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Russia's Elections 2: Russia Should Face Consequences

Helle Dale argues in the Washington Times that the elections in Russia were not legitimate, and Russia should face consequences for this.

Autocrats like Mr. Putin are trying to take back the reins of power carefully and one piece at a time. By international standards, Russia cannot be called a democracy anymore - as German Chancellor Angela Merkel remarked to her credit. She knows something about political repression, having grown up in East Germany. There should be consequences.

While most in Europe and the US have spoken out against the Russian elections, other countries (notably those in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, or SCO) have argued that western countries have no right to judge Russia's democracy. From the Washington Post:

"There is not just one category of democracy in the world. You cannot import, copy or buy democracy," said Gao Yusheng, a Chinese citizen who headed the [SCO's] observer mission in Moscow. Observer groups from other republics of the former Soviet Union reached similar conclusions.

So, who has the right to decide whether a democracy is legitimate or not? I certainly have trouble believing the SCO, with a membership composed of non-democracies to include Uzbekistan, Iran, and China among others, is a better arbiter of open government than European countries and the United States.

I also agree with Helle Dale that Russia should face consequences. Democracy is more than an abstract concept; as a form of governance it has important tangible implications for the internal and external peace of a country. Researchers have found substantial evidence that democratic governments have better human rights policies, and are significantly less likely to go to war. Knowing the merits of democracy, it is both a moral and practical objective to encourage democratic governance in other states.

The need for democracy is exceptionally relevant when it comes to Russia, because the world already knows how dangerous a nationalistic and centralized Russia can become-especially a Russia that seeks to exert influence over its former client states, as Putin does.


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Don S on :

"he world already knows how dangerous a nationalistic and centralized Russia can become" The world also *knows* that Russia is FAR less dangerous than the US is. After all, the US has repeatedly occupied Poland, Germany, Eastern Europoe - and kept them. The US never leaves and goes home, while Russia has never been any threat to another country. Just ask Herr Schmidt!

ian in hamburg on :

Considering the way the last two presidential elections in the US have been run, and considering how quick the US is to go to war, and considering the lack of human rights in places like Guantanamo, I'd say the question as to which country is or isn't a democracy should be addressed elsewhere.

John in MI on :

I have to disagree totally with ian in hamburg. Any fan of democracy has the right, and indeed the duty, to judge whether an election or system that claims to be democratic, is in fact democratic. If only the pure can pass judgment, than none of us are qualified. The US election system is in need of reforms, but that makes it a flawed democracy, not a non-democracy. Perhaps ian is unaware, for example, that independent analysis of the 2000 recount that was famously stopped by the Supreme Court on procedural grounds, determined that the recount would have had the same result (Bush wins Florida and therefore the Presidency) as all the previous Florida recounts? Quick to war? Giving ian the benefit of the doubt, I'll guess he's talking about the 2003 phase of the 1990-present Iraq war. It is simply ahistorical to describe the 2003 phase as a rush to war, since the war started in 1990 and never ended. I would prefer that there were no innocents in Guantanamo, and fear that some of the real hard cases there were subject to interrogation techniques that may have constituted torture; but, I suspect you could find much worse abuse in a typical Russia prison for hard cases, if Russian or other media were permitted to report on them. Doesn't excuse it, but some perspective is needed. Domestically, the US is still, by any measure, a place where human rights are generally respected. For example, as an American, I have more rights free speech rights than a German citizen. Also, we are a country at war, and our Constitution, not to mention past precedent, gives the President considerable police powers in wartime. For better, or for worse.

ian in hamburg on :

Interesting points raised here. Please tell me how an American has more free speech rights than a German citizen. I guess as a Canadian living in Germany, I have even fewer? So Guantanamo is simply a matter of degrees? It's OK to hold hundreds of people without charge or the right to normal legal process forever simply because you think they're guilty? And then you turn around and lecture other countries about human rights and democracy? Maybe Americans are blind to the hypocracy, but nobody else is. Yes, quick to war in 2003, under a cloak of lies and deceit and in a climate of fear whipped up by your own government. Speaking of lies, they were also there in abundance in 1990-91. Remember the dead Kuwaiti babies in the incubators and the blubbering mother? What you call police powers others would call dictatorial. It's all a matter of perspective. Your so-called democratic government has scared you so witless over the past six years, you embrace a curtailment of freedoms you used to take for granted. Maybe you're just living in the past.

