For Russia, as well as to the rest of the world, the approaching presidential election of March 4, 2012, is raising concerns as to how it will affect Russian democracy and the stability of Europe — Russia vis- à-vis the West. Just this past November, Russian Chief of Staff General Nikolai Makarov and President Dmitry Medvedev, threatened to have Russian missiles deployed against the proposed U.S. missile shield in Europe.
The increasing wave of protests in Russia over the parliamentary elections held in December 2011 is very disturbing not only as it concerns foreign affairs but also especially when we learn more about intrinsic Russian politics, the various political factions, and the causes fueling the unrest. Moreover, both US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, and a leading GOP presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, have expressed dissatisfaction with the present Russian regime, and more specifically with Vladimir Putin.
Protesters are accusing the Medvedev-Putin [photo, above] administration of electoral fraud, and protest rallies are now calling for fresh parliamentary elections. According to the BBC, “The parliamentary elections on 4 December were criticized by observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), who asserted there had been ‘severe problems with the counting process.’ They said the poll was slanted in favor of Mr. Putin’s party, United Russia, and that there had been irregularities including the stuffing of ballot boxes.”
Another report claimed, “Putin’s United Russia party lost 25% of its seats in the election, but hung onto a majority in parliament through what independent observers said was widespread fraud. United Russia, seen as representing a corrupt bureaucracy, has become known as the party of ‘crooks and thieves,’ a phrase coined by Alexei Navalny, a corruption-fighting lawyer and popular blogger and leader of the demonstrations.”
Eighty-year-old Mikhail Gorbachev [photo, right], who presided over the collapse of the USSR on December 25, 1991, 20 years ago, has asked Putin to step down and follow his own example toward openness and real democracy.
Former World Chess champion and Russian activist, Garry Kasparov [photo, left], has joined the protesters in support of the pro-democracy movement. He calls for more use of the Internet for the dissemination of information and coordination of the protest movement. He has already criticized the Medvedev-Putin regime for human right violations and the systematic trampling of civil liberties in Russia.
But who are the Russian presidential candidates, what parties do they represent, and how much support do they command in the polls conducted in mid-December 2011?
1. Vladimir Putin of the United Russia Party (successor organization to Boris Yeltsin’s democrats established in the late 1990s to counterbalance the communists from taking over after Yeltsin stepped down) is an almost complete shoo-in as the next president. Dmitry Medvedev, the current Russian President, is an Independent but supports Putin’s United Russia Party. Putin, presently Russian Prime Minister, has agreed to run again for president in an unprecedented third term in the upcoming March 2012 elections. Current polling data suggest that the United Russia Party and Putin would garner 42% of the vote.
2. Genandy Zyuganov (pictured on right in photo below) is the leader of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation that seeks to bring back the old days of communist repression, totalitarianism, even Stalinism to Russia. Current polling data give the Communist Party second place with 11% of the vote.
3. Vladimir Zhirinovsky (pictured on left in photo right) of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP; allegedly formed as a sham party by the Soviet Communist Party and the KGB in 1991 as the USSR was disintegrating) is the third leading candidate. Despite its deliberately misleading name, the LDP is a nationalistic, chauvinistic Russian party with large doses of collectivism, statism, authoritarianism, and fascism in its incendiary and bombastic political philosophy. Yet, the LDP commands 9% of the electorate.
4. Sergei Mironov is the presidential candidate of the A Just Russia (a pro-democracy) Party. He is the Chairman of the Federation Council, the upper house of the Russian parliament (2001-2011). In the 2004 elections, he admitted, “We all want Vladimir Putin to be the next president,” and received less than 1% of the vote. Moreover, he has socialistic tendencies, having made calls repeatedly for more government intervention in the economy, but as “leader of the liberal opposition,” he is polling 5% of voter support.
5. Grigory Yavlinsky, leader of the Yabloko Party, polls 1% of the vote, preaching an anti-corruption reform message. (Representation in the Duma requires at least 5% of the popular vote.)
6. Much hope is pinned on the influence of Mikhail Prokhorov [photo, left], the visible candidate of the Independent Party. He is a Russian self-made billionaire, but he barely commands 1% of the vote, despite the recent coverage of his candidacy by the international press. Prokhorov is ranked by Forbes as Russia’s third richest man with a fortune worth around $18 billion. A 46-year-old successful Russian entrepreneur, despite his charisma, is resented by ordinary Russians because of his wealth, and thus he may not be able to garner enough support for the necessary grassroots movement needed to make an impact in Russian politics. Similar to Mironov, he has also said in the past that Vladimir Putin is the only man who can run Russia’s inefficient state machinery.
More recently, though, Prokhorov has stated that Putin must change and move Russia to democracy quickly to avoid the bloody path of revolution. An article went on to say, “Prokhorov made clear he considers revolution equally unacceptable for a country with grim memories of a century of hardship, war and upheaval starting with Vladimir Lenin’s 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, instead calling for ‘very fast evolution.’” Despite the hostility and protests against Prime Minister Putin, it is still unclear how much support Mikhail Prokhorov and other pro-democracy candidates will be able to generate.
It appears that Russia’s tiny democratic opposition (i.e., the parties of Mironov, Yavlinsky, and Prokhorov) barely presents a challenge not only to Putin, but also to the menacingly massive, authoritarian flank (i.e., the parties of Zyuganov and Zhirinovsky). The freedom opposition does not seem to stand a chance in the contest. And the Communist Party leader, Genandy Zyuganov, who commands the strongest “threat” to Putin, has even joined the administration in disparaging the protests and supporting the Kremlin. The closeness of the political philosophies of the authoritarian parties of Zyuganov and Zhirinovsky, in short, reveal the intrinsic kinship of collectivism and totalitarianism.
