2007-04-12 11:11:00

U.S. Department of State’s conclusions on Russian democracy unhelpful for developing real democracy

The chairman of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Russia (FJCR) Alexander Boroda followed Russian Foreign ministry and some human rights advocates criticizing American Department of State’s new report on human rights. In his interview Boroda told Interfax-Religion what he thought on the matter.

- In the end of the last week the State Department published its annual report ‘Supporting Human Rights and Democracy: The U.S. Record 2006.’ It tells us that authoritarian tendencies prevail in and democracy is withdrawn from Russia. Usually, trends like that are accompanied with more governmental pressure on ethnic and religious minorities including the Jewish community. Do you feel that?

- I don’t. Rather I am very much upset by what such an influential agency says since it is very unhelpful for developing real democracy. First, promising financial and political support for democratic forces in Russia, the State Department discredits them in Russian opinion. Reports like that make our people think that all democrats here are Western or American agents who so to say betray their country for U.S. dollars. They obviously look unpatriotic while their sincere endeavor to develop democratic institutions seems for many as nation-destabilizing and aimed at subjugating Russia to the United States. So it plays into the hands of democracy’s opponents, not adherents.

But there is something worse. The White House just uses Russian democracy to help itself in an internally American political game. It means that when they no longer need it for this purpose, they won’t be interested in Russian democracy any more. I think the Russian democrats can foresee this future and be hardly grateful to Americans for their State Department’s disservice.

- If so, how the U.S. and the West generally might help democratic development in Russia?
- I think the most right way would be to have Russia actively involved in various Western international political and economical agencies as the WTO, G8, PACE and others. Working together will help political and economical norms as practiced in developed democracies to infiltrate Russian business and political establishment. Right after WW2 Italy and France were far from being exemplary democratic, weren’t they. But today they are among those who guarantee stability in the Western Europe. Whatever they did wrong, the postwar governments grew a real vehicle of democratic changes and gave rise to a new generation that was brought up under free market and liberal democratic political process.

I am convinced that Russia is following the same way and in modern conditions she may pursue it far faster. But instead of help our country faces antipathy, antagonism, and resistance. Russia is not welcome, for instance, into the WTO.

- Among what keeps Russia from joining the WTO is the Jackson-Vanik amendment. Today repeal of this statute is often associated with us being democratic enough...

- We all remember that the American Congress adopted the amendment 1974 as an answer to the state anti-Semitism in the USSR and Soviet efforts to prevent Jew from immigrating to Israel. The amendment was designed to help Soviet Jewry and it did the job. However I have to acknowledge that today the Jackson-Vanik amendment in fact works against the Jewish community in Russia.

It is obvious that since the time the amendment was adopted the position of Jews here has fundamentally changed. The modern Russian authorities not only encourage but rather support full-fledged life of Jewry in this country. Jews no longer experience any limitations in employment, education, oversees traveling... This amendment has become anachronistic.
As an impediment to Russia’s joining the WTO, the amendment in fact may be rather used by anti-Semites now. For them, it looks like Russia being not allowed into an international body because of a ‘Jewish amendment.’ So the Russian Jews cannot favor this amendment, neither they welcome such reports from America.

- So you think the Jackson-Vanik amendment may be lifted today?

- My point is that we should tell between real politics and PR. What Ms. Susan Schwab (U.S. representative to the WTO - IF) says rather belongs to the latter. Possibly, the U.S. uses such statements to make Russia more compromising. We know that negotiations on our country joining the WTO are rather complex, so I am not surprised that the parties involved use a range of means to achieve more advantageous conditions for themselves. So when the Russian press people echo American statements they but help they to achieve their goals.

But no PR can replace real politics. In the early March Thomas Lantos, the chairman of the United States House Committee on Foreign Affairs came to Russia. He visited the Moscow Jewish Community Center and saw how Jews live today. After the visit the politician said he would work to lift the Jackson-Vanik amendment as an obvious anachronism. In the late March Russia’s Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar was visiting the United Sates and met some American congressmen and business people discussing abolition of the amendment. Americans made it clear that they were interested in having it lifted too. In the beginning of April, U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez spoke about lifting the amendment. It is these people who are real policy-makers in Washington DC, and they are clear about their objectives.