Staunton, September 25 – In 2000, Alexander Rahr published a book describing Vladimir Putin as “a German in the Kremlin.” His words appear more prophetic and more disturbing than the Russian-German analyst imagined as the Kremlin leader is increasingly adopting an approach that recalls another German leader, Adolf Hitler.
Until now, most people assumed that Putin used the word “optimization” as a euphemism for his cutbacks in health care and other social services. But now it has become clear that he really is using it in the sense the Nazi leader did when he spoke about “Gleichschaltung,” the standardization and subordination to the state of all political, economic and social institutions.
Historians have long used that term to describe the ways in which Hitler proceeded to destroy all independent activity in Germany; and they have extended it to other authoritarian states as well. But now, at least after Putin’s words on Friday, it is entirely appropriate to extend it to the country he now heads.
At a meeting with the leaders of the systemic parties on Friday, Putin said that the time had come to think about how to “optimize” Russia’s party system by eliminating minor parties so that Russians will have a real chance to choose among major ones and how to do that without violating “the principles of democracy” (tass.ru/politika/3648670).
As so often when dictators want to move in such directions, calls for taking this or that step that they themselves want often are voiced by others. The leader then expresses surprise and says that clearly this is something that must be addressed. That is exactly what happened on Friday.
Sergey Mironov, the head of Just Russia, complained at the meeting that the minor parties had taken away votes from the major parties and, because these smaller parties did not reach the five percent barrier for participation in the Duma, left the Russians who voted for them without representation there.
Putin responded, according to TASS, that “this is the first time he had heard that there might have become too many parties. He noted that ‘at one time he had been told’ that there were two few parties and that a sign of democracy is an unlimited number of parties having the right to take part in elections.”
The Kremlin leader continued by saying that ‘when the powers that be decided to permit all to take part in elections, they wanted to assess ‘the political landscape.’” Now, Putin said, that landscape is clear; and so the decision to allow all parties to take part can be revisited and the number of parties “optimized.”
That is entirely appropriate, the Russian leader said, but he reiterated that “such steps must not undermine the essence of democracy. Let us accurately think about and analyze the experience of other countries without hurrying and take a corresponding decision about public and transparent discussions.”
That Putin may have been planning to reduce the number of parties after the Duma vote has long been rumored -- see windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2016/09/will-russia-soon-cease-to-have-president.html – although his orchestration of the overwhelming victory of United Russia might have seemed to make that unnecessary.
However, if one understands that “optimization” is not simply a euphemism for “cuts” but is in fact Putin’s translation into Russian of Hitler’s “Gleichschaltung” then the likelihood of a Russian party system entirely organized from and controlled by the Kremlin increases, as does the threat this poses to any hope for democracy and freedom in Russia today.