprehend is that the Russian people do not want them. Navalny urged the EU not to recognize the elections because he was not allowed to run. What arrogance. Does he think that if he was allowed to run he would have won? No way, he has nothing to offer, just rallies, empty words that everything is bad, that you see corruption, theft, and no choice. These are the favorite themes of those so called democrats.
So let me remind them what was real corruption, what was real theft and what was real no choice before Putin.
When they were in power, the Westernizers, the friends of America, the free marketers, in the early 1990s, they plunged the country into shock therapy: prices skyrocketed, people lost their life savings. Factories closed, salaries were not paid, and starvation and poverty hit the country. Criminal gangs divided up the peoples’ property. A bunch of oligarchs privatized what was built over the Soviet years. Suddenly, there appeared huge corporations with Western participation that began to own Russian natural resources: Russian aluminum, steel, everything. Tens of billions of stolen assets were moved overseas through a myriad of off shore schemes. The Westernizer rulers of Russia proved themselves to be stooges of Western companies, thieves and robbers of natural resources. Elections showed a dozen parties of all kinds including for example the Love beer party. In the provinces, power was usurped by mafia bosses, criminal gangs, who terrorized opponents, killed journalists, turned kindergartens into private mansions, created private armies that disregarded local police. In some places they turned police into auxiliary criminal force.
The country descended into chaos, rape, murder skyrocketed, birthrate fell, pensions unpaid, education collapsed, army was taken over by a selling spree on a worldwide scale. Military plants stayed idle, and so many talented engineers left the country.
In politics there was a president who opened live fire on the parliament and had it stormed with hundreds killed. Constitution was altered without any proper procedure. The Constitutional Court was ignored and disbanded. The elections of 1996 were stolen, and to add humiliation to national pride the Russians saw their president drunk, conducting an orchestra playing for Russian troops departing from Germany. On top of it all, the President started a disastrous war in Chechnya, a real war inside the Russian Federation borders. The West applauded and received him in the White house and cheered him as a true leader of Russian democracy. Were they blind? Why did they refuse to see what was going on in Russia? Probably because deep down, they loved it. Russia was destroying itself and that was good for what was thought to be a coming American Century.
Russia was disappearing as a nation. Its future and very survival was in doubt. The demographic situation saw steady decrease of population, steady fall of birth rates and increase of death rates and massive outflow of people and capital to the West.
Western banks got Russian money and Western firms got Russian specialists. In this catastrophic situation comes VLADIMIR THE SAVIOR.
Yes he was not alone. Yes, the ouster of Yeltsyn was probably done through difficult negotiations and powerful political forces behind the scenes. But the result was that Russia received a new government that started to put humpty dumpty together again. Slowly, step by step, without rough quick moves, He recreated what he called the pivot of power. Russia received a state that began to fulfill its functions: to restore law and order, to cleanse the police, the army and the bureaucracy. New economic policy legitimized the questionable privatization in exchange for stopping or curbing capital flight and acceptance of the principle Primacy of the State. Oligarchs’ power was broken, some of the worst ones, fled the country, others accepted new rules of the game, those that did not, were jailed. Mafia bosses in the provinces were replaced; salaries were beginning to be paid, pensions likewise. The law was beginning to be taken seriously for the first time since the Bolshevik revolution.
It was an uphill battle and at every stage and every year we heard the same story from the so called liberals, still too much corruption, still too much theft. The implicit answer was patience and hard work. To uproot corruption it was necessary to create new ethical norms and those would come with new pride in the nation, with positive example from peers and enforcement of law for all, not for the privileged few.
What Putin has accomplished or what Russia has accomplished since 2000 is astonishing. It amounts to a political, economic, and moral revolution. Any aspect of Russia’s existence you take, you see measurable progress. The standard of living has grown, pensions are payed, factories are working, and unemployment is lower than in most European countries. Life expectancy has steadily increased, birth rates have increased, and incomes have increased. Education is back, Russian research and development is back again, one of the best in the world and not staffed by foreigners who flock to Silicon valley, but staffed by Russians educated in Russia.
Military technology made a breakthrough of historical significance. For the first time ever Russia has weapons superior to those of the US, not to mention Britain, France and Germany combined.
For the first time in a hundred years Russian agriculture is producing for export and for the first time ever, Russia exported more grain that the US.
Russian culture is flowering again, the spurt of creativity is breath taking. Look at the Russian theater, more than 30 plays in big cities every single day with a repertoire that changes daily. By contrast in Washington there is one theater Arena Stage and in Boston-Cambridge also one, Repertoire theatre. In New York you have mostly the same musicals that run for months. In most American cities, there are no theatres at all. Russian dance, ballet, songs, and poetry is back again as in the good old times. Russia is experiencing a true new renaissance. Most importantly, for the first time since a long time Russians can be proud to be Russian. They do not need to look at accomplishments of the West. For the first time in its history Russia can show that what it has is truly Russian, unique and beautiful, a unity of the nation that has overcome a very difficult period. Putin’s victory is much much more than a victory of a candidate in elections. It is a triumph of the nation that found strength to come together again to find unity and rally around the leader who saved the country from the abyss it faced.What the western critics do not comprehend is that Russia has overcome its turbulence, has come out of the crisis, has discovered a new path.
Of course it is not just Putin. It is the creativity of the nation. It is the talents of millions, it is the Presidents’ team. But still, the leadership counts for a lot. Look at our ex-Soviet neighbors. Ukraine is still in the hands of the thieves and oligarchs. Worse, it was hi-jacked by neo-Nazis. Look at the Baltics, that like to think of itself as a success story. In fact, these republics are ruled by scared nationalistic elites that had sold out national sovereignty to Germany and US. Their young people are fleeing as soon as they have a chance to wealthy Europe. They are totally dependent on Western investment Western everything. Is that the independence they sought? Moreover, they are deluding themselves that they are ahead and they are free and that beyond is wild uncivilized Russians. I once talked to a neighbor in the airplane to Vilnius and he seriously was telling me that they Lithuania were the last bulwark against the Russian hordes, ready to jump onto Europe. Truly, I was disappointed in Vilnius: it looks like a provincial Soviet town, sleepy and deserted. Coming to Moscow after Vilnius is like coming to New York from Oklahoma.
So Russia under Vladimir the Savior has accomplished unimaginable. When I was young in the 1970s Soviet Union we dreamed of a Russia free from aging gerontocracy of Soviet regime, free from censorship, a country of freedom, prosperity and democracy. Well now the dream is pretty much come true. Russia is free and sovereign and proud and strong, everything one can dream of. One has to be either stupid or blind not to see it.
Dr. Brovkin is a historian, formerly a Harvard Professor of History. He has published several books and numerous articles on Russian History and Politics. Currently, Dr. Brovkin works and lives in Marrakech, Morocco.