Sunday, March 4, 2012

Vladimir Putin, Winston Churchill and the Trampling of Democracy

Tomorrow, March 5, marks the 66th anniversary of Winston Churchill's The Sinews of Peace address, better known as the "Iron Curtain" speech. A lot has changed since Churchill took the podium at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, in 1946. And yet, while the Soviet Union, the gulags and the KGB are no more, Russia is in many ways no closer to true democracy.

One of the primary reasons for this is the reign of Vladimir Putin, himself an former member of the KGB. Today, Putin won another six years at the helm of his nation in an election that was supposedly democratic. "We won in an open and honest struggle!" he told a rapturous crowd that cheered his victory as they gathered outside the Kremlin on a frigid Moscow night.

Despite Putin's typically bold claims, there have been dozens of reports of voting irregularities and electoral frauds that would be almost laughable if their consequences weren't so serious, including "carousel voting," whereby buses of voters are driven to many different polling stations to punch many ballots. Independent monitors have broadcast these abuses to the world media, but Putin and his cronies simply don't care - they just issue one dismissive denial after another.

In the "Iron Curtain" speech, Churchill stated, "the people of any country have the right, and should have the power by constitutional action, by free unfettered elections, with secret ballot, to choose or change the character or form of government under which they dwell." If the election monitors are to be believed, nothing of the sort took place in Russia. And nor will it at any point during the next stage of Putin's reign, which began in 2000. Maybe in time for the 75th anniversary of Churchill's call for universal democracy and liberty, the Russian people can shake off Putin's yoke and finally take hold of the "title deeds of freedom."

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