Russia’s return to reactionism by Thomas Gidney
If I were to ask you whether Russia was in Europe, how would you answer?
This is a question that has been asked about Russia’s role in international politics for over five hundred years. From the rule of the Tsars to the ruthless authoritarianism of the Soviet Union, Russian politics have often been based on whether to embrace ‘European’ liberal ideas or return to traditional Russian conservatism. Since the collapse of the USSR in 1991, many Europeans had hoped that Russia would begin a period of change towards liberal democracy. This has not been the case.
In a country which has a strong history of autocracy, Mikhail Kasynov is an oddity. Mr. Kasynov came to Maastricht last week at a time where disapproving eyes were turned towards Moscow for its harsh sentencing of the band ‘Pussy Riot’. Kasynov himself was prime minister of Russia between 2000 -2004 where he claimed to have played an instrumental role in liberalising Russia and restoring the economy after financial crisis in 1998 by reducing inflation and paying the national debt. Indeed his term in office saw the Russian economy grow on average at 6.1% GDP each year. It begs the question why such a successful individual was forced out of office before his end of term?
In a debate over the political usage of the police force in Russia, Putin had Kasynov and his whole cabinet sacked thus removing the last vestige of the Yeltsin administration and ever since, Russia has turned its back on ‘Glasnost and Perestroika’. Kasynov’s list of disagreements with Putin is fairly extensive ranging from the Kremlin’s ‘annexation’ of the Russian judiciary system, the rampant corruption which plagues Russia and his refusal to implement free and fair elections.
For Kasynov however, Putin’s administration is in trouble. Russia achieved strong growth figures under Putin despite a spiralling rise of corruption and a constant stripping back of private liberties. However, this generally went unheeded as the Russian economy expanded until 2009. The Russian economy nose – dived, releasing a barrage of discontent on Medvedev and Putin. Kasynov hopes to mobilise this u-turn of public sentiment to increase his vendetta against Putin who has controversially won the presidential election this year (once again). Despite Putin’s tenacity to hold onto power, 2012 has seen large demonstrations making Putin’s ‘United Russia’ party a rather ironic title as political opinion begins to polarise.
By uniting Russia’s liberal parties into the People’s Freedom Party or PARNAS, Kasynov hopes to renew Russia’s newly found liberal zeitgeist to push for a more ‘European’ style of government. Kasynov hopes that one day, Russia will achieve a freely elected democratic government with respect to the fundamentals of human rights as laid out in the Charter of European Rights, though with Putin still in control of Russia, Kasynov’s dreams are not likely to be realised.
Photo courtesy of Maastricht University