The Lack of Scandals in Russia

chubais032508.jpgIn many modern democracies, the public scandal has become the bread and butter of the system – whether it is a New York governor’s peccadilloes, a bribery investigation of one of Germany’s largest companies, or even high society Brits providing false testimony for Italian ex-presidents. Scandals provide a constant reminder that mechanisms of accountability are in place and functioning, able to snare down the most powerful people and satisfy the public outrage over wrongdoing. Writing in the Moscow Times, columnist Yulia Latynina takes issue with the fact that Russia has lost almost all sense of the public scandal because of its muzzled media – we no longer hear about the various violations, shocking surprises, and odious conduct of any high-ranking official – although this same conduct has continued and deepened from the Yeltsin presidency to the Putin era. Specifically, Yulia points to the case of Anatoly Chubais accepting a $90,000 “book advance” from a publishing company belonging to Vladimir Potanin’s Oneksimbank shortly before the bank won 25 percent of Svyazinvest’s shares in a privatization auction – when Chubais was caught, he was forced by media pressure and public outrage to resign from his post.

Today, the Putin government engages in multi-million dollar quid pro quos without any scandal ever occurring, she writes. Under Yeltsin, the procuracy (then headed by Yury Skuratov – the same individual Putin wiped out with a famous work of kompromat, allowing Yeltsin to remove him) undertook extensive investigations into kickbacks being taken by officials of Presidential Property Department in the Kremlin renovation project – such an investigation is unthinkable now in the Putin administration.Yulia argues that this all has to do with the imposed worldview that Putin’s press corps is selling domestically and internationally – that he rescued Russia from extraordinary chaos and corruption that flourished under Yeltsin. She writes: “The mere thought that today’s elite should be exposed to public criticism or dismissed because of their crimes seems to them as being inherently wrong — even underhanded.They fear transparency and open criticism the same way a vampire fears the light. They talk about the tremendous work they have done in smashing every lamp and in extinguishing every candle.“This does bring to mind an interesting thought – that freedom of press, especially that of investigative journalists to unearth all the sordid scandals that form part of all political life, should be the measurement by which we judge the administration of the next president. While corruption, bribery, theft, and abuse of power scandals may make some countries look like they are worsening, for Russia, seeing the return of high-profile political scandals to the front page would be a positive sign that the fourth estate is being resurrected from its death.