Expanding blogosphere as an element of phony democracy in Eurasia

Friday, 16. January 2009     0 comment(s)
Igor Torbakov
Senior Researcher

The authoritarian leaders in the post-Soviet Eurasia appear to be getting increasingly media-savvy.

Just consider this. Russia’s former president Vladimir Putin, now prime-minister, not only retained the annual call-in TV conference – once considered as an exclusively presidential format of communicating with the “masses” – but also set up in each Russian region the public offices named after him. These offices, functioning under the aegis of the Unified Russia party – the ruling party of the Putin loyalists, of which the prime minister acts as the chairman -- are meant to be the places where every Russian citizen can come to share his grievances and ask to right the wrongs. To be sure, the Prime Minister Putin is also entitled to have his personal website.

Russia’s youngish President, and Putin’s anointed heir, Dmitry Medvedev is a technologically advanced gentleman who is said to have long loved Internet as the paramount medium helping him to stay in touch with the narod. During his stage-managed presidential campaign he tried his hand at the on-line conference with the voters and appeared to have liked the experience.

Now, as president, Medvedev has perfected his feedback channel and set up a video blog (blog.kremlin.ru). In a recent entry he informed the registered users that they would soon be able to post their comments on his blog. The comments should not exceed 2000 characters, be written in Russian and messages containing obscenities will be automatically blocked. That’s fine with me but it will sure be interesting to check whether in a couple weeks Medvedev’s blog will contain any comments criticizing his policies or those of his patron.

There are also some intriguing signals coming from Central Asia. On January 12, the Prime Minister of Kazakhstan Karim Masimov told his ministers to start personal blogs to get them closer to the people of this energy-rich ex-Soviet republic. “I have opened a blog on the government website,” Masimov told a government meeting. “So I ordered all ministers… to start personal blogs where people will be able to ask you questions that you must answer.”

According to Reuters report, Masimov launched his blog in the first week of the new year with an introductory post that has already received 152 comments, some of which were complaints about the quality of tap water in the Kazakh villages. He has since ordered the government to investigate the criticisms.

This is all good and well. But do the blogging leaders really advance genuine democracy in the Eurasian expanses? Hardly. In Russia, Kazakhstan and in most post-Soviet states there cannot be a true dialog between the rulers and the ruled as the major channels making such dialog possible – democratic elections, free press and vibrant political life based on the robust multi-party system – simply don’t function.

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