Le Nouvel Observateur recently compiled opinions on Russian democracy from each of the ten French Presidential candidates. While the Left is highly critical of the authoritarian Putin regime, the Right is more favorably disposed to the Russian President-elect. On the eve of the first round of the French Presidential elections, I provide a translation of Russie: Ce qu’en disent les candidats.
“After the crash of the 1990’s, it was at the cost of a takeover that the authority of the state was restored and the economy recovered. There was brutal repression in Chechnya, the war in Georgia, and most recently the contestations about the elections, even if they do not give cause to question the legitimacy of the next President. Today the Russians want political reform and I think it is the will of their leaders too. France’s role should be to encourage this movement, but not to read Russia lectures or stigmatize this great country which, despite our differences, is one of our major partners. Let’s not forget that it is only 20 years since Russia emerged from a long totalitarian night.”
Sarkozy is the current center-right President and head of the ruling UMP, who is likely to lose to Hollande in the second round according to opinion pollsters.
“Russia agreed to commitments, especially those of the Council of Europe, which she must respect. I especially wish this so that we can build the partnership with Russia which we need to create a growth-friendly environment in Europe and to construct other international balances. This is particularly the case in the UN Security Council where Russia cannot continue to go its own way, complicit in the massacres in Syria. Russian society is changing, as evidenced in the recent elections during which a real demand for democracy was expressed. It is now important that the Russian government pursue its announced democratization efforts. All over the world, France must support the rule of law, civil liberties, media independence, and respect for human rights, all while respecting the sovereignty of peoples. This requires a deep dialog and cooperation with Russia, which is a major partner for France and the EU, both economically and strategically.”
Hollande is the center-left head of the Socialist Party, and is the pollsters’ favorite to take the French Presidency.
Russia’s society and economy have undergone profound changes, but nonetheless fundamental liberties are still too often stymied, notably those which concern press freedom and freedom of speech. The current situation is clearly not comparable to that which prevailed under the Communist regime, but democrats cannot be satisfied. We must convince Russia to make further progress, though the decisive impetus will come from the Russians themselves.
Bayrou is a centrist politician who is head of the Democratic Movement and polling about 13%.
Marine Le Pen
There is no evidence to suggest that Russia is not a democracy from a constitutional perspective. It is not a one-party state and no serious analyst can assert that Vladimir Putin does not enjoy a solid majority and popular legitimacy. If you read Russian newspapers, you will see that the tone of the opposition press is much freer and more virulent against Putin than it is in France against Sarkozy. The problem we have as regards Russia is that our perceptions are influenced by the strategic representations that American and European ideologized networks, hostile to the Russians’ policy of national pragmatism, installed in the heart of our mainstream media.
Marine Le Pen is a far-right politician who is head of the Front National and polling about 15%.
The recent Russian elections have shown us that Vladimir Putin considers elections and democracy as mere formalities before reattaining his full powers, which he had never ceased exercising in the first place. This can be described as the exercise of autocratic power, while hundreds of thousands of Russian citizens simply asked for free elections worthy of a modern democracy. But the most lamentable thing in all this is the deafening silence of French and European leaders as regards the disputed re-election of Vladimir Putin on March 4. So during this campaign I called upon all the Presidential candidates to make a clear commitment to democracy and human rights in Russia.
Eva Joly is the head of Europe Écologie–The Greens and has insignificant support.
If Putin’s party arrived well ahead in local elections in Russia, it is the result of massive fraud, intimidation, and arrests of activists. For the first time in Russia, the voters went out into the streets to express their anger. In Moscow, many opposition candidates did not have the right to stand and the opposition parties did not have access to the media. In Astrakhan, the incumbent mayor used gangster methods to prevent his opponent from getting elected. So I obviously do not consider the Putin regime to be a democracy.
Philippe Poutou is the head of the New Anticapitalist Party and has insignificant support.
Putin’s Russia is a complex country that has come a long way since not only Communism, but also since the decade of transition that profoundly destabilized it. Putin ended a period of decline and ended the looting of the country by the oligarchs and we can understand that the Russians are grateful to him. Russia is not yet a Western democracy but it is democratizing. We hope that the coming years will bring new progress in this domain and in the struggle against corruption. Either way, I do not think that provoking Vladimir Putin through external interventions, as some will have it, will bring any progress in this field. We must give it time.
Nicolas Dupont-Aignan is a Gaullist and former UMP member, who has insignificant support.
Jacques Cheminade (Solidarité et Progrès)
There are no more democracies left in the world. Europe is not an example when it sends Greece to the garrote. If she had a real policy, which is impossible with Mlle. Ashton, it should initiate peace through mutual development starting from the complementary economic interests of Russia, China, and the other Asian countries.
Jacques Cheminade is the head of Solidarité et Progrès, the party of the LaRouche movement in France, and has insignificant support.
Even going by criteria accommodating to Great Powers claiming to be “democratic”, the Putin regime is an authoritarian regime. Putin’s predecessors, from Stalin to Gorbachev, betrayed the Communism which they themselves laid claim to: They were in fact defending the interests of the bureaucratic layer that usurped the revolutionary power founded by the workers and peasants in 1917. Putin, however, does not betray the values of the capitalist world to which he lays claims to, judging by the methods of other heads of state.
Nathalie Arthaud is the head of Workers’ Struggle and has insignificant support.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon (Left Front)
Declined to answer the questions of La Nouvel Observateur.
The leader of the French communists declined to answer the question. He is predicted to get about 13%.