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Russian democracy through foreign eyes

Russian democracy through foreign eyes
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Here are several views presented by foreigners who have worked in Russia for quite some time, of Vladimir Putin, who, although the country’s presidential election has five candidates in the race, is widely expected to win it in the first round.

Gilles Chenesseau is vice-president of the France-Russia Chamber of Commerce and runs a travel agency. He came in 1981.

Correspondent for Spanish newspaper El Pais Pilar Bonet finds Russia as fascinating as when she arrived there in 1984.

Bureau Chief for British newspaper The Times Tony Halpin has worked in Moscow since 2005.

These three analyse Putin’s political path from the beginning of his presence in the halls of power, 12 years ago.

Chenesseau said: “In spite of everything, Yeltsin’s time saw radical change, with very little control. The whole time there was something ‘Wild West’ about it, but it lacked the structure to allow a normal society to develop. It led Putin to power, but a legal – legislative -framework did not exist.”

Bonet said: “I don’t think Putin was any break from Yeltsin. Putin inherited the 1990s. Today’s powerful criticise the 90s but they’re all offspring of those years. Anyone running Russia has been anxious at one time or another, gripped with an irrational fear that the country would spin out of control.”

Halpin said: “It was definitely the case when I first arrived that Russia had a frozen political system. Everything was decided by one person. There were no real parties as such. Now we have a situation where people are actively discussing politics in their daily lives. They show a willingness to take part in demonstrations, to put forward their point of view.”

Putin had called the dissolution of the Soviet Union the greatest geopolitical disaster of the last century, and throughout his two terms in the presidency of the Russian Federation tried to regain its world super status.

Chenesseau said: “Putin’s arrival also largely reflected a desire to revive a certain image of Russian grandeur. That’s something shared deeply by all Russians, whatever their political opinion. One of the main reasons for Putin’s success still today is exactly that feeling of grandeur he was able to restore – giving people pride in their country again.”

Halpin said: “It can go one of two ways. It can go the way of gradual reform, in a way that opens up a political system, takes account of different points of view, allows this active new generation of people who’ve have grown to use choice in every aspect of their life, and now want choice in their political system… or it can go another way: it can go back to repressions, after the elections. I think repression will be very difficult; people have lost the fear now and they are ready to stand up for their rights.”

Bonet said: “Russia has yet to accomplish the transition to democracy. The task came about after the death of Stalin, during the thaw of the 1960s generation. It came up again in Gorbachev’s time, and has come back today. This unaccomplished task of democratisation spans three generations (those of the 60s, the 80s and the 2000s), who found themselves side by side in Bolotnaya Square.”

Our interviewees abstained from detailed predictions, noting a proverb: ‘In Russia, even the past is unpredictable.’