Russians Made Their Choice
Andrei Pravov, RIA Novosti political analyst
is not prepared to assimilate democracy. The nation is happier
with an authoritarian regime. It even prefers the rule of an emperor
or a tsar. This is how many foreign analysts have commented on
the March 14 presidential election results.
this is a lightweight assessment of what happened in Russia last
Sunday. This is probably because Western countries do not really
understand what is going on in Russia today and what has been
happening here for the past 15 years.
welcomed Gorbachev’s perestroika and the further course for democracy
set out by Boris Yeltsin. They were enthusiastic about the changes.
"Democracy" was a kind of vogue word in those days.
Post-Soviet Russia was also very enthusiastic about the ideas
promoted by the "young reformers." People pronounced
the names of Yegor Gaidar and Anatoly Chubais with great respect,
pinning great hopes on them for an economic breakthrough and,
hence, a rapid improvement of living standards.
things turned differently. As a catch phrase, which is ascribed
to Viktor Chernomyrdin, a prime minister in the 1990s, goes: "We
tried our best, you know the rest…"
economic theories of the West for "some reason" did
not work in Russia, which become increasingly clear with every
passing year. Many families had fallen below the poverty line
by the mid-1990s, when enterprises were being closed down countrywide,
and the employees at the surviving firms either faced wage arrears
or were not paid at all.
in the scientific, cultural, teaching or healthcare fields was
no longer prestigious in Russia. Businessmen of unclear origins
and often with criminal pasts, oligarchs, who had acquired enormous
wealth by pilfering public funds or through fraudulent privatisation
deals, emerged as the protagonists of the time. President Boris
Yeltsin, who was dubbed Tsar Boris, was surrounded by swindlers
fishing in troubled waters.
laden with stolen non-ferrous metals streamed towards Russia’s
western frontiers. Billions of dollars in oil profits were pocketed.
Deals were increasingly settled in "black cash," which
was a common term in those days.
first Chechen campaign, which was launched under Yeltsin, only
heightened society’s discontent with the government.
the late 1990s, the government had lost much of its popularity
with the nation. The once decent suit branded "democracy,"
which was made for Russia according to western patterns, had faded
a great deal. The word "democracy" began to be linked
to all sorts of disasters, both on the personal and national scale,
to impoverished retirees and homeless hungry children, rather
than long awaited freedom and economic prosperity.
is, therefore, hardly surprising that Irina Khakamada did not
win any massive voter support in the presidential election. Ms
Khakamada was a co-leader of the democratic Union of Right Forces,
along with Anatoly Chubais and Yegor Gaidar, instigators of the
highly unpopular privatisation campaign. Ms Khakamada simply could
not win the support of more than 3.8% of the electorate.
forces also performed rather poorly in comparison with previous
elections. Communist Party candidate Nikolai Kharitonov and nationalist-patriot
Sergei Glazyev were supported by an aggregate of some 18% of the
voters, largely elderly people, who are convinced that life was
better under Leonid Brezhnev. However, the younger generation
remembers food shortages and the Communist rulers’ hollow promises
of a better life.
Putin’s landslide victory shows that the country does not believe
promises, but judges a leader by his actions. According to the
Vremya Novostei newspaper, the main economic indices have grown
considerably over the past four years of Putin’s presidency. The
deep economic recession has finally given way to dramatic growth.
GDP has grown throughout the past 4 years (10% in 2000, 5.1% in
2001, 4.7% in 2002, 7.3% in 2003). Production has also gone up
(11.9% in 2000, 4.9% in 2001, 3.7% in 2002 and 7% in 2003), as
have real incomes and investments in fixed assets. The Central
Bank’s gold and foreign currency reserves grew from $12.5 billion
in 1999 to nearly $77 billion in 2003. The country has easily
paid the peak payments to its foreign creditors. In 2003, Russia
paid off more than $17 billion of its foreign debt. And there
is confidence that the debts will continue to be paid on time
in the future.
Russians understand that their country is still far from perfect.
The war in Chechnya is continuing, terrorists carry out bomb explosions,
while poverty and corruption still have to be tackled.
people are optimistic about the future, which can be seen in the
high voter turnout, 64.3%, at the election. This figure would
make some countries envious and only goes to prove that Russians
have made their genuine choice in the traditions of a democratic