Secretary Clinton's Inspiring Message to Russian Democracy-Seekers

Saturday, October 17, 2009

IT'S BECOME SO commonplace that the world little noticed last Sunday when Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin staged another phony, Soviet-style election. As in the old days, the ruling party (now known as "United Russia" instead of "Communist Party of the Soviet Union") won a smashing victory in local jurisdictions across the country, with opposing party politicians reduced to bit parts permitted for decorative effect only. Mr. Medvedev, who frequently impresses Western politicians with his statements in praise of democracy, hailed the elections as "well organized," which we suppose is undeniable. Mr. Putin, who is less sentimental about these things, dismissed protesting politicians as whiners: "Those who don't win are never happy," he sniffed.

So it was gratifying to hear Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, coincidentally visiting Moscow in the days after the election, speak firmly in defense of true democracy. To a group of civil society leaders, increasingly embattled and in danger in Mr. Putin's Russia, Ms. Clinton said, "Both President Obama and I want to stress strongly how the United States stands with those who work for freedom, [who] campaign for justice and democracy, and who risk their lives to speak out for human rights."

She repeated the message at Moscow State University, telling students that the innovation Mr. Medvedev says he wants to foster in society can't flourish without "core freedoms, free speech, freedom of the press, the freedom to participate in the political process." She granted an interview to Echo Moskvy Radio, one of the few remaining independent media outlets of any significance, where she expressed "no doubt" that "democracy is in Russia's best interests, that respecting human rights, an independent judiciary, a free media are in the interests of building a strong, stable political system." And, at the civil society meeting, she was specific, noting that 18 journalists have been killed in Russia since 2000, with only one of those crimes solved. "When violence like this goes unpunished in any society," Ms. Clinton said, "it's undermining the rule of law, chills public discourse, which is, after all, the lifeblood of an open society."

As Ms. Clinton made clear, such honesty need not impede diplomatic engagement. Russian leaders will act in their interests, as they see them, in any case. But her words may cheer those in Russia who continue to fight for their rights, against long odds, while reminding all Russians that a less cynical government might lead to a more prosperous country.

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