Whatever else history's verdict on the Putin presidency may be, his regime has proved an important diagnostic tool for uncovering, or confirming, several systemic illnesses of Russia's body politic--as well as its healthy segments capable of withstanding the centripetal pressures.
Some of the institutional deficiencies and vulnerabilities that provided targets of opportunity for the authoritarian project stem from constitutional ambiguities and incomplete or absent laws, including those governing elections to both chambers of the federal assembly and regional governorships. In other cases, such as the post-Soviet legal system, the laws are explicit and adequate, yet they are ignored and subverted because of society's indifference or the absence of effective mechanisms of societal control over implementation.
At the same, although often weakened, restricted, and subverted by the authorities, a number of institutions bequeathed by the 1991 revolution have proved resilient. They include relative freedom of speech, press, and demonstrations, and a general tolerance of opposition and dissent--all of which have proved indispensable in the last sixteen months for the victorious pro-democracy mobilizations in the proto-authoritarian societies of Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan. In Russia's case, these liberties are rooted in the 1993 constitution, which, although in obvious need of clarifying amendments, is nevertheless far from outliving its usefulness.
In the end, an institutional analysis of Russian politics reveals a contradictory system engaged in a dangerous balancing act. Such incoherence cannot be sustained for long. Either the regime must evolve toward full-blown 'classic' authoritarianism that succeeds in dismantling all the key democratic structures--or there will be a reaffirmation and renewal of the revolutionary legacy of the division of powers, freedom of all media, judicial independence, and the separation of power and property.
Monday, April 18, 2005
Leon Aron analyzes the Russian leader's strategy for his nation: