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21 December 2012

“No podarki for Putin!”: two more words the upholder of the Constitution appears not to understand: “democracy” and “law”

Perhaps a more subtle riposte to the Magnistky Act would be for
President Putin to give Obama a ZiL for Christmas
A final note on yesterday’s presidential press conference, which was almost as long as one of Leonid Eyebrows Brezhnev’s speeches to the party faithful in the days when détente meant the Soviet President receiving another Cadillac from the American President.
     (On that subject, one wonders if “re-set” means the Russian President being humiliated by being forced to drive a BMW or Mercedes. As the Moscow Times reported yesterday, not even the pseudo-Cadillac recently offered by the ZiL factory seems to be good enough a man accustomed to world-standard luxury. How the mighty have fallen!)
     Getting back to the grubby present: the Moscow Times today reported the President’s response to the Isvestia question about authoritarianism slightly differently from the BBC (see yesterday’s post).
A reporter from Izvestia, widely regarded as one of the city’s most Kremlin-friendly dailies, accused Putin of building a totalitarian regime of personal power over the past 12 years. “Don’t you think that this hinders Russia’s development?” he asked.
     Putin rebuffed the question by saying his decision to heed the Constitution instead of changing it in 2008 and serving as prime minister for four years was ample proof that he was not authoritarian. “I consciously moved to a second post to guarantee the continuity of power,” he said, adding that “democracy is to observe the law.”
     Leaving aside the breathtaking, Nixonian arrogance of a President who is effectively saying he will obey the Constitution only as long as it suits him (see yesterday’s post), the statement that “democracy is to obey the law” needs to be noted. Even making every allowance for the shades of meaning lost in translation, it a complete travesty of language.
     Democracy is a system of government in which the people are ultimately in charge of those who rule them. Law is a system of rules by which society is supposed to operate and, in particular, to resolve conflicts without violence. The observance of rules has nothing whatsoever to do, either logically or factually, with the system of choosing rulers.
     If Mr Putin does not understand that law and democracy are completely different concepts, describing totally different things, which have no more in common than potatoes and wallpaper, then Russia is heading for an uncomfortable future. This is especially so as he appears to see no obligation to abide by the country’s Constitution, saying that he did so in 2008 not because he felt he had no choice, but because he personally took the “decision to”.
     In the modern world, a civilised country is more or less defined by saying that it is one in which the constitution is where law and democracy meet. Few countries are perfect in that (or any other) respect, but most people understand that definition and broadly accept it. If Russia is a bit of an outcast, as Putin is constantly saying it is, then perhaps part of the reason for that is the perception is that its President does not appear to understand the three key words of that definition as well as perhaps he might. 
     No wonder he has to buy his own automobiles. I can see just see Mr Obama sitting is his sweats, puffing and panting at the edge of the Executive Office Building basketball court, and saying to his Chief of Staff for the International Leader Christmas Present Procurement Program, who is sitting beside him in his shirt-sleeves, scribbling ostentatiously on a yellow legal pad: “No podarki for Putin.”

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