Publication: Fortnight in Review Volume: 8 Issue: 6

?Meanwhile, a group of veteran human rights campaigners, including two leading members of Liberal Russia, the movement which Berezovsky belongs to and funds, marked the anniversary of Stalin’s death with an open letter calling on “civic forces” of all political persuasions to “unite for the sake of saving democracy.” The letter’s signatories, including Liberal Russia’s Yuly Rybakov and Sergei Yushenkov, as well as Yelena Bonner, Lev Ponomarev, Valeria Novodvorskaya and Igor Yakovenko, accused the Putin administration of setting up a “managed democracy” and of keeping the political opposition off of state television–which, with the closure of Berezovsky’s TV-6 earlier this year, has become almost the only game in town. The open letter’s warnings echoed those made by Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky, who, in an interview with the website last month, also said Russia’s political system was mutating into a “managed democracy.”

The attempt to lump Putin together with Stalin was in many ways, of course, a bum rap. After all, even Putin’s worst enemies could not accuse him of terrorizing and murdering large swathes of the population. Still, the ongoing violence in Chechnya–including the discovery earlier this month of graves containing the bodies of more than twenty Chechens who had been detained by Russian security forces–and the state’s continued pressure on the country’s shrinking independent media sector, combined with the Kremlin’s quasi-liberal economic policies, suggested that Putin remained committed to a kind of “authoritarian modernization.” That was apparently not a bad choice, from the public’s point of view: Polls showed Putin’s approval rating hovering steadily in the 70-80 percent range.