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Illarionov on Free Society in Russia

Oregon Magazine has reprinted some extracts of this speech by Andrei Illarionov delivered at Michigan’s Hillsdale College in the fall of 2006. illarionov.jpg Andrei Illarionov, a former top economic advisor to Vladimir Putin, resigned in protest to Russian government policy in December, 2005.

“Constitutionalism in the Western tradition does not mean-as it does in my own country- having a written constitution, regardless of its content. True constitionalism requires the limitation of goverment by law. A government can be considered genuinely constitutional only if it operates under the following constraints: (1) The legislature cannot be dismissed by any body or person other than itself. (2) The courts are independent of the legislative and executive branches. (3) The executive branch cannot appoint ministers without the approval of the legislative branch. (4) Only the legislature can pass laws. It is not easy to find such constitutionalism in my country. Our legislative branch was dissolved in October 1993 by presidential decree. Russian courts are independent of the legislative branch, but they are subordinate to the executive. Ministers are simply appointed by the president. While it is true that the legislature makes laws, in the last seven years tdhere has not been a single executive desire that the Parliament has not passed into law. Thus it is not right to say that constitutionalsim is failing in Russia…Russia has yet to attempt it. Freedom is not a luxury. It is a very powerful instrument, without which no person and no country can have sustained prosperity, security, development or respect. Free countries are certainly more prosperous… During the past 30 years, free countries doubled per capita income. By contrast, non-free countries reduced per capita income 34% on average. Freedom also provides security. This is true for external security and for domestic security…free countries have lower mortality rates from violent crime. Compare the United States, Western Europe, Canada on the one hand, and non-free countries like Rwanda, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and North Korea on the other. Freedom’s benefits are obvious Freedom enhances economic, political and military strength. Compare countries with similar population sizes but different levels of freedom. Which are economically more powerful? Spain or Sudan? Australia or Syria? Belgium or Cuba? Canada or Myanmar? The Netherlands or Zimbabwe? Taiwan or North Korea? Finland or Libya? Freedom also leads to greater international respect. To which country do people immigrate? The lack of freedom creates an insurmountable barrier to economic growth. Spain, Portugal, Greece, Taiwan, South Korea and Chile are recent and prominent examples of successful economic growth with freedom. In Iran, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia and Iraq, economic growth is lower than it was three decades ago, by 10, 30, 40 and 80%, respectively. Lack of freedom always destroys wealth. The story of destruction of freedom in my own country (Russia) should be told. First, there was an assault on the people of Chechnya…then there was an assault on the Russian media. As a result, the media lost its independence and now the censors are turning their attention to the Internet. Then there was an assault on private business, which has lost its independence and is subjugated to the caprice of executive power. Then there was an assault on the independence of political parties. Now independent national political parties cease to exist. Then there was an assault on the independence of the judiciary. Now there are no more independent courts or judges in Russia. Then there was an assault on the election of regional governors. Today they are appointed by the president. Then there was an assault on the independence of non-governmental and religious organizations. As a result, Russia has ceased to be politically free. The Russian government could form a bond with other countries that have recently destroyed the fundamentals of good government by partnering with Nepal, Belarus, Tajijistan, Gambia, the Solomon Islands, Zimbabwe and Venezuela. The Russian government continues its assaults on freedom. Inside our country the government has started a campaign against human rights. New detachments of storm troopers…Nashi, Mestnye and Molodaya gvardiya, are being trained to harass political and intellectual opponents of the Putin regime. Elections in 2007 and 2008 will see the days for these storm troopers. Russia now subsidizes allied regimes Beyond Russian borders, Russia provides economic, financial, political, intellectual and moral support to leaders of such non-free nations as Belarus, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Myanmar, Algeria, Iran and Palestine. At the same time, Russia is attempting to destroy hard-won freedom in neighboring countries such as Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova with hostile policies involving visas, free trade and energy. What do the non-free nations have in common? War, in which governments take away property and destroy society, in which government sends people to camps or kill them solely because they have a different perception of the world, of faith, of law and of their homeland. Only through hatred, fear and violence can these governments hold on to what is dearest to them-absolute power. Without freedom there can be no open discussion of topics of importance. There is an exclusion from public life of conversation about the most important matters. This primitizes public life, degrades society and weakens the state. The politics of non-freedom are the politics of public impoverishment and of the retardation of a nation’s economic growth. The greatest lesson of Russia’s most recent history is that freedom is indivisible. The failure of freedom in one sphere makes it harder to defend freedom in other areas. The fall of freedom in one nation is a blow to global freedom. The inability to defend freedom yesterday comes back to haunt us at a great price today and an even greater price tomorrow. What position should free countries take regarding Russia’s growing authoritarianism? The West had a great opportunity to deny access to its capital markets of assets stolen from the large private company, Yukos. This did not happen. The July 2006 G-8 summit in St. Petersburg could also have been used to emphasize the distinction between leaders of the free world and those of non-free Russia. Nothing was done. Failure at the Summit The G-8 summit can only be interpreted as a sign of support by the world’s most powerful organization for Russia’s leadership-as a stamp of approval for Russia’s violation of individual rights, the rule of law and freedom of speech, its discrimination against non-governmental organizations, nationalization of private property, use of energy resources as a weapon and aggression toward democratically oriented neighbors. By going to St.Petersburg, leaders of the world’s foremost industrial democracies demonstrated indifference to the fate of freedom in Russia. We pray the G-8 summit failure has not inspired today’s dictators and tomorrow’s tyrants. This summit failure has encouraged the Russian government to revoke licenses of American and British energy companies on Russian soil. A new Cold War era threatens. Let me conclude by quoting Winston Churchill about another great war for freedom: I would say to the House, as I said to those who have joined this government: I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tear and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. . You ask, what is our policy? I can say: it is to wage war, by sea, land and air with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival. That war for freedom was won. We may yet win, indeed we must win, this current war. But to win, we must work together.