Commentary: Russians Have Their Own Ideas of Democracy

Publication: The New York Times

Author: James Bell

09/24/2012 - The Kremlin’s demand that the U.S. Agency for International Development cease its activities in Russia follows months of accusations by Vladimir Putin that recent anti-government protests in Russia are the result of meddling by the U.S. and other Western governments. However, many Russians may not be convinced that such meddling is a fact.

In the wake of the Russian presidential vote this past spring, a Pew Global Attitudes survey found that 58 percent of Russians believed the election protests were home-grown, rather than the result of Western governments attempting to destabilize Russia. Only 25 percent thought foreign powers were behind the protests. Moreover, 56 percent supported the protests for free elections, and fully 64 percent agreed that attending demonstrations gave people like themselves an opportunity to express their opinion.

Over all, the survey revealed a wide gap between the freedoms and rights Russians valued and what they experienced in real life. Fully 71 percent said that it was very important to live in a country where the courts treat everyone the same; yet, only 17 percent said this described Russia very well. Similarly, 52 percent said it was very important to live in a country with honest elections, but just 16 percent stated this was the case in Russia. Across these and other measures of political freedom, the gap between what Russians said is important and what they witnessed at home widened significantly between 2009 and 2012.

Read the full opinion editorial, Commentary: Russians Have Their Own Ideas of Democracy, on the New York Times website.

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