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#17 - JRL 7209
Novaya Gazeta
26 May 2003
Attorney Criticizes Russia's Use of Amnesties
Commentary by Aleksandr Dobrovinskiy:
Vertical Deflected from President
A Priest's Prophesy in a Correctional Institution

The president's address reminds me of the prophesy of a priest in a correctional institution. He tells them, "Thou shalt not kill," while they're warming a shiv in their pocket. The effect, at least, is the same. The pastor's conscience is assuaged for a year, and the flock returns to its former secular occupations: robbing and sacking. Here, for instance, are two fine ideas: amnesty and the creation of a competitive environment: It's well stated and the ideas are relevant. But there's been no result. Nor will there be.

No one now remembers, for instance, about the amnesty for capital once half-hinted at by the president. Because it scarcely made sense. There are no hard facts about money returning from emigration.

In Russia there has been a kind of epidemic of amnesties: free everyone, from pregnant convicts to psychotic medal-bearers. In the West, this phenomenon is a rarity and, as a rule, does not involve criminals. For example, in France, when a new president comes in, they amnesty all parking fines. And the country lives from election to election, dodging bailiffs.

The accepted notion among us is that amnesty is a humane method of reeducation. Privately, people keep in mind that this is also a necessary step if we are to free up the prisons for new prisoners. In fact, the most humane method is putting the person in a two- or three-man cell. When 80 people live in the "big house" on 30 cots, no one is reeducated. In humane conditions of isolation, the loss of freedom itself is more painful and so the punishment is more effective.

Chechen amnesties are another matter. They have always been aimed at weakening the fighters somehow. No one knows the result, but I'm afraid that everyone who ever came out of a band of fighters was sent to join his forefathers by his own former confederates or else went back. At the same time, one must remember that although an amnestied citizen is forgiven all his previous sins, nothing prevents him from picking up where he left off the next day.

The same thing is happening right now. True, the goal is different, and in the event of an exacerbation of the conflict one can always say, "Well look, we did everything possible." As PR, it'll pass; from the standpoint of resolving the conflict, amnesty can only tangle the situation, since ritual political gestures are being made instead of real actions.

Besides "amnesty," the most fashionable word in the president's address was "competition." This is indisputably important. For starters, one would like a competitive environment created in the presidential elections. But for the time being, our economy is not competitive, and there are no legal levers for altering the situation. We have the deciding power--51 percent of shares. If you don't have that packet of shares, you're nobody and you're just not in the game. Physically, a minority shareholder can't compete with anyone, which is why the exchanges don't work. And without exchanges, what kind of competitive environment is it? And if someone's accumulated the desired 51 percent, what does he care about competition?

As long as all the large companies are in the hands of the individuals who hold the controlling packet, all the president's hopes are nothing more than a mantra. There won't be any competition. That's it. Period. But after all, in addition to the oligarchs there are also the GUPs (state enterprises), which cannot be competed with by definition. Just try today to create an alternative to the postal service. Competition exists here merely on the level of booths, and even then it's none too healthy when OMON [Militia Special Purpose Department] is called in. So only the security structures compete effectively among themselves in the protection market. They've crowded out a very serious brand, the tough guys, and they've replaced fanned fingers with a palm to the visor.

It's the same with politics. A political structure that lies outside competition is being successfully created, a state unitary enterprise (GUP), the party of power: United Russia. What can be done to make the president's wishes come true? In the economy, start with legislation on the joint-stock company. After all, the largest shareholder at BONY [Bank of New York] does not have more than 6-8 percent. How can we do this, though, if the president says something and then the political GUPs start thumbing through what's been said until they've soiled it completely. The president's ideas and the implementers' actions are two parallel lines whose fate we know from our course in elementary school.

It's obvious, though, that as soon as the political exchange--elections--starts functioning, as soon as we reject the idea of a one-party parliament, everything will fall into place immediately. And we will see competition in the economy as a result. Conversely, when the exchanges start functioning and packets of shares are broken up, then you'll have a real multi-party system.

Money can be shaken from the six oil oligarchs so that the government's party can hold onto its shirt, but just try to get funds out of the 150,000 shareholders of a single oil company, as in the West. Those 150,000 shareholders would tell the authorities exactly where they can go.

Public policy in Russia is virtual. The president is playing a computer game, "Strategy," sincerely surprised (increasingly less, it's true) that his good thoughts bear no relation to reality. Because public policy and real policy are diametrically opposed things. It's between them that there is true competition under way.

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