Russian Election 2011 – Birthing Pains of a Real Democracy

As a son of a Russian dissident and as a former representative of the Glasnost Public Foundation to the United Nations NGO Conference, it gives me great relief to see what is happening on the streets all across the Russian Federation: A birth of a real civil society in Russia.

The coup that brought down the Soviet Union in 1991, gave promise to the Russian people for a democratic state with government of the people and by the people. However, those hopes quickly fizzled out, as the country created a ruling elite from the KGB ranks, eroded free media, and made virtually no investments in developing democratic institutions. With no institutions to uphold the rule of law, minority and human rights, and little to no prospects of growth and development for the youth, the only institution demanding and hoping for democracy is once again on display: the people.

While most pundits and journalists will focus on the inevitable election of United Russia, the party headed by Vladimir Putin, to the State Duma; the fatigue of the electorate in having to choose the same people every time; and the significant rise in the support for the opposition parties; the real winners are the people. 

The brave few who dared to film the election fraud at the polling stations brought the irregularities into the living rooms of anyone who has access to YouTube. The fraud was evident and very real: Erasable and disappearing ink, ballots supporting United Russia being discovered in ballot boxes hours before the opening of the polling stations, election officials filling in ballots on the side and casting them in favor of the ruling party, and many more.

We should not hold our breath for prosecution of those who are responsible or even for an investigation. 

However, the message from the inside is clear: enough already. While United Russia will again have a majority in the State Duma, they have lost the two-thirds needed to guarantee constitutional amendments, a favorite tool of the executive branch. Now, partnerships with minority parties will be necessary to build enough support for legislation. In short: there is a real and legitimate check on the power of the office of the president and for the first time the opposition is empowered to deal with the Kremlin and that is a real result.

With unrest on the streets of Moscow, I hope that the government will show restraint and find ways of providing a safe environment for the protestors to vent their grievances and not resort to inciting violence by unleashing the “Nashi," the youth movement of United Russia, to incite civil war. I thank the everyday heroes of Russia for vindicating a dream that my mom fought for in coup of 1991 and I hope for continued growth of those left behind in taking ownership of their country and democracy.