Putin’s Russia ‘Already Almost a Totalitarian State,’ Democratic Activists Say

May 20, 2014

Staunton, May 19 – Putin’s Russia is “already almost a totalitarian state,” one in which “citizens are losing their individual rights” and “government propaganda is stupefying people,” according to a declaration of 52 leading human rights activists, opposition political leaders, and commentators, who collectively form the December Roundtable.

Among those who signed it were Lyudmila Alekseyeva, Vladimir Voynovich, Leonid Gozman, Andrey Zubov, Mikhail Kasyanov, Mikhail Krasnov, Vadim Lushkevich, Boris Nemtsov, Andrey Piontkovsky, Lev Ponomaryev, Vadim Prokhorov, Liliya Shevtsova, and Igor Yakovenko

The joint statement, signed on May 14 but posted on the Chaskor.ru portal only today, outlines nine ways in which the Putin regime is carrying out “an attack on basic constitutional rights and freedoms” and then suggests some of the ways that Russians can resist and ultimately reverse this trend.

First, Putin’s anti-terrorist “package” gives the FSB “unprecedented” opportunities to monitor citizens, threatens to impose tight government regulation over Internet bloggers who remain one of the last channels of free expression, requires Internet data bases to be on servers based in Russia, and sharply limits anonymous cash transfers.

Second, the Russian government, “starting from the proposition that the Internet is an invention of the CIA, is seeking to impose filters of the kind that already exist in China and North Korea, take control of the main operators of the RUNet, and restrict access in a variety of other ways.

Third, the declaration says, the Russian government is closing or restricting the activity of what it deems to be “disloyal” media. It has cut Russian access to Kasparov.ru, Yezh.ru, and Grani.ru and it has deprived Dozhd TV, the last independent television network in Russia, of the channels it requires to operate.

Fourth, it continues its attack on non-governmental organizations, expanding the powers of the authorities to do unscheduled checking of the activities of the NGOs, and it is considering legislation “concerning the forced registration of NGOs as foreign agents” as well as a decree that would allow the government to shut down NGOs without a court hearing and decision.

Fifth, the Putin regime has refused to secure the right of citizens to peaceable assembly, “completely ignoring” the findings of the OSCE Venice Commission. It has introduced legislation increasing legal penalties for violating official rules, and it continues to allow the police and other security forces to violate the law in order to block meetings.

Sixth, the declaration says, “the authorities are raising doubts about guarantees for free and honest elections and of the right to referenda” by supporting legislation that would make it extraordinarily difficult for opposition groups to get on the ballot and by a decision of the Constitutional Court permitting “uncontrolled” advance voting.

Seventh, the authorities are not allowing citizens to exercise their rights to local self-administration by eliminating direct elections of mayors and city councils.

Eighth, the powers that be are restructuring the court system in a way that deprives judges of independence and thus threatens their ability to render justice.

And ninth, the Putin regime, in violation of Article 13 of the Constitution, “is trying to impose on society a single ideology” and to promote “the ideological consolidation” of the population “around the political leadership of the country” by talking about “national traitors,” prohibiting an honest discussion of World War II, by insisting that “Russia is not Europe,” by introducing a single state history textbook, and by limiting academic freedom and “primitivizing education.”

All of these actions, the signatories say, are occurring in combination with “an attempt to return to an aggressive imperial policy,” “a mass propagandistic attack on Russian citizens,” and the use of offensive lies in order to “form in the consciousness of Russian citizens images of external and internal enemies.”

“We maintain,” the signatories say, “that a transition to a totalitarian regime of a fascist (but not Nazi) type of regime is occurring,” that this is happening because of the choices of “a group of people who are exploiting power which they did not regime by right or by law” and who calculate that they will be able to retain power by imposing on the country an aggressive chauvinism and imperial aggression” and thus “distract society from real problems.”

They continue: “The overwhelming majority of the political elite,” although “dissatisfied with what is occurring” is “paralyzed by its own fear,” even as a large part of the population has bought into the mass propaganda about the wounds they supposedly suffered because of the demise of the USSR.

“If this mix of fear and indifference continues, then our country is doomed,” the signatories say. “Having fallen apart, Russia will disappear.” And in the process, they add, an untold number of people will suffer both within the Russian Federation and beyond its borders in the course of this “agony.”

Hope lies with those members of civil society who have broadened the activity of that segment of the population in recent years. And that in turn means, the declaration says, that “if there is hope with us, then there is hope in Russian society.”

“We are obligated to use all opportunities to prevent a national catastrophe for Russia. We appeal to all social and political forces with a call to consolidate and immediately prepare and begin to carry out a plan of joint actions. We appeal to all representatives of the political elite of the Putin regime to find in themselves to course to oppose the insanity of evil which is being imposed on us.” We must “form a united front of free citizens for a democratic Russia.”