Letter From the Editors: April 25-May 1, 2016

Author: Laurence Bogoslaw

Liberals in Russia: An Endangered Species in Need of Conservation?

An American reading contemporary Russian political commentary might well be baffled by the uses of the word liberal. It’s an exact transliteration of the word we all know in English, and yet Moscow’s media coverage often links it to notions like private capital, free markets, nonintervention of government in business operations, etc. - values that we would define as conservative, which (as every good American knows) is the opposite of liberal. And Russia’s only major political party that contains the word - the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia - is led by nationalist grandstander Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who (from an American point of view) is about as liberal as Donald Trump.

Despite this apparent contradiction in terms, most of the world still understands liberalism in the sense that thinkers like John Locke, Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill did: Government should protect the fundamental rights and freedoms of the governed, particularly the rights to earn wages, own property, and espouse and express their own ideas. Many Russians see these ideals as being very far from the repressive trend that the Putin government has followed in recent years; in fact, Filipp Styorkin even ascribes to the Moscow authorities the contention that "nothing has ever been more insufferable for . . . human society than freedom" (quoting Dostoyevsky’s Grand Inquisitor). In light of this perception, there has been a lot of excitement in opposition circles about the reappearance of former finance minister Aleksei Kudrin. Granted, he is not back in political office, but he has been appointed to the Center for Strategic Planning to draft reforms for the Russian government. Meanwhile, current cabinet member Aleksei Ulyukayev (described by Slon’s Tatyana Stanovaya as "one of the most timid economic development ministers ever") came out with a bold statement in Vedomosti about making Russian businesses more attractive for investment, including ...

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