(Codewit News) – President Dmitry Medvedev rebuffed accusations of democratic backsliding on Friday and said trying to experiment with a parliamentary democracy would be a catastrophe for Russia.
The United States has called on Russia to uphold human rights after riot police broke up several opposition demonstrations and the authorities jailed prominent rights campaigner Lev Ponomaryov twice in as many months.
When pressed about democracy by political analysts at a meeting the Russian city of Yaroslavl, Medvedev said much of the criticism failed to take account of Russia’s authoritarian past.
“There has practically never been democracy in Russia… There was no democracy when we were ruled by tsars and emperors and there was no democracy in the Soviet period so we are a country with a thousand years of authoritarian history.”
“We have a very young democracy, an imperfect democracy,” he said, adding that attempts such as those by Kyrgyzstan’s rulers to create a parliamentary democracy would end in tears.
“You could try to have a different political system, for example a parliamentary democracy, in Russia. Our Kyrgyz friends have gone down this path but I can tell you that for Russia, as for Kyrgyzstan, I am afraid this would be a catastrophe.”
President Barack Obama’s top adviser on Russia said on Thursday Russia should uphold democratic rights and increase political competition as part of Medvedev’s ambitious plan to modernize Russia.
Kremlin critics say the authorities have failed to ensure free and fair elections in Russia and that the police routinely breach human rights such as freedom of assembly.
“I would really like those who are going to assess Russian democracy to pay attention to our history and the path we have taken over recent years and for them not to judge us too harshly,” Medvedev said.
Diplomats have praised Medvedev’s often tough critiques of Russia’s woes but say that more than halfway through his term he has failed to open up the political system crafted by former President Vladimir Putin or to combat rampant corruption and stifling bureaucracy.
Medvedev said democracy had gained a bad reputation in Russia because of the poverty and chaos which accompanied the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union.
But in contrast to Putin, who said the collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century, Medvedev said there had been no alternative at the time.
“The collapse of the Soviet Union was really a major ordeal for the people and for many it was a tragedy, but I don’t think we had any alternative development scenario,” Medvedev said.
Medvedev called for swifter reforms to modernize Russia and diversify the oil-dependent economy, which is growing again after contracting 7.9 percent last year, its worst annual economic performance since 1994.
The 44-year old Kremlin chief said the rebound in growth this year showed Russia was still stuck in a boom-bust cycle dependent on world prices for oil and gas.
“We need to change the structure of the economy otherwise we have no future,” he said. “We are not in the condition to stand still any more.”
“As to our current political model, changes can only be cautious, step by step, so that stability is not destroyed,” Medvedev said.
He added that he would veto any attempt to impose state controls on the Internet. Russia has about 60 million Internet users, or about 42 percent of the 142 million population.