Analysing Reputation and Status of Putin's Regime
It dates back to the phase when Putin took charge of Russia as a politically volatile and economically unstable state. Since Putin came to power, a significant change was noticed in the Russian economy; nevertheless, he was accused by many to be involved in political dictatorship and corruption. Many called it the inception of crony capitalism and oligarchy (Navalny 2007). The political system under Vladimir Putin has been described as incorporating some elements of economic liberalism, a lack of transparency in governance, cronyism, nepotism and pervasive corruption (Rahn 2007). Navalny argued that Putin pretends to run a free democracy but he runs a state which he owns his lineage from fascism. He said that Putinism is established today as the Russians enjoyed a rising standard of living while the citizens were willing to go with soft repression. Navalny predicted that ‘as Russia’s economic fortunes changed, Putinism was likely to become more repressive’. This statement justifies the state of affair in Russia today as Putin took actions to lessen democracy, promote conservative beliefs and values, and silence opposition to his policies and administration. This view has been supported by many; however, it has also been characterized as ‘a systemic and institutionalized form’ by others, notably Boris Nemtsov (Radio Liberty 2005). Putin has demonstrated acts of power consolidation by taking the prerogative of appointing the governors in 2004 and then the famous castling in 2011 with certain follow-up too suggests his autocratic nature (The Guardian 2015).
Between 1999 and 2008, the Russian economy grew at a steady pace, which some experts attribute to the sharp ruble devaluation of 1998, Boris Yeltsin-era structural reforms, rising oil prices, and cheap credit from Western banks(World Bank 2007). In the context of the reform that was initially reported in Putin’s period, it was argued that it simultaneously created an economic gap in the society and it also experienced the destruction of free media, threat to civil society and an unmitigated corruption of justice (McFaul 2004). Putinism in Russia was defined by political Boris Nemstov and karz- murza Russia as ‘a one-party system, censorship, a puppet parliament ending of an independent judiciary” (Lipman 2007). Later the range of dissidence came from the common despair that took place due to pervasive cronyism and corruption in Russia and this issue was taken up many intellectuals in society. Politkovskaya (2007) out-rightly criticized the government and wrote in her book that ‘Our state authorities today are only interested in making money. That is all they are interested in’.
The range of dissidence also comes in cultural and cinematic expression and many of them who criticized Putin for his policies were either jailed or censored (BBC NEWS 2008). Pussy riots were a cultural way of protesting and registering dissidence which met a very harsh response from the state. All the renowned voice of dissidence: Anna Politkovskaya, Boris Nemtsov was gradually eliminated with no clear investigation and accountability followed (Novaya Gazeta 2008). The current exponent of dissidence, Alexie Navalny, has been jailed many times and now explicitly shows the contradiction and dichotomy of dissents and state in Putin’s Russia (The Guardian 2017).
Although there is strong visibility of state repression taken against dissents and population in general, at the same time, there is another side of the entire debate which also should be taken into account. It has been reported many times that some of these renowned dissents have been an advancement of western propaganda to nurture hysteria against Putin and the Russian state (Laqueur 2015). Nevertheless, weak human rights record, the killing of protestors and lack of an affable environment for disagreements are serious threat and concerns to democracy in Russia. Kris (2015) argued that this is a clear statement of conflict which hints that with the revival and rehabilitation of the past, somewhere, we have lost our right to freedom and dissidence.
State Policies toward Dissent in Russia
History of dissidence dates back to the early 1950s as mentioned in the previous theme related to history and literature of the Soviet Union. As it started in 1953-1955, the regime also started to respond them to their call for a range of human rights throughout the Soviet Union from 1953 till the last of the century (Liedy 2011). Human rights movement a cumulative representation of different movement because one of its purposes was to gather and process information from the widest possible range of groups throughout the Soviet Union. Although these groups demanded nationalistic aims; they ultimately clamoured for the democratic values. No doubt, these groups were inclined towards greater autonomy for their nation; nevertheless, it was not for absolute independence from the Soviet Union (Bergman 1992). Reddaway referred to many cases where he said that religious dissident groups too were fundamentally very close to political dissidents as they too sought democracy promotion. However, religious dissident group fundamentally emanated to seek the freedom of religion which they believed was suppressed in the USSR (Reddaway 1972). Rights to emigrate and demands to form free union labor were other prime issue for the dissidents. Freedom from censorship in literature and the freedom for creative arts were other demands.
