Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Mr. Putin at the crossroads of destiny

So Mr. Putin has decided to use the recent despicable events at Beslan to reinforce his hold on power by appointing regional governors himself, thus denying the people the opportunity to vote for their own representatives; thereby tightening his influence and grip on power. This is the oldest trick in the book, used by despots the world over since the beginning of time. Russia is fast returning to the dark ages of autocratic rule, her fragile democracy dissipating like water from a steaming kettle.

This is not the solution to Russia's problems, nor will it make Russia safer from acts of terrorism. One does not make Russia or any other country better, safer or stronger by diluting democracy. The stifling of democracy can only inhibit the production of ideas and the elements of competition essential to efficiency and innovation. Autocracy asphyxiate initiative. It turns people into automatons and inhibits expression and invention. These fundamental elements of freedom are what have made the United States and Western Europe so successful and so vibrant.

The centralization of power cannot protect Russia from terrorism but better public awareness, good intelligence, shared intelligence and well trained efficient security services can help reduce the risks.

Likewise, centralization cannot eliminate corruption. If anything it may increase it or at least provide greater opportunity for those higher up the ladder of power, once ensconced, to indulge themselves and in so doing spread the corruption outwards as well as downwards to a much greater degree even, than is the case now. The corrupt always depend upon the corruptible.

The only way to reduce corruption is to make those at all levels of power more accountable to the people they represent and this can only be done where democracy and a free press prevails. In young democracies there are always those willing and able to take advantage of a situation to manipulate the people to their own ends but the people learn quickly who they can trust and who is and is not corrupt. It is they, not the state who will root out the corrupt and make the leadership accountable. As a well known British politician once said, "you can fool all of the people some of the time but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time". What is needed is a strengthening of the foundations of democracy. Weakening these foundations will only weaken Russia in the longer term.

I say this to Mr. Putin. You stand at the crossroads of your own as well as Russia's destiny. You have the opportunity and the choice to serve your country well or badly. You can go down in history as either one of the greatest leaders Russia has ever known or you can be remembered as just another self serving despot, in a long line of self serving despots. That choice and that responsibility lies in your own hands Mr. Putin and I hope, we all hope, you choose wisely.

Is it better to build bridges or destroy them? Is compassion, understanding and collaboration better than vengeance, ignorance and confrontation? Which of these building blocks will build the better world? The answer is surely obvious.

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