Another casualty in the misguided 'war against terror'

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The Independent Online

All around the globe, civil liberties have been trampled upon in the name of a "war on terror". Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib and our own Belmarsh are symbols of a new philosophy that says once-cherished liberties must be discarded if the world is to be free of the scourge of terrorism. The latest casualty is the nascent democracy of the Russian Federation. In response to the vile actions of Chechen separatists in Beslan, President Vladimir Putin has decided to adopt authoritarian powers more suited to the old Soviet Union.

All around the globe, civil liberties have been trampled upon in the name of a "war on terror". Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib and our own Belmarsh are symbols of a new philosophy that says once-cherished liberties must be discarded if the world is to be free of the scourge of terrorism. The latest casualty is the nascent democracy of the Russian Federation. In response to the vile actions of Chechen separatists in Beslan, President Vladimir Putin has decided to adopt authoritarian powers more suited to the old Soviet Union.

This week he summoned Russia's 89 regional governors and presidents to Moscow to inform them that they would no longer be elected by the inhabitants of their provinces, but directly appointed. President Putin also informed the Duma, Russia's parliament, that from now on seats will be elected using a party list system, eliminating the district races that decide half of the Parliament's composition. When one considers that these races produce all of the parliament's independents and liberals, the meaning of this move becomes clear. President Putin is determined to make his power over the Russian Federation unconstrained.

If President Putin is successful in pushing through these measures he will shatter the fragile democratic institutions of the Russian Federation, already undermined by arbitrary restrictions on the media and the harassment of opposition political parties. And there is little to suggest that they will do anything to make Russia less vulnerable to atrocities of the sort that occurred in Beslan. The government clearly has a duty to secure Russia's borders, but sacking elected regional governors and arrogating all power to the centre will make this vast country's government more bureaucratic and susceptible to corruption.

No one questions that Russia is suffering terribly from terrorism and has a right to defend itself. And some of President Putin's more sensible proposals, such as the creation of a federal anti-terror agency, are overdue. What is unacceptable is his desire to roll back the hard-won victories of Russian democrats and take his country back to a darker time.

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