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Tuesday, 10 August, 1999, 14:08 GMT 15:08 UK
Analysis: Russian democracy in retreat
Russian parliament building: Will MPs meet the challenges ahead?
By Moscow Correspondent Robert Parsons

Democracy in Russia may not yet be dead, but in the twilight months of Boris Yeltsin's presidency, it is in headlong retreat.

Russia crisis
The tally of achievements is shrivelling fast - an elective president and parliament, and a constitution which purports to enshrine the separation of powers and freedom of speech. The latter, at least, should not be underestimated.

Despite the growing control of corporate interests - in particular over television - the media have shown an iconoclastic streak that has done something at least to curb the abuse of power.

No civil society

But these are still feeble growths - and are far from certain to survive long into the next millennium.

Elsewhere the gloom is deepening fast. And at its heart is a gulf between state and citizen that stretches yawningly wide.

There is no civil society in Russia - no real sense in which ordinary people feel they can participate in and influence the course of events.

Seven years after the break up of the Soviet Union, and just months before Russia's third parliamentary elections, there are still no political parties to mediate between the state and its people - with the exception, of course, of the communist party, a large part of which remains committed to destroying all vestiges of parliamentary democracy.

State robbing citizens

Instead of a civil society, there is a weak state which thinks nothing of robbing its own citizens - last August's default on debt being just one case in point - and selling off the country's prized national assets for a song to its cronies.

Boris Yeltsin
Despite President Yeltsin's ill health he has held onto power
There is also a parliament that has become a byword in Russia for venality and corruption, a police force which most people fear more than the criminals it is supposed to protect them from, and bandit gangs which, in the absence of real law and order, are able to impose their own criminal codes on a cowed society.

Boris Yeltsin has been president now for seven years, but still manages to escape censure in the West for the failures of Russian democracy. Yet he, just as much as the recalcitrant parliament and this country's legions of corrupt bureaucrats, must take his share of the blame.

It is he, after all, who has ruled Russia by decree for most of this decade, he who declared war on his own citizens (in Chechnya) without so much as consulting parliament first and he who appointed the ministers whose policies have brought the country to destitution.

If Boris Yeltsin survives in office until next year's presidential elections, he ought to preside over the first constitutional transfer of power in Russia's history.

Don't expect many in Russia to join in the celebrations.

See also:

24 Nov 98 | Europe
17 Jan 99 | Russia crisis
04 Dec 98 | From Our Own Correspondent
18 Jan 99 | Europe
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