Kyle Atwell on :

Hi Ian, thank you for the feedback. I am very interested to hear feedback on how Europeans view America. "And then you turn around and lecture other countries about human rights and democracy? Maybe Americans are blind to the hypocracy, but nobody else is." I would have to agree with John's previous comment that, "If only the pure can pass judgment, than none of us are qualified." There is no such thing as a perfect democracy, but if you are going to compare the US and Russia, it seems to me the US clearly has a better human rights record. If democracy and human rights protections cannot be measured on a scale, then how would you proposed they be measured? There is certainly no "absolute" democracy out there that we can look toward as a clear role model. Even if you look at widely respected databases that analyze and quantify human rights records and democracy status of nations (like the Freedom House measures and the Political Terror Scale), they do not produce binary 'yes' or 'no' status of whether a country is a democracy or not; instead, they create a scale for democracy, with scores from 1 to 7 or from -10 to 10. Every country falls somewhere on the scale, but even the highest scores do not represent infallible states. By the way, according to the most recent Freedom House data which records the level of political rights and civil liberties in every country in the year 2006, the US scored the highest rating of 1, while Russia scored a 5.5 (with 7 being the least democratic measure). Freedom House does not claim the US is infallible, and in fact is very critical of US policies like Guantanamo--however, the index rating suggests that the US provides much more civil liberties and political freedom to its citizens than Russia. Germany also scored a 1. ( Who do you think should pass judgement, if not the OECD which is composed of the most open democracies like the United States and Germany?

John in MI on :

Thanks for responding, ian. I'll try to clarify a few points. I knew from your blog you were an expat living in Germany, that's the only reason I used Germany in one example. Most Canadians I've met know from experience to take the European view of America with a grain of salt, but maybe you're the exception that proves the rule? The most obvious example of how German citizens have less free speech than American citizens is that the Nazi party, or any doppelganger of same, is banned in Germany, whereas no political parties or doctrines, no matter how outrageous, racist, etc. are formally banned in the US. The First Amendment would have to be amended to permit this. I think Germany also has defined general hate crimes (racial insults, etc.) that merely consist of speech. Do I really need to state that I am opposed to Nazis and hate speech? From your tone, it seems that I might. I am. However, I do not think mere speech should be regulated (except perhaps on a local level), lest we attempt to regulate thought as well. Germany has a different approach, that's fine. I am not saying that Americans are overall more free than Germans or Canadians, on balance its about the same. I don't know if an expat living in Germany has less free speech rights than a German. Do you? If 1991 was a rush to war, wouldn't it be the "U.N.'s rush to war"? Damn those Turtle Bay warmongers! Initial reports of babies being taken from their incubators at one hospital turned out to be propaganda produced by the Kuwait royal family, but Saddam's rape (literally and figuratively), pillage, and immolation of Kuwait, including infanticides, have been documented after the fact by multiple, reputable sources. Perhaps even you noticed the smoke, it briefly altered the world climate. Given Saddam's promise before and during the invasion to "eliminate the concept of Kuwait from history", or words to that effect, there is a good case that he had is heart set on genocide. Again. Given that the West stood by and at times, tacitly supported him during past genocide attempts, wasn't it high time we stopped doing that? Well there's a lot more that I could respond to, but we're way off topic. Did you know that in Russia, the government has *re-erecting* statues of the mass murderer, Stalin? I'm all for national pride and heritage, but this is ridiculous. I don't think toppled statues of Lenin or Marx are getting the same priority. Putin apparently quite likes the idea of a Russian Empire, his only regret is the decades-long dalliance with Marx-Leninism!

