ISSUE 4-2010
Александр Пилецкий Богдан Олексюк
Pavel Venzera Женя Снежкина
Алена Гетьманчук
Petr Vagner
Владимир Воронов

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the articles and/or discussions are those of the respective authors and do not necessarily reflect the official views or positions of the publisher.

By Pavel Venzera | Researcher in Politics, the Czech Republic | Issue 4, 2010

      Let’s start this short reflection on various President Medvedev’s ideas about democracy and modernization in Russia with a short chronology of a little more than thirty days in today’s Russia:

  • 30 November 2010  – President Medvedev’s Address to the Federal Assembly
  • 24 December 2010 – President Medvedev live with the heads of three federal TV channels
  • 25 December 2010 – President Medvedev congratulates Alyaksandr Lukashenka on his re-election   
  • 30 December 2010 – Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev are sentenced to a term of 14 years in the colony
  • 2 January 2011 – Boris Nemtsov is sentenced to 15 days in jail

      Keeping mentioned facts in mind let’s now open Medvedev’s speech and let’s start reading. Medvedev’s performance brought back a role of general secretary of the Communist party of the U.S.S.R with a reformist “aberration”. It was something like Gorbatschev’s speeches and there are several serious reasons to think that Medvedev’s destiny could be the same if he does not change his policy and does not try to overtake the real power in his hands.
      Medvedev’s speech was based on the care about young generation.[1] In details the President enumerated single measures which should be realized in the near future. He returned back to this topic in the end of his speech once again. Nothing against the care about the future but Mr. Medvedev forgot to ask himself in which society the new generation should grow up. Should it be today’s Russia with a corrupted and authoritative regime or will it be a new Russia standing on democratic values?
      An answer to this crucial question cannot be found in Medvedev’s address. We can find there words about necessity to struggle with pirates, we can find there a lot of words about various topics but we cannot find there any word about the condition of democracy and its perspective in Russia. However, the President recalled his speeches on this topic which he held in 2008 and 2009.
      He mentioned his speeches but he did not say a word about progress or regress in this sphere. Is it possible that he forgot his own words which sounded in the speech in 2008 like:
      People were still asking themselves whether or not democracy was the road forward for Russia. Today the answer is clear, democracy is the way forward, and no one disputes this now. The question today is how Russia’s democracy should continue its development.”[2]
      He should remember it. But in this case how to explain such a strange absence of this topic in his address? There could be at least two explanations: the President thought that the situation in this sphere was not so bad and it was not necessary to speak about it. Something in the style: We are building our democracy with episodic hiccups but we are moving in the right direction. But during live with heads of federal channels the President demonstrated that he was aware of the life in the country and therefore this variant was not too probable.
      Thus the second explanation might be that Mr. Medvedev knows very well in what condition Russian democracy is and he did not want to sound ridiculous speaking about specifics of democracy building in Russia. At the same time he would have to acknowledge that his intentions announced in 2008 and 2009 failed. His answer to the question why, could be very interesting. As long as we believe that the President would like to build democracy in his country then the answer is simple: he is not strong enough to get his way.
      The President did forget to speak about democracy but the word modernization was repeated many times. This time the Medvedev´s magic word modernization was not connected with democracy but rather with the modernization of the army. This step is possible to take as a President’s effort to calm down the army. Reforms of the army are being prepared and if Mr. Medvedev wants to stand as a candidate for the President next time he cannot be in the argument with the army. Announced substantial salary-boosting in the army can be evidence that Medvedev understands this fact very well.   
      When we focus on the second issue in which the world is interested, i.e., foreign policy, the President said more. The pirates were mentioned above and further parts can be termed as standard. In foreign policy part of Medvedev’s speech the word modernization was also repeated, for example, together with the word investment. The President hopes that new technologies and investments will come to Russia as soon as possible but problems can emerge there. Courts corrupted with money as well as orders given by state representatives are not very attractive the investment encouragement. Once again demonstrated Khodorkovsky case is a very telling example in this context.
      A very strange treatment of political opponents in Russia can also have an impact on foreign policy. After Boris Nemtsov’s arrest, who is one of the leaders of Russian opposition, daily Washington Times published the article with title which connected this arrest with US-Russia relationship: Russian activists arrested after 'reset'. An author wrote:Russian authorities detained one of the country's leading opposition figures less than two weeks after the U.S. Senate ratified a key arms-control treaty that the White House promised would help reset ties with Moscow. “[3]
      The Russian President calls the U.S. President Barack and repeats that Obama is molodets but events like a new sentence of Khodorkovsky or arrest of Nemtsov provide Obama´s opponents with very serious arguments that it is impossible to take Russia as democratic country. It should have appropriate consequences.
      Also the support, however demure, of Belarusian President Lukashenka can be evaluated negatively. There are not any doubts that Medvedev does not like Lukashenka. The congratulation on his re-election is compound from one sentence only and it is not placed on Kremlin web site[4] but a congratulation and comment made by Medvedev[5] show that Russia in the future will support the last totalitarian regime in Europe. At least until it will not be invented the way how to substitute Lukashenka for a person more convenient for Kremlin. On the other hand batka in the corner, economic weak and separated from Europe does not present a bigger problem for Moscow.
      Observing Medvedev´s behaviour in this case, one does not have to have too tenacious memory to recall how Medvedev reacted on much smaller sins committed by former Ukrainian President Viktor Yuschenko. But there was problem that the Ukrainian President was not, using words of the classic, our bastard.
      Although, sometimes that what was not said can sounds louder than that what was said it would not be true to make a conclusion: Medvedev did not speak about democracy, it means he resigned. This article is not going to plunge in a deep water of kremlinology, which was resurrected with the Putin´s coming into Kremlin, but it is not very difficult to notice differences in Medvedev’s and Putin’s behaviours and their attitude towards democracy building in Russia.
      Let’s take only an example when Medvedev´s from his own initiative started, during mentioned live, discussion about condition of freedom of speech in today´s Russia. It was an interesting picture: heads of channels stated that they had nearly total freedom comparable with any developed democratic country and the President repeated that he thought that the situation was not good.
      Of course, it is possible to explain that Medvedev tried to say that Putin is preferred in federal TVs but there is also a possibility to see in it his effort to change something because the level of Russian mass-media returned to the level at the beginning of perestroika. For Putin this face of matter is more advantageous than for Medvedev. For Medvedev more freedom of speech in mass-media could be a certain chance how to change proportion of power. Putin does not like unpleasant questions and if freedom of speech existed in Russia it would be possible to ask such questions and discuss touchy subjects. His aureole would disappear faster than it is disappearing now.
      Without another dose of kremlinology we could conclude that more democracy in the Russian society could strengthen Medvedev’s position. He should understand it and try to help develop the democratization process.
      There are no doubts that more and more people are disgusted and fatigue with Putin. More and more people represented a real Russian elite publicly express their critique of Putin´s regime. They know very well what Putin´s repeated coming into Kremlin would mean. These all people are ready to support Medvedev minimum as a lesser evil. It will depend only on him if he is brave and clever enough to use this potential or he will be satisfied with a possibility to become, maybe, Prime Minister again.
      He should get rid of Putin´s accent. Figurative, but also literally. A certain stage of the emancipation could be noticed during the monitored period. Discussing with heads of federal channels Medvedev managed to speak in normal way without a strange putting of stress à la Putin. His expression became more attractive because it was natural. Recalling the first Medvedev´s performances as a President it was difficult to distinguish who was speaking. He looked as a clone of his creator. A certain change can be seen now.
      Another interesting moment was possible to notice in his address. All expressions as “following my instructions, the Government adopted a plan”; I’m instructing the Government to direct...“; “
I want the Government to prepare necessary amendmentsor “I give the Government one month to prepare[6] can be taken as an effort to show that a certain amount of power is also present in Kremlin. During the meeting with heads of regional channels in the connection with Khodorkovsky a clear critique of Putin was evident: “No government official, and this includes the president, has the right to state their position on this - or any other case - until the verdict – be it an acquittal or a guilty verdict – has been voiced.”[7]
      It was not the first critique of Putin which was done by Medvedev. Each critical notice addressed to the government is actually an indirect critique of Putin. The statement that there is not freedom on TV heads in the same direction. Based on these facts we cannot clearly say that Medvedev will contest with Putin in election of 2012, although, the information that he would run already published.[8] But it is evident that Medvedev is going on through emancipatory process. How far he will get that is the question.
      If he wants to succeed he should look for support not only in the establishment he should find way to democratic forces in the Russian society. He and his team should realize Medvedev makes impression more intellectual man than Putin, his behaviour in public is more natural without often ridiculous effort to be number one and first of all he has not had behind him various very problematic acts as his colleague has had.
      As long as he would manage to join these pluses with possible support of democratic part of the society and his own emancipation will continue he should not be without chance in 2012. In his case now a condition the quicker the better governs very urgently.


[1] This topic Medvedev also underlined during his live with heads of federal channels
[2] Address to Federal Assembly, 2008. 
[3] Lake, E., Russian activists arrested after 'reset', The Washington Times, 3 January 2011.
[4] Press-agency RIA Novosti had to make a special task to the Presidential administration whether President or not.
[5]  “Russian President Dmitry Medvedev believes that the presidential elections in Belarus belong exclusively to the ‘internal affairs of Russia’s neighboring state’. However, he has voiced hope that Belarus will follow on the path to democracy.”
[6] The President used such and similar expressions seven times and in his speech we can find also a critique of government.
[8] „A top Kremlin official said on Friday Russian President Dmitry Medvedev intends to seek re-election in the 2012 presidential poll. ´I think it will be clear to anyone who looks carefully at what Dmitry Medvedev is doing, that he wants to stay on for a second term,´ Russian presidential aide Arkady Dvorkovich told the BBC Russian service in an interview.





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Женя Снежкина
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