Russia’s Self-Defeating “But”

MOSCOW – Prime Minister Vladimir Putin insists that “Without normal democratic development Russia will have no future.” We Russians are pleased to hear these enlightened words, yet Putin adds a “but” to his argument, which weakens it considerably. In fact, Putin’s “but” renders his points senseless.

We have hated this “but,” this coordinating conjunction, ever since the dawn of the Soviet era. Then we were told that freedom is good, but that one can’t live in an individualist society without common concern for the communist state. Democracy is great, but only in the interests of the working class.

Now Russia’s prime minister tells us that democracy is indeed great, but that public protests cannot take place in public places, say, around hospitals and the like. Never mind that the Russian constitution does not list hospitals among places forbidden for public assembly, or that sick people need democracy, too.

Russian President Dmitri Medvedev does understand – with no “buts” – that “freedom is better than not freedom,” that “legal nihilism” is bad and democracy is good. He understands that Stalin was a criminal, that his order to murder Polish officers in Katyn was an act of depravity that has no excuse or explanation. The president understands this; unfortunately, we don’t understand the role our president plays in our society. He says all the right things, yet they don’t seem to be reflected in reality.