Friday, May 21, 2021

Russia has a Democratic Tradition Even if Moscow Doesn’t, Novgorod Meeting Plans to Emphasize

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 19 – Vladimir Putin has sought to present Russian history as one long march of an authoritarian state. That may be true of Muscovy. But there exists within Russia a powerful democratic tradition, one with its roots in medieval Novgorod the Great which was more democratic at the time than any European city before Muscovy captured and crushed it.

            A group of regional and municipal deputies has decided to challenge Putin’s hijacking of Russian history by organizing this weekend a conference in Novgorod in order to recall this Russian democratic tradition and challenge Putin’s claim that those who don’t think as he does are outsiders (

            The meeting, a Congress of the Land, traces its origins to a similar meeting in 1904 before the first Russian revolution. One of its organizers, Yuliya Galyamina, herself a municipal deputy, says the meeting has been financed by the people in a transparent way and wants to promote the horizontal ties of democracy rather than the power vertical of the Kremlin.

            That is why the meeting is being held in Novgorod, a city symbolic of the oft-forgotten democratic tradition in Russia if not in Moscow. And she says that the sessions will focus on three main demands for change: decentralization of power and money, the formation of truly representative political parties, and opposition to political repression.

            “The congress is needed not only to formulate a political program,” Galyamina says. It is a place for dialogue and discussion, the very basis of democracy, and thus for horizontal social and political links, openness and democracy. But its message is really larger than that, she continues.

            “We want to show that the Russian opposition operates not on something imported which many fear but on our own Russian historical traditions. And our goal is to connect the past, present and future of Russia,” one not of repression and despotism like Moscow’s but “a Russia of self-administration and popular power.”

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