At the end of November, all major news agencies were reporting on the elections – not in Russia, but in the Democratic Republic of Congo. But then – all of a sudden – when the results of the parliamentary election in Russia came in, and especially when the public protests started, everyone turned their heads towards Russia.
Viacheslav Morozov, University of Tartu professor of EU–Russia studies, finds this example a clear indication of how unexpected the scale of protests and demonstrations demanding fair elections in Russia was for experts and journalists, and no less so for the Russian authorities.
The public demonstrations were largely organised on social networks. Although Russia aims to protect its sovereign rights in regulating internal cyberspace, it is technologically very difficult to censor the Internet. Morozov points out that censorship would also require repression and punishment not just in cyberspace, but in real life, which would be problematic.
The current opposition, united by the demand for fair and free elections, represents a very broad variety of views and positions. While it’s easy to be united against something, it’s much more difficult to develop a shared platform and common leader. According to Morozov, this is one of the main reasons why Vladimir Putin is likely to win the upcoming presidential election on March 4th.
Nevertheless, the current political system is unsustainable and needs to be reformed. “The further the reforms are postponed, the more difficult they will be. Because economically, time is also running out,” says Morozov.
He sees some chances still left for reforming the system from above, e.g., by allowing more freedom of speech, re-introducing direct election of governers, etc. The bigger question is whether the extent of these reforms would satisfy the public.
The biggest lesson of Dmitry Medvedev’s presidency is that effective economic reforms aren’t possible without political reforms. Medvedev attempted economic modernisation from above and failed, because in order to modernise society you need people who can take initiative and responsibility for themselves, their families, and businesses. Such people find it very difficult to work in Russia: The political risks are so high that it’s simply impossible to do anything.
When asked about neighbouring countries, the UT professor of EU–Russia studies encouraged Russia’s neighbours to react calmly and show consistent support of the democratic change. The prospect of orderly transition and reform are good, he assured.
Listen to the interview: