December 6, 2011

An ‘Iron Hand’ Is No Substitute For Democracy

Madeleine Albright and Andrew Kohut

Two decades ago, a survey conducted by the Times Mirror Center of the Soviet Union during perestroika showed a huge divide between hardline communists and the young, urban Russians who backed Boris Yeltsin and favoured a free market economy. Last weekend’s election results show how the divide endures 20 years on.

A new Pew Research Center Global Attitudes Project survey finds that just 50 per cent of Russians approve of multi-party politics and half consider it a misfortune that the Soviet Union no longer exists. By a margin of 57 to 32 per cent, Russians believe that having a “strong leader” is more important than a democratic government.

This is the conviction that, for more than a decade, fuelled the popularity of Vladimir Putin, but is now beginning to pall. His “look-at-me” style appeared when the economy was on the rise but a combination of inflation and stagnant living standards is prompting many Russian voters once again to signal their unhappiness with the status quo. This search for leaders who will deliver economically holds an important lesson for the Middle East where the democratic tide still swells despite panicked opposition from some and the efforts of others to regulate its tempo.

Writing in the Financial Times, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Pew Research Center President Andrew Kohut assess Russia’s struggles in trying to make the transition to a more open society and what principles for nurturing democracy it suggests for the countries in the Middle East swept up by this year’s Arab Spring.

See the full article (registration required) and the Pew Global Attitudes Project’s report on the subject: Confidence in Democracy and Capitalism Wanes in Former Soviet Union.