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#20 - JRL 8411 - JRL Home
Date: Thu, 14 Oct 2004
From: "Gordon Hahn" <gordonhahn@fulbrightweb.org>
Subject: The Battle of the Letters/JRL, #8409, 14 October 2004

Recently, I (as were, I assume, many others) asked to sign a letter (anti-OL letter) opposing the Open Letter to the Heads of State and Government of the European Union and NATO dated 28 September 2004 (OL). I was not asked to sign the OL, some of the reasons for such a non-invitation might be publicized in the future, but I may have not signed it regardless of the extenuating circumstances. Having thought long and hard about signing the anti-OL letter and having decided not to sign it, I would like to explain the reasons for my decision as a vehicle for explaining my views, first, on where Russia is and might be heading and perhaps, second, on some problems in our field of Rusology as well.

At the outset I would like to say that I am loath to sign any letter that I did not have a hand in writing. It is unlikely that any such a letter can accurately reflect a sufficient approximation of my views for me to feel comfortable in signing it. Summarizing my view regarding the two letters, I agree with the concern of the authors of the anti-OL letter about (l)opsided assessments that often appear in our field, and I am one who agrees with the views of several of the key signatories of the anti-OL on such as issues as the detriment to Russias democratic transformation that was NATO expansion and the distortions (lopsided assessments) about the post-Soviet Russo-Chechen wars that often appear in our field.

However, I also agree with the Open Letters assessment regarding the direction, though not necessarily the destination, Putin is taking Russia, that is, as the OL states, he has systematically undercut the freedom and independence of the press, destroyed the checks and balances in the Russian federal system, arbitrarily imprisoned both real and imagined political rivals, removed legitimate candidates from electoral ballots, harassed and arrested NGO leaders, and weakened Russias political parties.

Let me address each of these through the prism of the anti-OL. On undercutting the freedom and independence of the press, the anti-OL letter states that the end to independent national television is not the whole story. However, it is most of the story as far as truly mass media in Russia goes. The overwhelming majority of Russians get their political information from nationwide television channels and they are all now controlled by the state. The 10% increase in the publication of newspapers, magazines, and books under Putin means little, since most of that material is not related to politics in any way. The same is true of the 40,000 magazines and newspapers cited by the letters drafters. The 200 local television stations have not national impact, are often controlled by regional governments who in turn are now under the Kremlins thumb.

I have addressed here and elsewhere my views on Putins dismantlement of the checks and balances in the Russian federal system. On Putin arbitrarily imprison(ing) both real and imagined political rivals, it seems that the OL here should have noted that while the number of these political prisoners is in the single digits, the trend toward the arbitrary use of the law and police and security organs against political opponents is a particularly dangerous one for Russia given its political history and on the background of the other trends noted herein.

On removing legitimate candidates from electoral ballots, there is absolutely nothing overstated here. In fact, this critique could have been broadened to include the willful, illegal, and broad use of state administrative resources to interfere in elections at both the federal and regional level in favor of the Kremlin and its allies. On harassing and arrested NGO leaders, again here the number of NGOleaders arrested is not high and for the sake of accuracy in Rusology could have been mentioned. On weakening Russias political parties, the critique again could also have been enlarged and strengthened pointing to the use of various administrative resources to construct and deliver political hegemony to Putins party Yedinaya Rossiya and to weaken opposition parties. This direction, whether Putin intends it or not, can bring Russia to the rather undesired destination of dictatorship for Russia. President Putin was fond of saying that Russia has had enough of revolutions. Unfortunately, it will likely not survive yet another counter-revolution in its present form.

Dr. Gordon M. Hahn, MA, Ph.D.