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Evgeny Yasin: Democracy Foundation shuts down [Ekho Moskvy]

posted 4 Jun 2018, 11:02 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 4 Jun 2018, 11:09 ]
21 May 2018

Evgeny Yasin, director of research at the Higher School of Economics, former minister of economics

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Ekho Moskvy]

The Democracy Foundation was set up in 1993 by Aleksandr Nikolaevich Yakovlev, a prominent outstanding comrade-in-arms of Mikhail Gorbachev and a staunch supporter of the democratic transformation of Russia. While he was still alive and supported the Democracy Foundation, the Foundation, you could say, flowered, concentrating its efforts on researching the history of repression in Soviet Russia. It also attracted foreign support, working with foreign universities and NGOs. However, in 2017, when it was threatened with the status of a foreign agent, the Foundation ceased accepting funds from abroad. After that, the Foundation received help from the Yeltsin Centre and, very recently, from the Kudrin Foundation. But the 25-year lease agreement for its premises that Yeltsin gave it ran out recently. Finally, last week, the Democracy Foundation announced its closure.

I admit, until then I didn’t know anything about the Democracy Foundation. I learned about it only when its closure was announced. But honestly, I was extremely upset by this development. Can it really be the case that we no longer need this Foundation?

Some time ago, while working on the problem of market transformations in the 1990s, I was sincerely convinced that the success of this transformation depended on two things: 1) the transition from a planned to a market economy; 2) the transition from an administrative-command political system to democracy. I considered a market economy was more important and should be first. I admit I still think that. But I also recognized the importance of democracy and its necessity for the effective development of a market economy.

Now there is a market economy, although not a very effective one. With democracy it turned out we had a more or less functioning one from 1991 until 1993, when there was a battle between, on the one hand, President Yeltsin and the democratic minority of the Congress of People’s Deputies, and on the other the Congress' not very democratic majority. As is well-known, this battle ended after the dissolution of the Congress by President Yeltsin in September 1993, the clashes of 3-4 October, the referendum on the new constitution of 1993 (which is still in force although with a number of changes), and elections to the State Duma under the new constitution.

After that, a political regime established itself in Russia until 2000 that I would call, in a term coined by Wolfgang Merkel and Aurel S. Croissant, a “defective democracy.”

Then a regime became established, under almost the same constitution, that was closer to authoritarianism. Its development up to the present day - especially after 2012-2014, when economic growth fell - bears witness to the necessity of changes. In my opinion, most of all - even if only gradual - democratic reforms, the increase of economic and political competition.

And at this time the Democracy Foundation, the brainchild of one of the most prominent Russian democrats of the 20th century, A. N. Yakovlev, is closing. There is an analogy here.

I would like to see the rebirth of the Democracy Foundation, perhaps in a different form, but as a public institution that continues to build on its previous experience and develops new ways of working toward the development of democracy, providing for the co-existence of various points of view and their application in the government of the country. Let there be a small membership fee, but many members of the organization founded by A.N. Yakovlev. Let’s think about it.

Until we meet again,

Evgeny Yasin

Translated by John Tokolish