North Korea

North Korea
The always bombastic and unpredictable North Koreans go hysterical again. This time the country is prepared to "go to war" with South Korea because that country is playing loudspeakers directed at North Korean territory. A headline from a UK paper reads, "More than 50 North Korea submarines 'leave their bases' as war talks with South continue "

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Russia's own "back to the future"

The many themes of the former Soviet Union are vaguely being played out once again in Russia itself.

Click on picture for full image
Russia still a dominant country spanning both European and Asian continents, after an 80-year span of controlling the United Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).

The time honored photo of people - in this case Russians - placing their ballots in the voting box, meant to give the stamp of approval for all democracies to see.

An election meant to promote and highlight Prime Minister Putin's plans to return to the office of Russian President suddenly took a left turn. Instead of paving the way for moving from the relatively mundane role of Prime Minister to the more powerful and internationally visible Presidency, the election resulted in significant losses for his party, ironically named "United Russia". If that setback wasn't enough, the results then touched off protests of fraud on the street.

After the elections, street protests have erupted in anger, and swelled in numbers over perceived fraud in the process

To top it off today, the last General Secretary of the Soviet Union, Mr Gorbachev (harking all the way back to the days of US President Ronald Reagan) came out with a public statement, calling for the results of increasingly disputed parliamentary elections last weekend to be scrapped. Quoted in a New York Times article, Mr. Gorbachev said “With every passing day, more and more Russians are ceasing to believe that the results of the elections were honest."

Mikhail Gorbachev, older now, was the first President of Russia, but is still not well liked by Russians. He is largely blamed for throwing the country into chaos as the USSR collapsed (though others ask whether that was inevitable). Nor did his winning the Nobel Peace Prize gain him stature in his homeland.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union 20 years ago (1991), Russia has experienced tumult in social and economic terms. From Wikipedia, "Russia has undergone significant changes since the collapse of the Soviet Union, moving from a centrally planned economy to a more market-based and globally integrated economy. ... Economic reforms in the 1990s privatized most industry, with notable exceptions in the energy and defense-related sectors. ... [But] the rapid privatization process included much criticized "loans-for-shares" schemes that turned over major state-owned firms to politically connected "oligarchs,"and has left equity ownership highly concentrated. As of 2011, Russia's capital, Moscow, now has the highest billionaire population of any city in the world."

A shopping dilemma for Russia's new wealthy

Despite the "newly monied" gaining much more than the average Russian, the country nonetheless has gained economic power. With an abundance of natural gas, oil, coal, and precious metals, the country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has risen, and even today the country has only 6.7% unemployment, much better than many Western nations. (Of course, don't look too closely at how statistics are put together ...)

Russia's public numbers hold up well in comparison to most other nations.

Much of the stability and growth during the past 12 years has been under the governance of Putin (eight as President, and the most recent four as Prime Minister), so why is he suddenly embarrassed and on the defensive with his citizens?

Dmitry Medvedev in the background, Vladimir Putin in the foreground. Putin as President governed Russia for two four-year terms but was constitutionally barred from a third. Instead, he maneuvered his handpicked colleague Medvedev into the Presidency for a four-year term, while he became Prime Minister in the meantime.. Despite the unexpected election setback this week, Putin is still working to return to the Presidency..

The answer apparently is that democracy or power held by the people has indeed taken root to at least some depth in this former Communist country. People, while patriotic to their homeland, and enjoying some signs of economic stability, nonetheless resent corruption, a measure of censorship of the press and opposition, and they are making their discontent heard.

Just 20 years have past since the collapse of the USSR, with crowds of impassioned Russians on the street wanting to participate meaningfully in their country's government. We shall see whether a "Moscow spring" is again in the air.


Sarah said...

Perfect. I was just listening to the election results the other day. A followup post on this would be good later...

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