Clicking on banner ads enables JWR to constantly improve
Jewish World Review Oct. 3, 2000 / 4 Tishrei, 5761

Mort Zuckerman

Mort Zuckerman
JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
James Glassman
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
David Limbaugh
Michelle Malkin
Jackie Mason
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
MUGGER
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Debbie Schlussel
Sam Schulman
Amity Shlaes
Roger Simon
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports


A great step backward

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- RUSSIA has ended its love affair with the West. It is now reinventing itself, and the portents are disquieting. The Russian people, and the world, may have to wait for yet another generation of leaders before they can prosper in a truly democratic state.

All of us–and I include myself–who hoped that Russia could build a Western-style democracy and market economy underestimated the historic obduracies of Russian feudalism and Soviet bureaucracy. A decade was not enough time to adapt to ideas and institutions that had been maturing for hundreds of years in the West. The gap between being a liberal and being a thief disappeared. Russians came to believe that the best way to get ahead was through cronyism and corruption rather than hard work. The subsequent socioeconomic collapse was greater than ever known before in an advanced society.

Today there is a new president, Vladimir Putin. It is not at all clear if democracy is his ultimate goal. What is clear is that his authoritarian methods are focused on restoring a centralized Russian state whose power relies on fear, not persuasion or education. He presides over a group of criminal oligarchs, former KGB and military men, and old communist apparatchiks, most of whom would have been right at home in the higher echelons of the Soviet government. Intelligence agents are now part of the presidential directorate; special military counterintelligence departments have been restored. "You can't get anywhere without secret agents," Putin has said. Putin expresses pride in his own KGB background, without seeming to understand how the KGB made the Soviet Union a place of fear, even terror, for most of the past century.

Law enforcement today seems less a matter of law than of politics. Putin has centralized the appointment of judges at the national level. He has reduced their life terms to a defined number of years, increasing their dependency on the central government. Politically, he has altered the composition of the senior national legislative body, organizing the country into seven super-regions administered by presidential appointees with the power to remove local governments. Five of these supergovernors are secret police and military officials.

A publisher who criticizes policies can expect to be menaced by the legal and political apparatus of the state; a journalist can expect to be attacked, even killed, for just trying to do the normal job of reporting. Putin's minister of information, Mikhail Lesin, sees the major TV networks as no more than presidential critics and, consequently, those who control them have been targets of selective prosecution.

Police raided Media-Most, which owns Russia's only independent television network, and left behind packets containing illegal bullets. Since possession of these is a criminal offense, the police are suspected once again of planting evidence. The owner of another network has said that Putin threatened him with criminal prosecution and jail time if he would not transfer his media holdings to the state. The Russian Union of Journalists reports that government officials at every level are limiting their ability to report and comment by denying broadcast licenses and revoking certain tax breaks. The leading TV personality, Sergei Dorenko, has had his regular Saturday night program yanked off the air because his bosses fear critical remarks about the president will invite a punitive reaction. Lesin went so far as to guarantee that the owner of Media-Most would not be prosecuted if he sold his media interests–a clear indication that justice can be bought if it advances the administration's political interests. I have firsthand knowledge of Lesin's tactics. He threatened me directly in relation to a newspaper in which I am a financial partner, asserting he would shut it down if it did not cease its exposés of the financial shenanigans of the Yeltsin administration and the Yeltsin family. I protested his threat in the strongest terms, and we have continued our aggressive reporting, so far without state interference.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the 81-year-old Nobel Prize writer, has long favored a strong Russian state, but even he recently denounced the recentralizing of power. Putin simply does not yet understand that for Russia to flourish, Russians must acquire independence, not from the aristocracy or the landowners or business, but from the state.

Russia has long been dangerous for its military strength. It is now dangerous for its political weakness. This time the West can do little about it.



JWR contributor Mort Zuckerman is editor-in-chief and publisher of U.S. News and World Report. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

Up


09/08/00: The Perfect Storm
08/29/00: Don't blow the surplus
08/15/00: Voting for grown-ups
08/01/00: Arafat's lack of nerve
07/17/00: Can there be a new peace between old enemies? Or will new enemies regress to an old state of war?
07/11/00: A time to celebrate
06/19/00: A bit of straight talk
06/08/00: Using hate against Israel
05/26/00: Is the Federal Reserve trigger-happy?
04/18/00: Tensions on the 'Net
04/13/00: A paranoid power
03/10/00: Fuel prices in the red zone
02/25/00: Web wake-up call
02/18/00: Back to the future
01/21/00: Whistling while we work
01/11/00: Loose lips, fast quips
12/23/99: The times of our lives
12/14/99: Hey, big spender
11/18/99: Fountain of Youth
11/04/99: An impossible partner
10/14/99: A nation divided
10/05/99: India at center stage
09/21/99: Along with good cops, we need a better probation system
09/08/99: Though plundered and confused, Russia can solve its problems
08/31/99: The military should spend more on forces and less on facilities
08/05/99: Squandering the surplus
07/06/99: More than ever, America's unique promise is a reality
06/24/99: The time has come to hit the brakes on affirmative action
06/15/99: America should take pride in honoring its responsibilities
06/02/99: The Middle Kingdom shows its antagonistic side
05/11/99: Technology's transforming power is giving a lift to everything
05/04/99: The big game gets bigger
04/30/99: On Kosovo, Russia talked loudly and carried a small stick
04/21/99: No time to go wobbly
04/13/99: The Evil of two lessers

© 2000, Mortimer Zuckerman