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Medvedev’s Five Shades of Ambiguity

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As promised, here’s more from the recent Yaroslavl Forum. On Friday, Russia’s titular head of state revealed his definition of “democracy” to the assembled political scientists. Even after carefully reading our exclusive translation from Vedomosti several times over, we still can’t quite figure out what exactly the “five” features are. We did find the statement that people living in a democracy need to be aware they are living in a democracy to be charming, given that, as is so often the case, things in Russia are just the opposite: many Russians think they’re living in a democracy when they’re actually not. Among the more unusual of the features of a true democracy à la Medvedev, along with a high level of culture, is the state’s ability to protect the population from corruption. Funny, we’d always thought that what makes a democracy a democracy is the population’s ability to protect the state from corruption by voting the bastards out and ensuring that the criminal justice system locks them up where they belong.

Either way, it’s a hell of a measuring stick the government has selected for itself.

Medvedev names the five features of democracy

Natalia Kostenko
Dmitry Dmitrienko
Vedomosti
10.09.2010, 17:41

On Friday at a meeting with political scientists at the International forum in Yaroslavl president Dmitry Medvedev shared his thoughts about democracy. In his opinion, this type of political order has five principal features, however Russia at the given moment corresponds to them «not all the way».

In the words of Medvedev, in order for a country to be able to be considered democratic, world humanistic ideals must be embodied in it, while the state must be capable of protecting the population from global criminal threats, ones like narcotrade, terrorism, corruption, unlawful migration, and support a high level of technological development of the economy. Poverty is a «threat for democracy», maintains the head of state. Besides that, people in a democratic country must possess a high level of education and culture, and they must also be convinced that they are living in a democratic society. «The more educated a person, the higher the level of his culture, the freer he is in his judgments and the more independent in his positions. A free democratic society — this is always a society of educated, highly-cultured people», he declared.

In his opinion, one can fix the democratic character of a state in the constitution and international acts, but this will be useless if the person himself will not understand: «I’m free!». «Does Russia correspond to these standards? Only in a certain measure. Not all the way!», — the president summed up his appearance. At the same time he entered into an extramural polemic with those who consider that in Russia reigns authoritarianism. «This is not so, Russia — is a democracy, young and unripe, unperfected, inexperience, but a democracy. We are at the very start of the path, and this is the path of freedom», — noted he. In so doing the head of state added that he knows the shortcomings of this system, «like nobody else».

The president likewise advised that citizens often expect from a democracy that which is not inherent to it. Thus in the years of the ’90s people confused the concepts of «democracy» and «prosperity», which led to a situation where for many years this word acquired a negative hue. «Just recently because of the mass poverty brought forth by the first stage of reforms, the very word “democracy” in Russia acquired a negative sense, in some kind of sense it transformed simply into a swear word. Only now, when several years of economic growth have led to a raising of the standard of living, has Russian democracy become, finally, economically viable and has proven its substantiality», he said.

Medvedev deems that now Russian citizens are not ready to perceive democracy in the full sense, to feel not only personal involvement in political processes and in freedom of choice, but also in responsibility for the country. «Citizens, who get a large quantity of opportunities and a larger quantity of freedom, must also acquire big responsibility», — he is convinced. «Freedom of speech, meetings and rallies is exercised in practice in clearly established legal boundaries, and that is how it must be for the future too», — underscored the head of state.

In so doing Medvedev declared that the political system that has evolved is completely appropriate for our country, while others, like, for example, the parliamentary one, not only are not needed, but would even be disastrous. «But nothing in so doing needs to be radically changed. Not because it is not allowed, but because it is not needed. They talk to us about parliamentary democracy. Our Kirgiz [sic] friends stood up upon this path. But for Russia, as, I’m afraid, for Kirgizia [sic] as well, parliamentary democracy — this is a catastrophe», he said.