Make no mistake: On the current trajectory, Russia won’t be immune to many of the forces that provoked the so-called colored revolutions in adjacent states and even the misnomered Arab Awakening.
A third Russian revolution is unfolding. The only questions are when will that revolution reach a critical mass and, most importantly, will the forces of autocracy or pluralism carry the day?
In the two decades since, Vladimir Putin has emerged as the Ironman of Russia. In the process, Russia has been described and viewed by many as a kleptocracy ruled by the few who have pillaged national wealth for their own benefits.
Under what Republicans and Democrats alike in the United States see as a government of and by thugs, human rights have been violated; dissidents and members of the media arrested; and opponents of the Kremlin subjected to purges and show trials leading to long prison sentences.
While Peru has become more like Chile, Bolivia has become more like Chávez.
Peru and Bolivia are neighboring Andean countries that have long been associated with poverty, drug trafficking, ethnic tensions, and political upheaval. Both experienced hyperinflation in the 1980s, and both saw presidents resign from office in the 2000s. Both nations also have abundant mineral wealth, giving them tremendous economic potential. Yet in recent years, their trajectories have diverged quite radically. Simply put: Peru has become more like Chile, while Bolivia has become more like Chávez.
Indeed, the Peruvian business climate has become increasingly friendly to private investment, while the Bolivian business climate has become increasingly hostile to it. Peru has strengthened the foundations of its democracy, while Bolivia has moved toward populist autocracy. As a result, Peru is now considered a rising star among developing economies, while Bolivia is considered a mini-Venezuela.
Niall Ferguson asks how China manages to live under a Communist system of government but with a thriving capitalist economy.
The succession of revolutions orchestrated by Mao Zedong killed more people than Hitler and Stalin combined. And yet this hard-line communist and murderer of businessmen is revered in China today as the founder of a modern-day capitalist superpower. Why?
To answer this question Niall travels from Beijing to Mao’s birthplace at Shaoshan to the new supercity of Chongqing and to the rural backwaters of Anhui to track down survivors of the madness of Chairman Mao, newly minted billionaires and the Mao worshippers who believe tomorrow belongs to them.
He finds the way China is governed is eerily similar to the way it was under the First Emperor. All the power lies in the hands of nine men with expressionless faces and what looks like the same hair dye – as unelected and as powerful as Emperor Qin.
Autocracy that values unity over choice; secrecy over openness – not democracy. That has always been the Chinese way. It is the price that China is prepared to pay for the spectre that has always haunted its leaders: protest, rebellion and turmoil.
Vladimir Putin has tamed the gangster capitalism that accompanied the collapse of the Soviet Union to make Russian corruption “normal and civilized,” his presidential election campaign chief said in an interview published on Friday.
Russia is ranked as the most corrupt major power and in leaked documents U.S. diplomats cast “alpha-dog” Putin as ruling a corrupt autocracy that allows crooked officials and spies to siphon off cash from the world’s biggest energy producer.
Some Russian analysts are warning that if Mr. Putin persists in this autocracy-as-usual approach he could provoke an even bigger uprising by Russians, who have already gathered for the largest demonstrations since the collapse of the Soviet Union. But to judge from the official media, if the president perceives a threat, he attributes it to the newly arrived U.S. ambassador in Moscow, Michael McFaul. Mr. McFaul has been pilloried for attending a meeting with opposition activists; it is suggested, darkly, that he has been sent to Russia to foment a revolution.
What is the underlying factor driving the persistence of autocracy in this part of the world?
We would suggest that the fact that protestors are demanding both democracy and economic opportunity provides an important clue as to why the region tends to converge on non-democratic political systems. Briefly stated, societies that are characterized by extreme inequality tend not to provide fertile ground for representative political institutions. Not surprisingly, the first democracies—both in antiquity and in the modern era—emerged out of societies composed of citizens who not only had attained high average levels of education, but who were relatively equally matched in terms of their educational endowment and sophistication.
Such is not the case in societies where income, education, and opportunity are concentrated in a tiny elite. There, “free and fair elections” become a mechanism for the poor to redistribute wealth. Indeed, there is little to stop the vast, impoverished majority from stopping at the elite’s wealth; why not deny the elite life and liberty as well?
President Dmitry Medvedev’s speech in St. Petersburg late last week marking the 150th anniversary of Tsar Alexander II’s decree to free the serfs may have been a hidden protest against Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s autocracy.
Perhaps Medvedev was trying to play the role of Alexander II while surreptitiously portraying Putin as Tsar Nicholas I — Alexander II’s predecessor and one of Russia’s most reactionary monarchs who wholeheartedly embraced the ideological doctrine of “Orthodoxy, Autocracy and Nationality.”
Let’s take a crack at decoding Medvedev’s top six points from the speech:
1. Alexander II’s critics “tried to talk him out of freeing the serfs, arguing that the Russian people were not ready for freedom.”
Medvedev’s real message to Putin: Give back to the people the right to elect governors and mayors. …
So far the current wave of revolutions has been an entirely Arab phenomenon, apart from some faint echoes in Iran, but the example of successful nonviolent revolution can cross national and even cultural frontiers. It won’t matter that it’s a very long way from the Arab world to China if large numbers of young Chinese conclude that the same techniques could also work against their own local autocracy.
But what if the Chinese economic miracle stalled? Then the situation could change very fast, for the regime is not loved; it is merely tolerated so long as living standards go on rising quickly. And what could cause it to stall? Well, the economic side effects of the current wave of revolutions in the Middle East might do the trick.
Sometimes, it really is all about oil. …
Many believe that when Chinese and Russian leaders stopped believing in communism, they stopped believing in anything. They had become pragmatists, pursuing their own and their nation’s interests. But Chinese and Russian rulers, like past rulers of autocracies, do have a set of beliefs that guide their domestic and foreign policies. They believe in the virtues of strong central government and disdain the weaknesses of the democratic system. They believe strong rule at home is necessary if their nations are to be respected in the world. Chinese and Russian leaders are not just autocrats. They believe in autocracy.
And why shouldn’t they? In Russia and China, growing national wealth and autocracy have proved compatible, contrary to predictions in the liberal West. Moscow and Beijing have figured out how to permit open economic activity while suppressing political activity.