Perestroika 2.0

In spite of President Dmitri Medvedev’s great designs for Russia, his country is still in trouble, plagued by archaic power structures, aging military hardware and leadership and being the last of the BRICs to move out of recession.

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has some advice to offer. Writing for The New York Times, he shares Medvedev’s concern with the Russian state being, at the same time, “the biggest employer, the biggest publisher, the best producer, its own judiciary,” and ultimately, “a nation unto itself.” But modernization won’t happen, he warns, “if people are sidelined” and thought of as pawns.

If the people are to feel and act like citizens, there is only one prescription: democracy, including the rule of law and an open and honest dialogue between the government and the people.

Holding Russia back today is fear. Both within and without the Kremlin, people worry about the instability and chaos that a new round of modernization might bring about. “In politics, fear is a bad guide,” notes Gorbachev; “we must overcome it.”

Today, Russia has many free, independently minded people who are ready to assume responsibility and uphold democracy. But a great deal depends now on how the government acts.

The very man who oversaw the collapse of the USSR basically calls for glasnost and perestroika anew to put an end to Putin authoritarianism. Considering that his reform policies precluded a decade of stagnation that many Russians today remember as a most humiliating experience, one wonders though whether Muscovites both in and out of power have the stomach for the sort of Russian future Gorbachev dreams of.