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Universal Values Make A Comeback

  • Aleksandr Golts

An opposition supporter at a protest rally in Tehran

An opposition supporter at a protest rally in Tehran

Political scientists have a tough lot. They usually have to wait for years before events show whether their theories are true or not.

But in this regard, the workers of the Social Forecasting Institute, a pro-Putin think tank, really got lucky. Less than a week passed before events proved the genuine value of a report they just issued under the title "An Evaluation Of The Condition And Perspectives Of The Political System Of The Russian Federation In 2009 And Early 2009."

Of course, from the point of view of ideology, you can't really say this report is much distinguished from the 19th-century formulation of Count Sergei Uvarov -- "Orthodoxy, autocracy, and nationality." Nearly 200 years later, Uvarov's stepchildren are using fairly primitive sophistry to try to prove that Western concepts like democracy and freedom are not suitable for our country.

There are, of course, some new twists. The authors argue that democracy in general has exhausted itself, not only in Russia, but around the world. It turns out that "politics has become part of the 'external world' that can only be observed from afar -- a world of political leaders that is so distant from the world of average citizens that it has become a mere spectacle, something that is not happening in the zone of responsibility of citizens but rather on some distant stage."

Moreover, "the strength and effectiveness of a government is more important than the type of political regime. If there are no solid state structures, then there is nothing to govern, nowhere to exercise representation, nothing to democratize." In short, it seems that no one anywhere -- including Russians -- has any need for democracy anymore.

But the very moment when the United Russia academics laid out these theses, millions of people in a certain country poured out into the streets in order to defend their right to elect their leaders. And it didn't happen in some accursed Pindestan where people are living in the lap of luxury. No, it happened in relatively poor, theocratic Iran, a country dominated by autocratic ayatollahs. Apparently Iranians haven't yet had the good fortune to read the United Russia analysts' opinion that normal people can only watch the struggle among politicians on television like a bunch of Roman citizens cheering on the gladiators.

The citizens of Tehran, who by no means can be considered infected by despicable Anglo-Saxon traditions, felt offended when they concluded that, as a result of machinations, their votes had been stolen. Moreover, those poor renegades, more than a million of them by some reports, considered it necessary to carry signs and banners in English! That is, for some reason they are appealing to the despised Western democracy -- which has been discredited not only by the ayatollahs, but also by the outstanding analysts of the Social Forecasting Institute.

Some primitive thinkers might argue that, despite all the talk of a clash of civilizations, there actually is such a thing as universal values that are the same in the United States and, believe it or not, in Iran. And if this is so, then it is a clear and obvious death sentence to all these ravings about Russia's "unique path" of development.

But this still doesn't answer the question of why Iranians felt offended by the election shenanigans in their country, while Russians, as a rule, couldn’t care less when it happens here. Why are Russian citizens, unlike Iranians, perfectly willing to play by the rules their leaders establish for them? In short, if until fairly recently people asked why Russia isn't like America, now the real question is why isn't Russia like Iran. Now it turns out that Russians are the only ones who don't need democracy -- if you don't count the North Koreans.

And there are some objective factors that make Iranian society more impassioned than Russia's. For one, there is the growth of the urban population there. Seventy percent of Iranians are youths who definitely don't want to see another few years of stagnation under the leadership of a dimwitted fanatic. In addition, it turns out that even in this theocratic state there is room for political competition and even for -- Russians might not believe this -- live, televised debates.

But the main factor is that Vladimir Putin has not annoyed Russians to the extent that the impassioned Mahmud Ahmadinejad has annoyed Iranians. The Russian authorities don’t interfere in the private lives of Russian citizens like the Iranian authorities do. Nonetheless, I suspect that the effectiveness with which Putin is managing the economy will soon prompt Russians to say the hell with his charisma and to suddenly remember about their right to elect their leaders.

Aleksandr Golts is deputy editor of the website "Yezhednevny zhurnal," where this commentary first appeared. The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL
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