Reddaway (1972) extrapolated that mostly it was not discussed in Politburo to resolve the issue of dissidence rather it was focused on the methods of curbing and countering dissidents. He further said that many of the transcripts from Politburo were declassified later which suggested that issues of dissidence were rarely discussed in public domain by regimes. After Stalin’s death in 1953, the new leadership initiated under Khrushchev liberalized the legal codes between 1958 and 1961; however, Khrushchev’s political views became less liberal toward the end of his time in office, which left the Central Committee under Brezhnev divided on what to do with dissident groups (Service 2004). Service (2004), this new regime decided to be liberal towards dissident groups and instructions were given that arrest of the dissident group should be minimized which was not the case in the regime of Stalin.
After the 1970s, the issues didn’t go unnoticed to the western regimes and it also influenced the native regime to liberalize their policies towards dissidents. As after “the West drove a hard bargain” with the Soviet Union by including respect for human rights in the “Final Act” of the 1975 Conference of Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Act 1975). The ultimate easing of restrictions against dissidents began in 1986 with the Gorbachev administration; the implementation of a liberalization that adopted much of the dissidents’ program on human rights and was enshrined through an appropriate legislation (Golitsyn 1984). Coming to the subject: the period of Putin’s regime (1999-till date), reflects a serious concern when it comes to policies to understand and resolve the issues related to dissidents. There is a statement of dissidence against Putin in Russia which is known as the sanitation of the law, gives us the understanding of Putin’s policies. Continuous labelling of the organization as foreign agents has led to the closing of at least 20 NGO’S.
Most of them have been accused of western propaganda against Putin (Lally 2013). Lally (2013) argued that this policy was severely unhealthy in the sense as the list included many of those who were admired for their unbiased work and approach. Then pussy riots which took place at the start of 2012 are a mirror to show how Putin dealt with dissidence during these protests. This legislation was initially brought to protect the religious sentiments and belief of Russian citizens. This amendment to criminal code came in place shortly after feminist punk rock band name “pussy riots” performed anti- kremlin performance at Moscow’s largest cathedral in March 2012. Three activists, associated with the protest were charged with hooliganism. Under the law, “public activities manifesting clear disrespect to society and insult to the religious sentiments of believers are punishable by either fine up to $ 4,215 or up to three years in prison” (Cadwalladr 2012).
Cadwalladr (2012) says the legislation contradicts the principle of a secular state and violates the rights of Russian citizens to free speech and freedom of conscience. This act was criticized in public domain and intellectual domain be-cause of its target on right to free speech under the camouflage to protect religious sentiments. Then other policies were also brought to suppress the dissidents and their concern was not taken in public discourse with scientific temper. Blocking of websites was implemented under the claim that these websites are inciting riot, hatred, and extremism in Russia (Big 2015). Big (2015) explained that it was done to bolster the concentration of power and also the dissemination of desired information by state. Other than that, all the incidences that cover the sad history from Anna Politkovskaya to Navalny have only shown that policies for dissidence were only made to repress not to resolve the issue.
There is no doubt that Putin’s regime is full of ups and downs. After the collapse of USSR, Putin came as a hope for the common man in Russia; however, it soon changed into an authoritarian regime. Last many decades has witnessed Putin as a strong leader who has an image of macho-man and a savior. But there is a dark and grim side of the story hidden under the canonized saviour image, which is Putin’s constant regimentation and repression of opposition. It is needless to say that Putin has flouted international laws brazenly in many cases: Crimea, a war in eastern Ukraine. His engagement with Crimea was a classic example of double standards as he promised to give Crimea a better future ahead but previously installed a corrupt man there as a state head. His policy of Crimea return was more driven by irredentism, imperialist desire and territorial aggression. Putin has planted his henchman in Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, who behaves like a pre-enlightenment king with least reverence to democratic ethos and values. Nevertheless, he celebrates whooping support and his admiration never plummeted due to the clever management and control of media. In past years, Putin has largely influenced the media, cinema and its content to a great extent. Putin’s calculated state-crafting, manoeuvring of media and other sources of information have helped him profusely to get rid of allegations of authoritarianism. Putin’s celebration as popular leader has emanated a new trend in modern politics. Today, we see a potential possibility of dictatorial tendency emerging in the world and Putin justifies the theory. Putin has also emerged as a powerful leader of revisionism which he harnesses to embolden his support base. In nutshell, Putin uses pragmatism, national- cultural paraphernalia, media and crony- capitalism to maintain the status quo in the country. Probably, this is why, even after gross inequality and brutal repression of dissent, he manages to celebrate whooping support in Russia.
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