26. Jan. 2012
Dangerous situation in Russian society
Current affairs debate: the Russian Federation between two elections
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – The next item of business this morning is a current affairs debate on the Russian Federation between two elections. Under Rule 52.4, the debate is limited to one-and-a-half hours, and we agreed yesterday to limit speaking time to three minutes for all members except the first speaker, who is allowed 10 minutes. I call Mr Gross.
Mr GROSS (Switzerland) – Never since 1993 has the political situation in Russia been as open as it is today. Never since Mr Putin came to power 12 years ago has the power of the system been as strongly challenged as it is today. Never since 1993 have so many people in Russian civil society been so active. Never since then have so many people come out on to the streets; on 24 December there were 100’000 people on the Sakharov prospect in Moscow, demonstrating to defend their dignity and to insist that those in power must respect them in a democracy. This openness presents a structural opportunity for Russia between the Duma elections of 4 December and the presidential election of 4 March. Those 100’000 people had a special quality – but I shall come back to that. First comes the question of how it could happen. Half a year before, no one had thought it possible that 100 000 people could demonstrate on Sakharov Prospekt on 24 December. How was it possible? There are many hypotheses, and I would like to share some of them with you, because they indicate how it happened, what the consequences should be and what the dangers are of this open situation. Openness means that things can improve, but they can also deteriorate. Progress can be made, but there can also be regression. It is important to think about the options and to encourage those responsible not to make the wrong choices.
Those who have been taking part in this unique demonstration – more than 100 000 people over Christmas – said that they felt totally excluded when they saw on television how, at the party congress of United Russia, the two people who occupied the two most important positions of power in the system, the president and the prime minister, decided to switch positions without taking into account the facts that between elections the people lend power, that power is not their private property and that they cannot just switch it with other people. This moment, which was seen by everyone in Russia – it was intensively broadcast on the main TV channels – created a feeling of exclusion and of not being respected as a citizen. As a result, many people started to speak out on the internet – a communication network that cannot be controlled as easily as big TV stations, big radio stations or big newspapers. Those demonstrators started to say, «We will now pay more attention to these forthcoming elections on 4 December.»
The demonstrators felt excluded from something in which they have to be included. In a democracy, people do not own power; it is lent. People cannot just organize, three months before an election, how the situation will be after the election. Instead, they must follow the will of the people during the election.
The demonstrators used their cameras on election day and gathered millions of pieces of evidence that the elections were manipulated. Today, after the demonstration of 24 December, nobody denies any more the heavy manipulation of these elections – not even the representatives of United Russia. Everybody knows it. The 100 000 people helped everyone find their way to the truth and to self-criticism. One of the most serious non-governmental organizations, Golos, told us last Saturday that at least 10 million – if not 12 million or 15 million – votes were added to United Russia’s count. Such was the violation on election day.
Then there is the exclusivity. It is difficult to register as a party, and to take part in the election, and we will come back to that issue in the Monitoring Committee’s big report. Such exclusion prompted demonstration in more than 100 cities immediately after the elections. It also led to a lot of violence because when people feel excluded, they resort to other methods – I shall come back to that. Then, however, the protesters all concentrated on the mobilization of 24 December. Sociologically, these demonstrators are very interesting. A survey showed that more than 50% of them were between 20 and 40 years old, and that more than 70% had at least two university degrees. These are not people that you can buy because their salaries are too weak or because they do not have a job. They were there because they did not feel respected.
The demonstrators were not a political organization in the sense that they had a clear interest. They defend values more than interests; they are more value-based. They defend the dignity that is an essential part of human rights and of our organization. They feel that their dignity has been ignored, and that makes it difficult to answer them. After the demonstration, the reaction of the system was to denigrate and humiliate these people. I will not quote what the system’s representatives said because their words would be an affront to this Assembly. However, the people decided to mobilize again on 4 February or later, and immediately they obtained an acknowledgement of the fraud and prompted a discourse on change from the outgoing president. One of those changes – one that we have always recommended – was that governors should be elected by people in the regions. That was immediately conceded, but there are many filter mechanisms, which we have to look at closely. Also, the 7% entry rule was immediately reduced to 5%, but only for the election in five years’ time. Should the forthcoming elections be inclusive or exclusive? Alarmingly, it was indicated yesterday that only four people can challenge Putin. The fourth person is another right-wing oligarch and one of the richest people in Russia. Mr Yavlinsky, the more democratic social and liberal candidate, was excluded, for reasons that we cannot accept.
To stand, candidates need to collect 2 million signatures in six weeks in the more than 80 regions in a proportional way. To collect signatures, you need forms on which to collect them, and they had to be photocopied – it was not the signatures that were photocopied but the forms. Nevertheless, those signatures were not taken into account. The danger of such openness is that instead of contributing to a more inclusive and open election, they closed it again. When you close elections, you exclude people, and the danger is that you get more violence, not more legitimacy, because in order to have legitimate elections, you need a fair process. However, this fair process is in danger today.
I hope that this debate will encourage the system – which is also designing the process for acquiring more power – to consider the need for openness and inclusivity, and the fact that, to include those with whom you disagree, you have to give them a fair chance. I am afraid, however, that until now, these people have not had that fair chance. That is dangerous. It will create a dangerous situation in Russian society, which needs integration, not the dangers of exclusion.
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you. In the debate, I first call Ms Lundgren, who will speak on behalf of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.
Kontakt mit Andreas Gross