Russian democracy faces an uncertain future

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Boris Yeltsin served as the first president of Russia, his time in that office running from July of 1991 to December of 1999. This was a period of economic chaos and social upheaval in the fledgling democracy. Yeltsin survived two coup attempts, massive inflation and widespread epidemics of crime and corruption, as well as personal health problems.

During Yeltsin's presidency, it appeared that Russia's new experiment with democracy was an even bigger failure than its 74-year experiment with communism.

He was a hero to the Russian people when Russia declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Since Russia formed the core of the Soviet Union, the Soviet Union ceased to exist. Just a few years earlier, the Soviet empire collapsed when Soviet satellite nations such as Poland, East Germany, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Czechoslovakia became independent from Soviet control.

Yeltsin's approval rating plummeted when the harsh realities ran counter to the people's hopes.

Perhaps no one could have prevented the chaos that resulted from trying to establish a free market economy in a country with no tradition of private business operations, no property ownership and no banking system. But Yeltsin took personal responsibility for Russia's problems during an apologetic resignation in December of 1999.

Even in stepping down in 1999, Yeltsin's actions showed courage and a commitment to democracy. In apologizing and calling for the people to support his successor, Vladimir Putin, Yeltsin was giving new life to the struggle for democracy.

Putin restored order, but democratic institutions took a backward slide. Some question whether Russia is actually a democracy now. The answer largely depends on Putin, who seems to be in a position of allowing democracy to exist if he wants it to exist.

Although there might be some satisfaction in seeing Putin humbled by a rapidly declining economy, his woes are the woes of the Russian people. Democracy becomes endangered by economic crisis.