Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Russia's Democratic Transition (Unit I)

In December of 1922, a group known as the communist Bolsheviks came to power and ended a thousand-year tsarist legacy. Their aim was to create a socialist society in Russia and, eventually, to spread revolutionary socialism throughout the world. Socialism, the Russian Communist Party believed, meant a society without private ownership of the means of production, in which the state owned and controlled all-important economic assets and where political power was exercised in the name of the working people. The newly formed Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) under both Lenin and Stalin proved it highly unlikely that their successors could reform the system without undermining Communist rule itself.(5) At the top of the hierarchy, final power to decide policy rested in Communist Party officials supervised under the Politburo. The center’s ability to execute its initiatives was repeatedly undermined by tacit resistance of communist party officials. These officials were generally devoted to protecting and advancing their own personal and career interests than to serving the public interest. By the time Mikhail Gorbachev was elected General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), Russia would find itself leaning toward a second revolution, one that would lean toward democratic reform. (1)

Mikhail Gorbachev was elected General Secretary in 1985 and as soon as he was sworn in, he quickly began to address the USSR’s inability to modernize the economy and improve living standards for the population.(2) His policies would bring forth a second revolution for the state and give the people a hope for democracy. Gorbachev toward the end of the 1980’s introduced two controversial policies glasnost and perestroika. Firstly, perestroika he believed would help address the union’s economic turmoil by restructuring the USSR’s command economy, by loosening the state’s control over private enterprise. This allowed its citizens to form small businesses and authorized the existence of private property, but land ownership was not in part of this deal. Perestroika gradually moved the country away from a command economy and more towards a world economy. Then in 1988, glasnost was put forth to promote greater openness throughout the political community. Its program allowed freer political expression and exposed tensions in the Soviet political system, which were formerly concealed from public view.(3) It loosened controls over the mass media, the arts, party and government institutions, as well as the freedom to form organized associations to address popular concerns. These policies allowed mass mobilization to erupt throughout the union, especially in the Baltic regions (Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia).

Following Gorbachev’s enacted programs of economic reform and public awareness, mass public demonstrations began to jeopardize the political community’s stability. Popular demonstrations became evident in the notably industrialized center of Chelyabinsk. (6)A very moderately organized group of individuals expressed concerning opinions to help the Party in restructuring a new political organization as an alternative to the CPSU. Their concerns were aimed toward the delayed process toward democratic reform. Rioters also mobilized in the capital of the Republic of Moldavia, where people started picketing the building that houses the republic Ministry of Internal Affairs.(6) They shouted insults and threats at the police, with displayed antigovernment slogans and placards. Lithuanian and Latvian Parliaments allowed the persecution of individuals who showed support toward the Communist regime. A statement by the Politburo called for a need to restore order, by the absence of an effective mechanism for countering the unconstitutional activity of both Parliaments, as they embarked on a course aimed at secession from the USSR without considering the interest of public.(6) The rise of these anti-communist demonstrations resulted from the public’s awareness of the liberties strickened by their central government, as they learned that their friends in the West freely enjoyed on a day-to-day basis. Gorbachev aired his personal feelings toward these outbreaks in the need for further reform to a Soviet journalist, “Today we are forced to say that there is a definite threat to the great undertaking that we began in April 1985… We cannot be split apart comrades.” Responding to growing popular pressure, Gorbachev looked towards the way of forming a new federation.(1)

On April 23, 1991; Gorbachev reached an agreement with presidents of the supreme soviets of: Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan. This agreement was meant to observe existing laws pending the adoption of a new union treaty, which would be followed within six months by a new union constitution based on the provisions of the treaty and then by elections to the new bodies of power. The agreement by the republic acknowledged the right of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia “to decide for themselves the question of acceding to the union treaty.” From here on, the finalized Union Treaty was published on July 23 and Gorbachev announced it would be signed into law on August 20.(1) The newly drafted treaty in accordance with the chair of the USSR Congress of the People’s Deputies, Boris Yeltsin, called for the legislature to be dissolved and new elections held for a new parliament and a new president. Yeltsin caused great controversy among Communist party members on how to properly implement this treaty into law. The controversial Union Treaty embodied the revolutionary concept that powers of the federal government were to be delegated to the sovereign states, and guaranteed the right of its members to establish their own political and administrative systems. Party officials began to realize that under the proposed treaty, power would “not remain where it ought to be,” meaning in the hand of CPSU.(5) Prime Minister Pavlov and President Anatoly Lukyanov insisted that the signing of this treaty is constitutionally unacceptable. They and their supporters understood that without proposed changes to this treaty, it would mean the end of the communist power under the Soviet Union and probably the end of their political careers. Once Gorbachev left on August 4 for vacation to Foros, controversy broke out over the text of the treaty. KGB chairmen Vladimir Kryuchov, took charge and prepared a state of emergency for August 17, in hopes to prevent this treaty from being endorsed. In accordance with the plan, a delegation was sent to Foros the next day, August 18, to secure Gorbachev’s agreement to the plotters’ demands. Gorbachev rejected their demands and the delegation quickly returned to Moscow, where Vice President Yanaev formally assumed presidential powers, claiming Gorbachev was ill and unable to fulfill his duties in a time of national emergency. Early the following morning of April 19, the coup leaders declared a six-month state of emergency in order to intimidate those in the presidential offices and Parliament who resided in the White House, to not sign the treaty into law.(4)

Boris Yeltsin assumed leadership in opposition to the coup and mustered in mass amounts of supporter against its threat to democracy. When Yeltsin arrived at the White House, he confronted the military with horrifying prospects of driving the tanks into civilian crowds. He mobilized over 200,000 citizens to form a barricade of joint hands to hold off the troops, in result the coup was called off on August 21. (1) On that very same day, Gorbachev returned to Moscow and removed all the coup conspirators form office. On He then resigned from office on December 25, 1991 stating, “Due to the situation that has taken shape as a result of the formation of the Independent Republic states, I am ceasing my activity in the post of president of the USSR… I have firmly advocated the independence of its people and the sovereignty of republics.” His resignation was peacefully transferred over to Boris Yeltsin as the first president of the independent state of Russia with a popular vote of 57%. (1)

The presidency of Boris Yeltsin furthered Russia’s democratic transition in a number of ways. He took many important steps toward transforming the Soviet political system by banning the CPSU, he subordinated Soviet ministries to Russian state, and most dramatically in December 1991 dissolved the USSR. Yeltsin’s team concentrated their energies on dismantling the Soviet command economy and created a new Russian market system. In fact, many in Yeltsin’s new government believed that economic transformation was prerequisite for democracy. Without private property, Russian voters had no private rights to defend. In 1993, Yeltsin again dissolved the Congress of People’s Deputies and called for immediate elections for a new parliament and referendum to adopt a new constitution. Russian citizens ratified the new constitution on December 1993.(2) The new Russian constitution provided a set of rules to order executive-legislative relations, where it favored Boris Yeltsin’s legal basis for a very strong presidential system. It’s legislature includes a lower house called the State Duma and an upper house called the Federation Council. The constitution specifies that upon a bill’s passage in the Duma, it must then be considered for consideration in the Federal Council and signed on the president’s desk.

Summarily, the USSR’s lack of the stability for the political community urged the need for a democratic institution. Since Yeltsin’s renewal of office in 1996 and his transfer of power over to Prime Minster Vladimir Putin in 2000; Russian has seen a secure democratic institution.(4) President Dmitri Mendeleev is currently the head of Russia with a stable semi-presidency.

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