Can Russian democracy grow up?

The nature of the post-election protests indicate that maybe Russian democracy is moving out of adolescence into adulthood, but like any teenager, it needs wise parents.

The principal paradox of the post-election protests in Russia is that they united people with different and even antagonistic views. During the protests, the rootless cosmopolitans and radical nationalists were standing cheek-by-jowl; the Communists’ red banners were fluttering close to human rights activist’s white flags. Portraits of Che Guevara were flanking images of Orthodox saints.

So, who will take power if the slogan “Russia without Putin” comes true? Will there be a battle for supremacy among the opposition forces?

Analysts and observers hope that this will not be the case. The reason for this hope is that the goal of the protestors is not struggle for the power among certain political forces, but establishing truly democratic institutions and tools for free expression.

For Russia’s creative class, the main challenges the nation faces are the limited rights of individuals to express their will, the fact that the courts are controlled by the government and that censorship is rampant in the mass media. They also object to the lack of civil freedoms, to the fraud and corruption brought about by the above.

It is true that perfect democratic institutions have not been established in post-Soviet Russia during its two decades of existence. There are a variety of different arguments to explain what has hampered their development. Some insist that the machismo of the nation’s leaders is to blame; others claim that these imperfect institutions are necessary to preserve the country’s integrity and sovereignty, and still others say that the criminalization of business and destructive high-handedness of local placemen has created corrupt institutions that cannot now be easily reformed. Perhaps, there is some truth in all of this. All of them are symptoms of the immaturity of Russian democracy; it is like a teenager trying to determine what kind of adult it will become.

Let us hope that the adolescent has wise parents, who will nurture it with thoughtful dialogue and purposeful arguments rather than shutting it down with loud, shallow declarations; and that in such discussion, a mature state will emerge despite its turbulent childhood.

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