“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” wrote Lord Acton in 1887 in a letter to Bishop Creighton. This statement, while expressing a common sense truth, given the fallen nature of man according to the Biblical worldview, is still incorrect. A man that assents to assume absolute power – even when it is given to him voluntarily by others – is already corrupt in his heart. A moral man values the life, liberty, and property of other people; he will realize his own imperfections and limitations and will value their criticism of him and his actions. He will encourage other people to take their own fate in their own hands and exercise their responsible liberty. And he will never want to assume absolute power over them.
Russia had such a leader for a very short time: Boris Yeltsin. He wasn’t perfect, and he knew it. In fact, his habits of drinking very often got the best of him. But one thing he valued highly: the liberty of his own people. It wasn’t easy, especially for a nation that just got out of Communism. Managing private property is the training ground for maturity, and Russians had been deprived of such opportunity for two generations. Yeltsin had all the reasons to assume dictatorial powers over his people and give the excuse of their immaturity and lack of habits to live as free and responsible men. And he had all the ability: The voters gave him almost absolute powers. But he didn’t take it. He allowed criticism; he loved criticism so much that he punished his own government officials who tried to suppress free speech in the media against himself. He allowed private property. He allowed people to get rich – even if many of them abused that right. He liberated the prices and thus Russians saw full shelves in the stores for the first time in 80 years. He even appointed free market defenders as his advisers and even cabinet members. And he didn’t even work to build his own party organization that would perpetuate his own position of power. His presidency wasn’t perfect, of course. But it was a start.
Yeltsin made one mistake: He trusted Putin as his heir. And the Russian voters, out of respect for the old man and what he had done for Russia, gave Putin absolute power. And unlike Yeltsin, he took it. He was KGB, after all, and there is no decency nor morality when you are KGB. So a corrupt person got the absolute power, and it corrupted him even more. He started believing that that absolute power was his not by the will of the voters but by his birthright. The last ten years were a gradual return to the Stalinist past of Russia, with growing power of the bureaucracy, critics silenced by imprisonment or assassinations, and the free market gradually destroyed to establish the economic monopoly of the Kremlin-controlled oligarchy. Putin used Yeltsin’s endorsement to establish gradually an authoritarian dictatorship.
And the last elections in Russia were a proof for that. In a frantic attempt to keep himself and his circle of friends in power, Putin’s own party, Edinnaya Rossiya (United Russia) put up a gigantic voter fraud, reminiscent of the days of the old Soviet Union. With a realistic support of only about 25 percent, Edinnaya Rossiya ended up with almost 45 percent of the vote. Even this is a serious fall from the previous elections when the vote was close to 70 percent. And yet, a voter fraud has been committed, in colossal proportions.
The Russian electronic newspaper Novaya Gazeta publishes the real results based on exit polls at the voting sections in Moscow. They show Edinnaya Rossiya to have support of between 20 and 30 percent of the voters, not the 46 percent declared by the electoral commission. Exit polls are not perfectly reliable, granted, but they are seldom as unreliable as to produce statistical deviations of 50 to 100 percent.
If Putin and his KGB drink buddies think that the Russian population is going to patiently bear such open disdain for their votes, now that Russia has tasted at least some liberty, they are obviously mistaken. Spontaneous demonstrations erupted immediately in Moscow, Saint Petersburg, and other major cities. They may be too small to spark a wide-scale revolution against Putin and his henchmen but they are big enough to warrant the deployment of special police forces. Putin is learning that the world has changed; that even in Russia dictators can’t be safe and comfortable. These are not the 1930s when no one would protest when people were drawn at night from their homes to be sent to concentration camps. The Russian bear – the real Russian bear, the people of Russia – is awakening, and Putin may discover that the long winter is over, and his dictatorship is over.
Which brings us to the question of our own Democrats who have been comfortably rigging elections in many places in the US for a century now. The times are changing. And if Russians can revolt against voter fraud, we can too. And not only we can, but we must. Dictators should never be safe and comfortable, if liberty and justice for all are to be defended.