Putin’s Power Play Raises Real Concerns

JEWISH LIGHT EDITORIAL

Russian President Vladimir Putin has been selected as Time magazine’s 2007 “Person of the Year.” Time has stressed from the very beginning of its annual selection, that the “Person of the Year” is based on how he or she affected world news “for ill or good.” Thus, while such positive figures as Winston Churchill and Nelson Mandela have been selected for the position, so have Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler and the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

At this moment, Vladimir Putin cannot be easily classified. On some levels, he has been a force for stability and continuity for Russia in the aftermath of the collapse of Communism and the often unpredictable and unstable rule of his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin. On the other hand, Putin has taken numerous steps to consolidate his powers at the expense of the increased human rights that had built up not only during the tenure of Yeltsin, but also during the presidency of Mikhail S. Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union. Most recently, Putin won approval for a carefully orchestrated effort to assure that he will continue to be the major executive power even after his term as president expires in March. Putin has selected Dmitry Medvedev, his protege, whose loyalty to Putin is well-known, to succeed him as president. Putin himself will become prime minister, or premier. Under the Russian Constitution approved during Yeltsin’s tenure, Russia had a strong elected president and a relatively weak appointed prime minister. The new arrangement will enhance the power of Putin as prime minister, and reduce the position of president to that of a figurehead, as is the case in countries like Israel and Germany.

Neil Buckley reports in the Financial Times that “It will be the first time a Soviet or Russian leader has voluntarily stepped down at the end of his term, but continued in another political role.” Critics charge Mr. Putin has skirted around a constitutional bar to serve a de facto third presidential term. Putin has made no secret of his desire to return as president after the constitutionally required interval of four years.

Thus far, Putin’s policy toward Russia’s still-large Jewish community has been largely protective and positive. But the Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union has decried the recent anti-democratic steps Putin and the Russian parliament have taken. The UCSJ decried the results of the Russian parliamentary elections earlier this month, stating, “After the extensive and often brutal measures the Kremlin took in recent months to carefully manage the results of the elections, President Putin and his administration abjectly failed to translate his often eloquent statements that condemn anti-Semitic and xenophobic hate crimes into an improved and reformed Duma.” Many Duma candidates are associated with ultra-nationalist, anti-Semitic parties and movements, who are aligned with the Kremlin, and in the words of the UCSJ, “call into question the government’s commitment to seriously tackle the growing problem of inter-ethnic violence in Russia.”

There is another danger to religious and ethnic minorities from Putin’s Machiavellian maneuvers. The vastly increased executive powers and the elimination of democratic checks and balances could provide a future Russian leader the tools to crack down harshly on Jews and others if the political climate changes toward extremism.

We are grateful to groups like the Union of Councils for Jews in the former Soviet Union for their careful monitoring of the events in Russia. Twenty years ago, 250,000 human-rights advocates marched on Washington in support of Soviet Jewry. Their dedication to freedom of religion helped bring about the huge exodus of Jews from the USSR to Israel and the United States, including a large contingent in St. Louis. It would be a grave tragedy if the clock were turned back to the days of official persecution of the Jews, if a Russian ruler “who knows not Joseph” should arise in the future, with vastly increased, almost dictatorial powers.

We urge the White House and our elected representatives in the Congress to carefully monitor the events in Russia, and to be prepared to take decisive action to support pro-democracy advocates and any and all persecuted minorities in that complex and challenging nation.

We also call upon St. Louisans of all faiths and races to hold their elected leaders accountable and keep up the pressure on politicians, so that events in Russia are not ignored. Call or write your elected officials to make sure they understand how important this issue is to you. EDITORIAL | Putin’s putsch

Putin’s Power Play Raises Real Concerns

Russian President Vladimir Putin has been selected as Time magazine’s 2007 “Person of the Year.” Time has stressed from the very beginning of its annual selection, that the “Person of the Year” is based on how he or she affected world news “for ill or good.” Thus, while such positive figures as Winston Churchill and Nelson Mandela have been selected for the position, so have Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler and the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

At this moment, Vladimir Putin cannot be easily classified. On some levels, he has been a force for stability and continuity for Russia in the aftermath of the collapse of Communism and the often unpredictable and unstable rule of his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin. On the other hand, Putin has taken numerous steps to consolidate his powers at the expense of the increased human rights that had built up not only during the tenure of Yeltsin, but also during the presidency of Mikhail S. Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union. Most recently, Putin won approval for a carefully orchestrated effort to assure that he will continue to be the major executive power even after his term as president expires in March. Putin has selected Dmitry Medvedev, his protege, whose loyalty to Putin is well-known, to succeed him as president. Putin himself will become prime minister, or premier. Under the Russian Constitution approved during Yeltsin’s tenure, Russia had a strong elected president and a relatively weak appointed prime minister. The new arrangement will enhance the power of Putin as prime minister, and reduce the position of president to that of a figurehead, as is the case in countries like Israel and Germany.

Neil Buckley reports in the Financial Times that “It will be the first time a Soviet or Russian leader has voluntarily stepped down at the end of his term, but continued in another political role.” Critics charge Mr. Putin has skirted around a constitutional bar to serve a de facto third presidential term. Putin has made no secret of his desire to return as president after the constitutionally required interval of four years.

Thus far, Putin’s policy toward Russia’s still-large Jewish community has been largely protective and positive. But the Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union has decried the recent anti-democratic steps Putin and the Russian parliament have taken. The UCSJ decried the results of the Russian parliamentary elections earlier this month, stating, “After the extensive and often brutal measures the Kremlin took in recent months to carefully manage the results of the elections, President Putin and his administration abjectly failed to translate his often eloquent statements that condemn anti-Semitic and xenophobic hate crimes into an improved and reformed Duma.” Many Duma candidates are associated with ultra-nationalist, anti-Semitic parties and movements, who are aligned with the Kremlin, and in the words of the UCSJ, “call into question the government’s commitment to seriously tackle the growing problem of inter-ethnic violence in Russia.”

There is another danger to religious and ethnic minorities from Putin’s Machiavellian maneuvers. The vastly increased executive powers and the elimination of democratic checks and balances could provide a future Russian leader the tools to crack down harshly on Jews and others if the political climate changes toward extremism.

We are grateful to groups like the Union of Councils for Jews in the former Soviet Union for their careful monitoring of the events in Russia. Twenty years ago, 250,000 human-rights advocates marched on Washington in support of Soviet Jewry. Their dedication to freedom of religion helped bring about the huge exodus of Jews from the USSR to Israel and the United States, including a large contingent in St. Louis. It would be a grave tragedy if the clock were turned back to the days of official persecution of the Jews, if a Russian ruler “who knows not Joseph” should arise in the future, with vastly increased, almost dictatorial powers.

We urge the White House and our elected representatives in the Congress to carefully monitor the events in Russia, and to be prepared to take decisive action to support pro-democracy advocates and any and all persecuted minorities in that complex and challenging nation.

We also call upon St. Louisans of all faiths and races to hold their elected leaders accountable and keep up the pressure on politicians, so that events in Russia are not ignored. Call or write your elected officials to make sure they understand how important this issue is to you.

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