The Russian parliament, for the moment, has placed a hold on proposed legislation which would have threatened members of the media with libel suits if they dared criticizing government officials. Duma Speaker, Boris Gryzlov, who heads United Russia and controls the parliamentary majority, said his party has changed its positon on the bill which would have allowed courts to close media outlets for publishing libelous statements. The bill passed in its first reading by a vote of 339 to 1. It was authored by United Russia deputy, Robert Shiegel, the Duma’s youngest member and a former spokesperson for the pro-Putin youth group, Nashi.
The most incredible aspect of this story is that only one member of a legislature stood up to vote against a blatant attempt to halt criticism of the government. The lack of enthusiasm for freedm of speech in a legislature does not hold out much hope for freedom of speech and the press.
In a surprising move, President Vladmir Putin publicly announced his choice of First Deputy Prime Minister Dimitry Medvedev as the next president of Russia. Due to Putin’s overwhelming popularity there is little doubt his choice will be elected in elections to be held in a few months. Medvedev was announced as the choice of United Russia, and Putin added, “I completely and fully support this proposal.” According to Lila Shevtsova of the Carnegie Moscow Center, “Medvedev is not an extremist. He is not known for any kind of harsh views on politics, and apparently Medvedev better suits Putin’s view of how to achieve continuity.”
The real issue is what will Putin do now that he has essentially selected the next president of Russia. Will Putin try to become prime minister and use that position to maintain his power? Will he gracefully step off the stage of power and allow a new person to assume that position? The selection of Medvedev marks the end of anyone running Russia who lacks ties to the old Soviet system. Putin was a KGB man and placed hundreds of fellow KGB people in important government positions. If Medvedev assumes power will he edn the KGB’s power within the Russian government? There are many questions without answers.
Leaders of opposition parties to President Putin’s United Russia party insist election results do not reflect the actual manner in which the Russian people voted. Gennady Zyuganov, head of the Communist Party, claimed his own examination of local polling stations indicated his party should have obtained at least 15% of the vote instead of the reported 11.1%. Given Putin’s complete domination of the media, it was remarkable that his party even secured that many votes. A similar feeling was expressed by Vladmir Zhrinovsky, head of the Liberal Democrats whose party obtained 8.8% although his reports indicated they should have gotten at least 12% of the vote. In one of the most ironic statements to emanate from modern Russia, Zyugaov, whose party still adheres to communist ideas, stated: “We are the last remaining guarantee of the freedom os pseech, democracy and human rights n our country.” We have come a long way from the totalitarian regime of the Soviet Union to present day Putin Russia when communists are upholding principles of democracy!