Friday, June 03, 2005

Russian Rule of Law ?

One Man's Fight

Many agree that the most important indicator of a successful civil society is the rule of law. This means equal and fair treatment to all by the powers-that-be (and not to mention of course clear delineated rules for those powers-that-be.)

This requires a clear set of laws and the applicability of these laws, not applicability arbitrarily at the whim of a ruler or rulers. Fascist states or communist states or failed states all have rule of man or men, not rule of law. Eg, mess with the state power structure and pay the consequences. This can mean imprisonment, family members disappearing, inability to travel outside of the country, police harrassment, all kinds of things.

Well President Putin's Russia has just shown - in fact is continuing to show - that it is leaning away from the rule of law and is at risk of becoming exactly where it was 100 years ago, like a Czarist state.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky the ex-head of Yukos oil company - at one time Russia's largest and that is saying something - has been sentenced to 9 years in prison for non-payment of a tax bill that has grown and grown over time. It is unclear how much Putin actually had to do with this penalty, and in fact the months ahead will see where the country is turning. Perhaps the sentence and the tax bills were just the actions of petty bureaucrats acting in jealous power-mongering ways.

In any case one man is not too happy with the way his country is turning, is outspoken about it and, on an optimistic note, is President Putin's chief economic advisor, Andrey Nikolayevich Illarionov. Mr. Illarionov said that, "I personally felt and still feel ashamed of the state that has to represent itself in such a way".

Illarionov has a clear grasp of political economy and should be awarded the Workers of the World Relax gold star for promoting and seeing through to implementation a flat tax of 13% in Russia, the first of any major economy. This alone jump started growth (the growth needed to pull the poor up from poverty) and is a true sign of the rule of law, much more than the European or US models of taxation filled with political loopholes, overly complex rules, and changing year-to-year.

Perhaps Illarionov is like Dminitri Shostakovich was under Stalin, too famous, too respected and too willing to play the fool to be 'removed'. Again, the months ahead and Putin's actions will determine the path of struggle for this great nation.