Zyme on :

You are right that in Germany we have less freedoms. And not only in matters of free speech - For example I don´t think americans have to register demonstrations at the authorities, am I right? While a rather western democratical system has been installed in 1949 in Germany, over the course of the decades more and more authoritarian aspects return in laws that limit our basic rights. But this is simply a consequence of a different mentality. What do we need more than a dozen of interior secret services for, who closely monitor extreme left and right wing organisations and parties? This has a tradition here. Since the creation of Germany in 1871 every group that posed a danger to the current system has been closely observed. Also within our main political parties, a clear chain of command has been established over the course of the decades. While in the first years of the Republic in Bonn, intense debates and power struggles within the main parties were frequent, in Berlin these are nearly extinct today. When a major party has lots of debates today and its leadership is unable to decide on its own, then this party is considered to be "unable to govern" and will hence lose support among the electorate. This is why the party leadership has taken over in most cases and can literally order "its" members of parliament on how to decide on bills. The nickname "party soldier" doesn´t even have a bitter taste - it is prove for loyalty and considered an honour here. These examples will probably make it clear that Stability and order are more important than a free political atmosphere here. This shows that the wishes of our former occupying powers do not really correspond with our rather authoritarian society. As regards the obligatory registration of demonstrations, it doesn´t bother the ordinary people anyway. The only big demonstrations you can see here arise, when people fear the loss of their jobs or salary cuts are expected. For example I hardly know anybody how has ever taken part in a demonstration. Even more different from the Americans are the Russians. There the people also have no interest in a real choice between a potentially unlimited number of political parties while their pockets are empty. Furthermore, such a big country has to spend a lot of its power to keep its boundary regions from breaking away, which is another reason for authoritarian measurements. Since they are even less willing to listen to endless debates that won´t have any influence on their lives, Putin has all in store what they expect from a real leadership. So what was my intention in telling all these points? I believe that every people has a different mentality and it needs a political system that suits it. Thus there cannot be the same ideal system for all peoples. Every system has to be adapted to the individual needs of each nation.

John in MI on :

Oops...that's right, the Democratic convention came BEFORE the Republican convention. Sorry.

Zyme on :

Right after I completed my comment, what do I see on the Spiegel Online page as latest news in Germany? | Interior ministers determined to stamp on Scientology - "Unconstitutional" | Just another example of a different approach between americans and germans. A traditional principle has always been to know your enemy here. When a development in the society doesn´t turn out the way the ruling class expected, it is stigmatized. While in the Empire of the Kaiser it would have been called "Revolutionary", in the Third Reich it would have been condemned as "Jewish", in the GDR it would have been named a "Capitalist" development, the most dangerous word for one´s future in the system of our time is being labelled "Unconstitutional". Each of these words resulted and still result in the same reaction of the people: They will shun the target from now on. So I would like to ask you: How could you ever implement such entirely different traits into one ideal system?

ian in hamburg on :

I fail to see how the vast majority of Germans are affected in any way by the banning of Nazi symbols or the banning of fringe groups like Scientology. I don't agree with either, btw, but if has NO bearing on my life one way or another, nor does it have any bearing on anyone I care to know. Saying the States has more freedom of speech or overall freedom than Germany simply because everything is allowed and anything goes is a little like saying Microsoft Word is the best word processing software simply because it is stuffed full of possibilities 99.9% of us will never, ever use. Oh, and speaking of freedoms, I can turn on the free-to-air TV here and see tits, ass and whatever at three in the afternoon, but let a celebrity show her breast by accident while dancing at the Super Bowl, and a federal case is made out of it because it was broadcast on television. Good grief, where's the freedom there?

David on :

@Zyme, Re: Registering of Demonstrations in the US Yes, any demonstration on public property - including streets - must be registered. You might be interested in reading about the [url=]protest demonstrations in NYCity at the 2004 Republican Convention[/url]. More than one thousand demonstrators and unlucky non-demonstrators were rounded up and held under trumped-up charges in huge holding pens for days until the convention was over. So these citizens were deprived of their constitutional rights to protest peacefully. Of course, the German police seemed to have studied the 2004 Republican Convention and perfected these techniques for the G-8 protests in Heiligendamm last summer.

Zyme on :

Thank you for this information. I am surprised - but is it also this easy to forbid a demonstration, so that the request of the demonstration is denied? Especially during the G8-Summit and the World Cup in 2006 this happened frequently across the country here under such vague reasons like "the number of policemen nessecary to protect the demonstration are not available" or "police state of emergency".

