Economic crisis leading to political opening in Russia

In a meeting with human rights activists, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev said that competition among political forces should be restored in the country. He also argued for changes in the NGO registration law, which many civil society leaders argue was created as a legal means to shut down civil society groups the government disapproved of–including the Salvation Army.

These recent moves appear to be part of a deliberate policy shift to allow greater political openness as a means to respond to the economic crisis, which has led to the first widespread protests in Russia in years. Medvedev said in the meeting with civil society leaders:

It is clear that in times of crisis, we should think about strengthening mutual understanding and trust between the state and the civil society. Without this, we will not be able to overcome the crisis.

This is not the first time we have heard the idea that the economic crisis will require political changes; last February Medvedev aid Igor Yurgens said:

The social contract consisted of limiting of civil rights in exchange for economic well-being. At the current moment, economic well-being is shrinking. Correspondingly, civil rights should expand. It’s just simple logic.

If this liberalization continues, it will add credence to the theory that economic development and democracy go hand in hand. Of course, it could also mean that once the Russian economy recovers, that Russia could retract any of the political changes allowed now in order to sate Russians’ anger over the economic crisis.

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