Liberals think Putin put the Open Government Initiative, advanced by the US, on hold because he is a thief. The blogger Evgeny Super, however, argues that it is a matter of protecting Russia’s sovereignty.
On the Fate of “Open Government” in Russia: Why Vladimir Putin Froze the Initiative
Vladimir Putin canceled Russia’s joining of the international “Open Government Partnership” (OGP) that had been planned for the second half of this year. This news immediately gave rise to outraged reactions of western experts and accusations of unwillingness to integrate into the “civilized” part of the world. I will now describe what this partnership is, what the critics are unhappy about, and why we’re avoiding participating in it.
History of OGP
For the first time the idea of creating an international “Open Government” was aired by then head of the US State Dept Hillary Clinton in June 2011. Following that, it was supported by Barack Obama. If you clear its verbose declarations from traditional American pathos, the gist is as follows: OGP is a voluntary partnership whose participating states wish to reformat their government in accordance with American templates.
In the opinion of the OGP originator (the US authorities), the modern world suffers from the fact that ordinary citizens can’t influence state decisions, government are closed, which breeds corruption and suppression of various freedoms. OGP is a type of a club where countries that want to correct this unfortunate state of affairs join voluntarily. In effect, the new members publicly admit that they wish to build a western type society and it’s as if they apply to join the “civilized world”.
In order to join OGP, one must comply with number of not very onerous requirements, sign its Declaration, submit a plan of action, and allow civil activists and international experts to inspect the implementation of the said plan.
It’s expected that the main effort of OGP member countries will be directed toward improving the efficiency of government organization, strengthening of their openness, increasing efficiency of resource administration, improving corporate governance and creating a more secure society. That, and other trite mantras.
On 20 September 2011 another 7 states joined the Declaration at the instigation from the USA, and as of now, 50 more countries have supported the partnership.
I’m sure that at this point the readers will surely ask: Why would a state need this partnership and what prevents it from fighting corruption, inefficiency, and closed nature of government without it?
I have to reply that I don’t completely understand it myself. If you make a big stretch, you can say that the one practical benefit is only OGP’s promise to share for free some enigmatic “technologies of building a civil society” with its participants. But, as practice shows, no one shares anything valuable for free.
Not finding a clear answer to this question in the partnership’s official documents, we have to assume that the only incentive for those countries is to publicly announce their fervent wish to be friends with the USA by demonstrating their loyalty. As can be seen from the number of countries that joined the partnership, there are many of those.
Russia and OGP
Almost immediately after OGB started to function in the fall of 2011, Dmitriy Medvedev, still president at that time, put forward an initiative to create “Big Government” in Russia. The idea behind it was to create an open platform where the expert community would discuss various draft legislation — a kind of a layer between the people and the authorities, designed to improve cooperation between them.
However, it was soon decided to rename the still unformed “Big Government” into “Open Government” (OG), with the aim of Russia joining the international partnership.
Let’s recall that the concept of OG was being developed for Medvedev by the American “The Monitor Group Company”. Among other things, it’s also known for its work on the image of the Lybian Jamahiriya and Muammar Gaddafi not long before the start of the Lybian war.
Before leaving the presidency, D. Medvedev managed to kick off the project and begin the procedure of Russia joining OGP. According to plan, it was supposed to take place in the second half of 2013.
Our own OG, for whose leadership a whole minister level position was created, taken by Mikhail Abyzov, seemed to start rather vigorously, but it lost its original steam just as quickly. Less than 30 actual draft laws were discussed on the OG platform in one year of its existence. The civil society’s reaction to the innovation was rather lukewarm, and I’m sure most people in the country still don’t have a clue about the project’s existence.
Nevertheless, despite OG’s weak results, the plans of Russia joining OGP weren’t canceled.
Putin decided not to rush
Putin personally put the brakes on joining OGP, which had seemed inevitable, by ordering its postponement to 2014. For now, it’s only a time-out, and not the decision’s abandonment. Putin has requested that the government work out the conditions for Russia’s joining OGP by the end of the year. Moreover, he called for OGP’s reform and expressed a wish that “the evaluation of a government’s openness be directly tied to the rating of the country’s attractiveness for investment.” That is, so there could be at least some kind of a practical benefit from participation.
The reaction of the so called “expert community” followed promptly:
“Lost chance for reformers,” one of OGP coordinators writes;
“Good news for the club, bad news for democracy,” a female rights and OGP activist chimes in;
“RF is losing reputation!” and “We have another president now, and it seems that the new president’s agenda doesn’t correspond to the previous one’s…” Russian experts lament;
“Putin has signed under the moniker ‘party of scoundrels and thieves’. Navalny rules” and “Another self-denunciation of the ruling clique,” readers of Echo of Moscow comment in distress.
In short, no one expected such temerity from Russia — to dictate its conditions to an organization nurtured by the best specialists of the US, and to refuse to submit to its will.
Why we’re not in a rush
It follows from all of the above that OGP is just another noose on a nation’s sovereignty. It’s soft and voluntary, but it’s still a noose: once you join OGP, the state submits to its will in many aspects, making the most important decisions based on the standards accepted in the partnership. And any deviation from these standards would be inevitably criticized by other member states and even be punished with expulsion.
Putin makes the decision to tie achievement in OGP with the nation’s investment rating — that is, the more open we are, the higher our position in the well-known World Bank “Doing Business” rating should be. Let’s recall that advancement in this list is one of the tasks the president assigned to the government in May.
However, even if this decision can be put into practice, this makes the benefit of participating in OGP even more doubtful; after all, this makes the partnership as an instrument of pressure even more effective.
It’s hard to imagine that Putin doesn’t realize this and that he wishes to put this convoluted noose on himself. That’s why I’m going to speculate that his decision is simply an attempt to stall the whole idea of Russia’s participation in OGP.
The OGP Declaration has this paragraph: “Our goal is to encourage innovation and to stimulate further progress, not to define any sorts of standards which could be used as a condition to provide aid or as a means of grading and ranking of countries.”
Putin’s proposal to tie openness with investment rating, as can be seen easily, is in direct contradiction with this paragraph. It’s hard to imagine that OGP would modify its principles based on Russia’s proposal. That’s not what it was created for.
That is, by proposing an intentionally unfeasible condition, Putin is likely smoothly exiting the process started by his predecessor. Apparently, the rules of international ethics and the predictable reaction of the pro-American expert community don’t allow for it to be done “here and now”.