It seems that Russian President Vladimir Putin is following in the path of so many in term of the corrupting influence of power. Using old style Communist police tactics, Putin has tried to violently suppress those that disagree with his policies. If "Other Russia" has its way, these efforts to stifle dissent would come to an end.
The following is part of the closing statements made by "Other Russia" at the close of their 2006 conference.
"The conference has succeeded in showing that Russia still possesses a civil society capable of defending its rights. It is also clear that this fact has become a special source of concern to the powers that be in Russia. Their goal is the complete and unending control of every national resource and this can only be achieved by repression and anti-constitutional means based on the destruction of civil liberties and the cleansing of the political field. Such methods are certain to drive Russia into the abyss.
Our goal is to combat this destructive trend and this is why they despise us and fear us. Their fear is justified as the tasks we set for ourselves and our country are incompatible with the existence of the present regime. We aim to restore civil control of power in Russia, a control that is guaranteed in the Russian Constitution that is so frequently and unambiguously violated today. This aim requires a return to the principles of federalism and the separation of powers. It calls for the restoration of the social function of the state with regional self-administration and the independence of the media. The judicial system must protect every citizen equally, especially from the dangerous impulses of the representatives of power. It is our duty to free the country from outbreaks of prejudice, racism, and xenophobia and from the looting of our national riches by government officials."
These principles should attract sympathy and support from any free society. Who can argue with the ideas of federalism, the rights of a free press, support for civil liberties for all, equal protection under the law and a society free of racism? It seems that Mr. Putin has a problem with some of these fundamental rights. There is the lingering cloud over possible Putin involvement in the death of a leading Russian journalist who frequently opposed his policies. His actions this past March in crushing a peaceful rally in St. Petersburg attests to his views on free speech. Whenever you here Putin's name it seems that he is using some bullying tactic or show of force to make his point. Perhaps that is why he and President Bush get along so well. Neither wants dissent. Of course in the U.S. we still have the right to express differing views, at least for now.
What is interesting about "Other Russia" is that it is made of divergent groups from very pro-westerners to the old Communist party and everything in-between; reminds of the old U.S. Democratic Party before they became "Republicanized" (i.e. controlled by the few).
Of course Putin is supposed to step down next March and it will be interesting if he will concoct a reason to remain in power like climate change being a national security risk. What is known is that pro-Kremlin supporters will do all that they can to prevent "Other Russia" from participating, never mind winning, any important seats in the elections. It should be interesting to watch. Russia has a solid history of dictatorial leaders and it will be interesting to see if groups like "Other Russia" will survive and keep the hopes of a more democratic Russia alive.