John in MI on :

@David: You many not have realized that in Germany, peaceful, law-abiding demonstrations nevertheless must be registered, and demonstrators and their leadership may be arrested even if they obey every law except for the registration law. I think German authorities have great discretion over whether to do this, but they can. @Zyme and David: "...the right of the people peaceably to assemble..." is in the First Amendment. Americans do *not* have to register for demonstrations of any kind, full stop. On private property, you need permission of the owner, and nothing more. On public property, the owner is (usually) the local government, and they cannot deny permission for a political demonstration if they would have given permission to a non-political event such as a picnic, etc. You can get a permit to shut down a street, occupy a building, etc, it isn't hard, and depending on your local law, is often free. Also, in any large town or city, there are public spaces in which no permits are required for anyone. You can't be removed from these unless you break some other law (lighting a fire, littering, etc.) Also, even if you don't get a permit, demonstrations are rarely harassed unless other local laws are broken, and often, not even then. Permits are sometimes denied due to not enough police, but they are generally afraid to do that because they can be easily sued. At the 2004 Republican Convention in NYC, the reason so many got arrested was, they used a tactic with a long and mostly noble tradition in America and elsewhere: *civil* *disobedience*. This means, you explicitly break a law and hope to be arrested, in order to draw attention to your cause. In any large city, there are many petty laws that restrict freedom that are required for the city to function. Is anyone surprised that some people managed to find a way to break the law? Some went beyond civil disobedience and attempted to violate the right of the Convention delegates or their supporters to peaceably assemble. Those criminals were suppressing free speech, not exercising it. There *may* have been a registration system of some sort set up, but it was a courtesy, not a requirement, designed to allow law-abiding protesters to separate themselves from ones who intended to break the law. I know of no group that was arrested, detained, or fined simply for failing to register. And yes, I'm sure when dealing with masses of demonstrators, some bystanders were detained, and other mistakes made. By the way, the Democrats were no different. At their convention later that year in Boston, that city was also locked up tighter than an asshole on a cold chair. I lived in Boston at the time. Yet it was easy to demonstrate, as long as you didn't violate others speech rights or go out of your way to break other laws. In practice, Germans and Americans are about equally free to demonstrate, but the legal philosophy behind this freedom is quite different.

influx on :

The Economist's index of democracy is worth considering: Russia is listed as a "hybrid regime". Germany and the US are listed as "full democracies", with Germany ranking a little higher than the US.

Pat Patterson on :

Zyme-Not registration but permits are needed for demonstrations only in some areas that either want to use public property, a park for speaker, or a roadway for the march itself. In many cases if the authorities and the demonstrators cannot reach a compromise then the courts usually step in to provide a route and site solution that doesn't violate anyone's 1st Amendment rights against prior restraint. Many areas do not even have that requirement but most definitely send in the police if the streets are blocked or that the protest spills over at a public park into the 12 and under girl's soccer league games. Also many demonstrations use the sidewalk to march without any permit and are only stopped if they block traffic. Its virtually impossible to legally or even illegally stop a demonstration from occurring. Even goups that most people would love to see silenced, neo-Nazis, NAMBLA or New York Yankee fans, have no difficulty in obtaining permits if needed. My own city was plagued for years by one house full of neo-Nazis who regularly demonstrated at the beach and city hall but were never required to get permits as the city charter had no such provisions. Though they did get a lot of littering and jaywalking tickets. It also should be noted that the demo David refers to, admittely badly handled by the authorities, ran afoul of the law because they tried to block an intersection after they had left the agreed upon route outlined in their permit. Also that many of the techniques used by NYC and the NYPD were first tried out, with the full support of the Democratic Party, in Boston two weeks earlier for that groups national convention.

David on :

I was in Boston during the 2004 Democratic convention and there were a number of demonstrations that were refused permits due to "security reasons". There were seven arrests - all involving a non-violent anarchist group. In NYCity there were 1,800 arrests and many were held illegally for 36 hours and longer without charge. Moreover, in the 12 months leading up to convention, the NYcity police - with the cooperation of federal agencies - illegally spied on and infiltrated anti-war organizations across the US in order to ascertain what protest activities they were planning for the convention.