To me, as a scholar of history, the autocratic legacy of Joseph Stalin still lurks in the shadows of the Russian nation. And communism, for all its latter-day Marxist apologists, cannot be reformed. The grim Russian authoritarian past does not seem to allow poor Russia to move irresolutely toward a future of freedom, even in her post-communist period.
The geopolitics and foreign policy of Vladimir Putin in the Caspian Sea region and the Caucasus — from the bloody suppression of the separatist Chechnya insurrections in the 1990s to the invasion of Georgia in the South Ossetia War of 2008, the overt bullying of the Ukraine, and the subtle intimidation of Azerbaijan in the past decade — all ominously remind us of the old imperialism of the Russian Czars, if not the more recent and brutal force and militarism of the Soviet Union.[2,6,10] (See contemporary map of Europe, photo, below).
Under the watch of Vladimir Putin, the dark side of political repression and loss of civil liberties, the unexplained murder of dissidents and independent journalists at home and abroad, the resurgence of the espionage wars, frankly, also leave much to be desired.[2,6-10]
It is a frightening prospect that in 2008, a widely conducted poll in Russia found that the number one spot for “the Greatest Russian” went to Joseph Stalin, distant second and third place went to the legendary Aleksandr Nevsky, and surprisingly, the assassinated Prime Minister Pyotr Stolypin (1911), who served under Nicholas II, the last Czar of Russia!
The Russian people must break away from the spell and divest themselves of the mistaken notion of the “good old days” of communism and nostalgia for “Stalin’s greatness.” Likewise, their elected leaders must rid themselves of their imperial ruling and authoritarian legacy. They must learn to follow the rule of law, serve well the people they represent, and respect civil liberties, while promoting economic liberty and the free market. The elections of March 4, 2012, could be a new beginning, even if Vladimir Putin is re-elected. There is still time for him to listen to the voice of reason and the dictates of freedom. Let us hope so! Hope should spring eternal because miracles can still happen, even in Russia. Whoever expected the collapse of the evil empire and the fall of soviet communism in 1991?
In the meantime, I propose that Americans adopt a “wait and see” attitude, while we give moral support to those Russians who genuinely seek freedom and a brighter future for their country. The US would be wise to give moral support to the democratization process in Russia, while at the same time do all we can to remind and inform the world of the perversities of collectivism and authoritarianism in any of their past incarnations, whether fascism, socialism, or communism!
1. BBC News. “Russia billionaire Mikhail Prohhorov to challenge Putin.” December 12, 2011. [Last accessed on 2012 Jan 4].
2. Earley P. Comrade J — The Untold Secrets of Russian’s Master Spy in America After the End of the Cold War. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons; 2007.
3. Faria M A. Stalin, Communists, and Fatal Statistics. October 10, 2011. [Last accessed on 2012 Jan 4].
4. Faria MA. The Political Spectrum (Part 1): The Totalitarian Left from Communism to Social Democracy. September 28, 2011. [Last accessed on 2012 Jan 4].
5. Freeland C, Gutterman S. “Billionaire Kremlin hopeful says Putin must change,” Reuters, January 17, 2012. [Last accessed on 2012 Jan 4].
6. Goldfarb A, Litvinenko M. Death of a Dissident — The Poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko and the Return of the KGB. New York: Free Press; 2007.
7. Isachenkov, V. "Alexander Poteyev, Russian Intelligence Officer, Convicted Of Betraying U.S. Spy Ring Including Anna Chapman." June 27, 2011. [Last accessed on 2012 Jan 4].
8. Kalugin O. Spymaster — My Thirty-Two Years in Intelligence and Espionage Against the West. New York: Basic Books; 2009.
9. Mann T. “Thousands More Protest Against the Kremlin.” December 24, 2011. [Last accessed on 2012 Jan 4].
10. Politkovskaya A. Putin’s Russia: Life in a Failing Democracy. Tait A, transl. New York: Metropolitan Books; 2004.
11. Solzhenitsyn A. The Gulag Archipelago (1918-1956) — An Experiment in Literary Investigation, Parts I-II. Whitney TP, translator. New York: Harper and Row, 1973; and The Destructive Labor Camps and The Soul and Barbed Wire, Parts III-IV. Whitney TP, translator. New York: Harper and Row, 1975. This is the magnum opus of this subject and told in mesmerizing, graphic detail. It is a must-read work for the fortunate literate of the world.
Written by Dr. Miguel Faria
Dr. Miguel A. Faria, Jr. is a former Clinical Professor of Surgery (Neurosurgery, ret.) and Adjunct Professor of Medical History (ret.) Mercer University School of Medicine; Former member Editorial Board of Surgical Neurology (2004-2010); Member Editorial Board of Surgical Neurology International (2011-present); Recipient of the Americanism Medal from the Nathaniel Macon Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) 1998; Ex member of the Injury Research Grant Review Committee of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 2002-05; Founder and Editor-in-Chief of the Medical Sentinel (1996-2002); Editor Emeritus, the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS); Author, Vandals at the Gates of Medicine (1995), Medical Warrior: Fighting Corporate Socialized Medicine (1997), and Cuba in Revolution: Escape From a Lost Paradise (2002). http://www.haciendapublishing.com
This article was originally published in Surg Neurol Int 2012;3:28. A different version of this editorial was posted on GOPUSA.com, December 26, 2011.
Copyright ©2012 Miguel A. Faria, Jr., MD