Staunton, January 7 – The attempt by a pro-Trump mob, egged on by Donald Trump, to enter and then overrun the Capitol when the House and Senate were assembled to confirm the election of Joe Biden as president and the measured response of security personnel which ultimately expelled them and is leading to arrests generated a great deal of reaction in Russia.
Predictably, many Russian official outlets could barely contain their pleasure in seeing the US experience some of the violence that they believe Washington has sponsored in former Soviet republics to pull them away from Moscow; but they were constrained by fears that talking about a crowd seeking to stage an insurrection could give Russians ideas.
But a more interesting reaction came from some Russian commentators who said that what had happened in Washington “not only weakens America but at the same time strengthens it,” as former Putin speechwriter and political analyst Abbas Gallyamov put it in an initial reaction piece (https://echo.msk.ru/blog/gallyamov_a/2770020-echo/).
“Democracy,” he points out, “is distinguished from authoritarianism in that it does not deny the right of people to be dissatisfied. If under a dictatorship a crowd in the street invariably means that something in the country is not going right, there is no such sense in a democracy. People don’t like something, and they go out and protest. Everything is logical.”
“Under authoritarianism, the inability of the powers to deal with a crowd looks like weakness: under democracy, it doesn’t appear that way. Strictly speaking, the authorities in general must not interference with the expression of their disagreement,” as long as the protesters don’t take things “to the absurd” and engage in violence or acts of intimidation.
According to Gallyamov, “by allowing the dissatisfied to freely demonstrate their dissatisfaction, democracy simply yet again shows that it is democracy. It only confirms at that movement its legitimacy and so a moment of weakness becomes a moment of strength,” again as long as protesters don’t engage in violent acts.
What happened in the Capitol building in Washington involved violence, but democracy has another way to show its superiority, the Moscow analyst suggests. It focuses on identifying and punishing those who engage in violent acts rather than on those who exercise their rights to protest.
Another Moscow writer, journalist Dmitry Kolezev, takes the same position. He argues that the attack on the Capitol, an act of violent insurrection, does in fact represent a crisis in American democracy but says that “a crisis if it does not destroy the system can strengthen and improve it (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5FF6C65B84869).
And that is yet another difference between democracies and dictatorships, he suggests. Democracies are capable of addressing this kind of challenges in ways that reflect the underlying strengths of the system while dictatorships, faced with these same challenges, often enter into a spasmodic death spiral.