Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 49

The fact that Boris Berezovsky chose March 5 to hold his London press conference putting forwards his charges concerning alleged FSB involvement in the apartment building bombings was not accidental. The day marked the forty-ninth anniversary of the death of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. Other opponents of President Vladimir Putin–including a number of people who, unlike Berezovsky, have authentically pro-democratic records–used the occasion of the anniversary of Stalin’s death to express concern about Russia’s course under President Vladimir Putin. A group of veteran pro-democracy and human rights campaigners–including Yuly Rybakov, Sergei Yushenkov, Yelena Bonner, Lev Ponomarev, Valeria Novodvorskaya and Igor Yakovenko–signed an open letter last week calling on all civic forces, on both the right and the left, “to unite for the sake of saving democracy.” Beginning in the middle of the 1990s, the open letter stated, “a crisis of democratic development became clearly visible” and “the alienation of society from the power holders and the state from civil society grew.” The policy of the current government, the letter continued, is “not a new stage of liberal reforms but their liquidation.” Among the signs that a “managed democracy” is being set up is the fact that that representatives of the opposition are not being allowed airtime on state television. This, the letter’s signatories declared, essentially “deletes” the opposition from the country’s “political reality,” something that “cannot be compensated by the preservation of several democratic media” (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, March 6).

Similar views were put forward late last month by another leading 1990s-era democrat, Grigory Yavlinsky. Like the signatories of the March 5 open letter, the Yabloko leader called Russia’s political system a “managed democracy.” As for specific areas of concern, Yavlinsky pointed to the situation surrounding the mass media, the “scandals surrounding elections,” the “use of the judicial system as an instrument for carrying out political tasks,” the “loss of rights of local self-government” and the “reduction of the regions’ economic opportunities” (, February 25).

Yet as has been the case for the last two years, ordinary Russians do not share the democrats’ concerns over Putin and his policies. A poll carried out by the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) over February 22-26 found that 75 percent of those surveyed approved of the Russian president’s performance and 20 percent disapproved (, March 5).