Critics said the order was symbolic of President Vladimir Putin’s clampdown on civil liberties. It also comes as a wave of Soviet nostalgia has helped wipe the event from Russia’s collective memory.
A survey by the authoritative Levada pollster released earlier this month showed that only 50 percent of Russians could identify what happened on Aug. 19, 1991:
At that time, President Vladimir Putin was an ally of St. Petersburg Mayor Anatoly Sobchak, a fierce coup opponent, but Putin’s KGB past keeps him from honoring this landmark event, analysts say. Both Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev were visiting Crimea, which was annexed from Ukraine in 2014, and did not come to lay the flowers at the monument of the three killed protesters in Moscow.
“Aug. 19-21 could have been become a symbol of a new Russian state,” Pavel Aptekar said in an opinion piece in the respected Vedomosti daily. “The three August days of 1991 remind the establishment that people could disobey their orders and hold the government accountable. In the past 25 years the government has transformed into one that is appalled by the very possibility.”
The otherwise Kremlin-friendly Moskovsky Komsomolets daily published an opinion piece on Friday titled “25 years since the loss of freedom” and illustrated by a cartoon showing a hand with a KGB emblem wrestling a Russian flag away from a group of people, The New York Times adds.
“August 1991 brought about a stunning wave of enthusiasm, you felt there was no mountain high enough,” Alexander Minkin wrote. “Those who had power and a unique historical opportunity drop in their lap turned out to be unworthy: they stole and drank the country away, the country and its future. And this still goes on.”
Just 8 per cent of Levada survey respondents described the defeat of the coup as a victory for democracy, and just 16 per cent said they would take to the streets today to prevent a new communist takeover, The Times adds.
“The current authorities are not communists, but they share the same nationalist ideology as those who plotted the coup,” said Levada Centre head Lev Gudkov. “They prefer to draw a curtain over the events of 1991. There are no institutions … that encourage a historical memory of this period beyond the myth that we lost a great empire when the Soviet Union collapsed.”
As if to prove his point……
Russia has banned a pro-democracy organization whose chairman is U.S. Sen. John McCain as a threat to national security, a month before the country holds parliamentary elections amid its longest recession in two decades, Bloomberg reports:
Putin has clamped down hard on civil society groups after he accused the U.S. and Europe of funding uprisings in former Soviet neighbors, including Ukraine, through NGOs. A 2012 law requires groups that accept financing from abroad to register as “foreign agents,” subjecting them to harsher regulations. Foreign NGOs declared “undesirable” under the 2015 law must close offices in Russia and can’t hold public events or distribute material through the media, while anyone working for them faces fines or imprisonment.
The International Republican Institute (IRI) and the Media Development Investment Fund, are both now blacklisted under the law.
The decision “says more about Vladimir Putin than it does about IRI,” the Washington-based International Republican Institute said in a statement. “It’s further proof that he fears democracy and allowing his people to have an opportunity to shape their own future.”
“Putin’s efforts to intimidate those who support democracy and human liberty have grown so prolific that IRI created a transatlantic program dedicated to countering his propaganda called the Beacon Project,” the group added. “Clearly this project and our ongoing support of the Russian people’s demands for freedom, liberty and representative government makes President Putin nervous. This ‘undesirable’ designation is simply confirmation of a job well done.”
The U.S. State Department said it was “deeply troubled” by the decision.
“Throughout the world, IRI and MDIF promote openness, accountability in government, and media freedom, principles Russia should seek to promote, not to suppress,” it added. “The people of Russia deserve transparent and accountable governance, equal treatment under the law, and the ability to exercise their rights without fear of retribution.”
Amnesty International criticized the latest move as part of authorities’ efforts to turn the screw on Russian civil society. Sergei Nikitin, the director of Amnesty’s branch in Russia, said the law aims to “isolate Russian civil society, intimidate human rights defenders and suffocate the free press.”
Other group to be banned include The MacArthur Foundation, George Soros’ Open Society Foundations and the National Endowment for Democracy.
The Kremlin has also targeted Russian activists like Alexei Navalny, Boris Nemtsov and Vladimir Kara-Murza (right), notes analyst Leon Aron.
“Their quest for a democratic Russia may seem quixotic today, but the arc of modern Russian history bends closer to the Navalnys, Nemtsovs, and Kara-Murzas than to the regime trying to suppress them,” he writes. “Given a choice between freely competing parties and candidates, at every critical historical juncture, the majority of Russian voters have opted for democracy, modernization, and reform — not authoritarian reactionaries on the left or right: as in the votes for the 1906 Duma, the 1918 Constituent Assembly, and in the 1993 referendum and 1993 Duma.”
The next U.S. president should recognize that Russia under Putin is an authoritarian, kleptocratic regime that poses a serious threat to our values, interests and allies, says David J. Kramer, senior director for human rights and democracy at the McCain Institute for International Leadership and a former assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor in the George W. Bush administration.
“We should contain and deter Russian aggression by reassuring our NATO allies that we will defend them, fulfilling the collective-defense guarantees of Article 5 and reaffirming our support for the sovereignty, territorial integrity and aspirations of Russia’s neighbors to join NATO or the European Union,” he writes for The Washington Post. “We must also support those living inside Russia who are struggling for a better, more democratic future.”