Zyme on :

I am quite surprised to see that there is such a wide range opinions on the american right of assembly. So first of all I would like to thank John, Pat and David for the comments on this. Could it be that the legal situation is so vague because of the precedent law which only professional lawyers can fully interpret? Or is a different legal bases between the individual states to blame?

Anonymous on :

Zyme: I think people are misinterpreting the right to assemble enshrined in the 1st Amendment and symbolic/freedom of speech issues. For the most part, the restrictions on marches/protests are local regulations. And by local I am referring to the municipal level of governance. The right to assemble and the right to speech are discrete legal issues; however, they obviously overlap in the form of protest marches; Isnt say a Code Pink rally outside the White House symbolic speech, disregarding any posters or hippie chants? Yes. Any assembly of persons as mentioned above is inherently political and would be interpreted as symbolic speech. Thats why on TV people always just say: "Oh, its a first amendment issue." The legal basis is pretty simple in a Constitutional interpretation. There are three types of space public, limited public and private. Here, people are talking about street marches in public space. A municipality can regulate speech as to time, manner and place so long as the regulations is content neutral. In addition any speech limiting aspect of the regulation must be as narrowly drawn as possible, meet a significant governing objective and be the least restrictive available option. There is not a lot of arbitrariness in the law. The law might have odd local facets but it must operate withing the constitutional parameters. The mass arrests in NYC resulted more from the type of people protesting than any draconian local regulations. NYC cops are borough bullies but 1800 arrests? Thats alotta papawork

John in MI on :

Both conventions were huge events, and I wouldn't be surprised to learn that special measures were put in place. The first priority was to protect the free speech of the convention delegates and their supporters, second, the free speech of peaceful protesters. Protecting the free speech of those who came to disrupt the democratic process was a lower priority. That seems about right to me. Anybody who tries to tell you that there is no free speech in America is a propagandist and a demagogue. However, there is a tendency for some activists to define free speech as their supposed right to win the argument (since they are convinced they are right and that anyone who heard their truth would agree), or their supposed right to disrupt other's people's free speech. Americans DO respect this viewpoint, but we see it as civil disobedience. That means, you may have a moral right to do it, but you will have to pay a certain price for breaking the law. The Civil Rights movement in the 1960's, for example, treated this as a question of "render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's; and to God the things that are God's" During the Civil Rights movement, civil disobedience was often punished harshly; protesters would be put on trial for every single law they allegedly broke, no matter how trivial, and given the maximum penalty for each upon conviction. Also sometimes they were arrested on fake charges. Protesters then were less hypocritical, in my opinion. They usually only broke the laws that they were protesting, for example, the segregation laws. Today, thanks to their example, civil disobedience is generally tolerated. Most people who practice it are just forced to leave the scene; most who are arrested are released shortly after that with the charges dropped, or else they are given modest penalties for serious infractions only. @David -- I don't know the specifics -- how do you know that the anarchists were non-violent at the time of their arrest? Maybe they had prior arrest warrants or other legal issues preventing their release? Any anarchist worthy of the name *should* be a "criminal", if they aren't, they're not a very good anarchist! I've met many "non-violent" anarchists who nevertheless are happy to destroy my property, for example. I consider that violence, but they apparently don't. And of course the are outraged when I play by their rules and take their property "You're not using that backpack at the moment, I'll take it" "Help, I'm being attacked" "No, not you, just your backpack" and so on. Middle class posers. But I stop after my point is made, I don't really take their stuff. Its my own civil disobedience... And, some of the anarchists I met broke the law in minor yet interesting and creative ways. So they're not all bad.

Quo Vadis on :

I live in San Francisco, the site of many demonstrations over the years. It seems that with every demonstration there those elements who seems to think that the best way to express their disappointment with George Bush or whatever is by "shutting down the city" or "taking back the streets". You know what? Those of us who live, work and buy for groceries here don't really want our city "shut down" or our streets "taken back". So after a few hours of mayhem, the SFPD will start rounding up the less cooperative elements on various misdemeanor charges and shipping them off to a temporary holding area until things quiet down. Some might call it oppression by an authoritarian regime, I call it keeping the peace.

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