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Moscow Must Promote ‘Sovereign Democracy,’ Analyst Says


Paul Goble

Vienna, September 6, 2006 – Russia must make “sovereign democracy” the centerpiece of its ideology and policy both at home and abroad or face the prospect that outsiders will continue to impose their ideas about what Russian democracy consists of and what role Moscow should play in the world, according to a leading Moscow political commentator.

In an article posted on the website, Sergei Markov, who is
currently a member of the country’s Social Chamber, provides the
fullest explication to date of why “sovereign democracy” has
emerged as an ideological focus in Moscow, what this term means, and how the
Russian authorities should act to promote it.

According to Markov, who writes frequently on political topics, this
idea is attracting attention because “for the first time the Russian
leadership is attempting to act as a player on the ideological field,
to seize the ideological initiative, and to make sense of what it is

The idea of “sovereign democracy,” he continues, was developed in
reaction to the various “color revolutions,” pressure on Russia
from other countries, and concerns expressed by Russians themselves about
just what democracy should mean for them – and equally important,
what it must not mean.

Some in the West, Markov says, argue that democracy must not be
modified by any adjective and that all democracies are soveriegn. But the truth
is, he suggests, that both of these arguments are complete
“stupidities” and reflect an effort of one group to impose its will
on another.

On the one hand, he notes, there are many kinds of democracy: liberal
democracy like that found in the United States, social democracy
typical of many European countries, majoritarian democracy where the will of
the majority is most important and directed democracy in which leaders play
a predominant role.

And on the other, it is simply not the case, Markov says, that all
democracies are “sovereign.” Japan, he insists, remains “under
the partial foreign administration of the U.S.,” and in many East
European countries, the European Union’s bureaucracy currently has a bigger
voice than do the people and governments of those lands.

According to Markov, the idea of “sovereign democracy” being
developed in the Russian Federation rests on four principles: First, he
says, “we accept general democratic values such as freedom of speech,
rule of law, political competition, majority rule and minority

Second, Markov continues, “we preserve sovereignty. That is, the
foreign and domestic policy of Russia is defined above all by its
people and its elite, by those who are inside Russia rather than anyone
outside” its borders.

Third, it means that Russia will “advance along the path to democracy
on their own.” No outsider will be allowed to tell Russians just what
democracy is or be allowed to control this process because “we will
decide for ourselves what is democratic and what is not.”

For example, Markov suggests, “we decide that suppressing terrorism
in the North Caucasus is democratic and giving power to Icherkian bandits
is non-democratic” – and not the reverse.

And the fourth principle of “sovereign democracy,” Markov argues,
is that “democratic institutions which correspond to general democratic
criteria will be formed by taking into account he national and
socio-cultural distinctive features of Russia” rather being imposed
according to some abstract model.

The adjective “sovereign” is equally important, the Moscow analyst
continues. Russia must be sovereign or others will determine her fate,
and “sovereignty must be understood not passively but actively.”
That is, it must not only be about independence but also about
leadership of other countries.

Citing with approval Kremlin advisor Vladislav Surkov’s recent
observation that “either we will speak for ourselves or we will only
listen to others,” Markov suggests that Russia must assert its
leadership in its own “back yard” – the countries of “the CIS
and in general the post-Soviet space.”

“No one,” he argues, will respect our sovereignty if we are not in
a position to ensure our leadership” in this part of the world and if
“unruly” politicians in Georgbia or Latvia are in a position “to
show the entire world that we are not in a position to guarantee”
this leading role.

“One such unruly neighbor” is something Russia might be able to
tolerate, Markov observes; after all, the U.S. has to put up with Cuba,
“but when there are unruly people all around, who sit in our
backyard, no one will take us seriously” as a sovereign power.

Consequently, Markov argues, Moscow must “propose to other countries
[in its region] not to accept the American conception of democracy but
to develop it jointly on their own. In this sense, [Moscow] must be the
leader of the development of democracy for the post-Soviet space.”

Given its resources, Russia has not only the right but the ability to
insist on this and to demand recognition as “one of the great powers.
We have the right to our own way of life and at the same time we must
ensure that it is an attractive way of way” to others as well.

“Of course,” Markov says, the ideas of “sovereign democracy”
are fundamentally different from the programs offered to Russia under the
name of democracy in the 1990s, the unfortunate results of which have
“not yet been overcome by Presidetn Vladimir Putin up until now.”

And Markov ends by arguing that Russia faces two possible paths of
development in which “sovereign democracy” will be invoked. The
first will allow Russian life to improve and the country to become a
democracy, thus making this idea the ideology of national development.

The second by contrast, he says, could involve the redefinition and
distortion of this concept precisely by those forces which arose from
the uncontrolled capitalism of the last 15 years and render the term
little more than a cover for a rising tide of political

Markov clearly hopes that “sovereign democracy” will lead Russia
down the first path, but many others both in his country and especially
in what he calls its “back yard” are worried that at the present
time this notion is pushing that country and her people down the second

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