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Oliver Stone interviews Vladimir Putin: On democracy and freedom

This excerpt from “The Putin Interviews” by Oliver Stone is published by special arrangement with Skyhorse Publishing. Available for purchase on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Oliver Stone: You’ve said several times in the last two days that Russia is a democracy. Your critics in America—and there are many—would say that Russia is not a democracy, Russia is a traditional authoritarian state. And the parliament does not make major decisions. It has limited access to television for the opposition parties and that your party dominates the media. The registration process is difficult for these opposition parties. That there’s a lack of judicial independence—although that’s an old problem in Russia, I gather. That you’re opposed to gay rights in Russia. These are the criticisms that are often launched at you. I’d love you to take a chance here and respond to that.

Vladimir Putin: To start with, as to the technocratic character of the Russian state, just have a look—for almost one thousand years our country was being constructed as a monarchy. And then the so-called 1917 Revolution occurred, communists arrived in power, and Stalin found himself at the helm of the state. Certainly, very much a legacy passed down from the Empire to Soviet times even though the plaque on the surface changed. Only at the beginning of the 1990s, events came to pass which laid the foundation for a new stage of Russian development. Certainly, you cannot imagine that we can instantaneously get the same model, the same structures, as in the United States, in Germany, in France. That’s impossible to start with, and secondly, that’s not required. Society, just as every living organism, has to develop stage-by-stage, gradually. That’s the normal development process. When talking about the one party system, I’d like to remind you that the Soviet constitution had a provision saying that the Communist Party had absolute leadership. That was something stipulated in the Constitution. So the only political force was the Communist Party. But, there is nothing like it in the Russia of today. We have a multi-party system. And today, parliament comprises four parties—there are representatives of four parties in the parliament. As to the opposition parties, they are always discontent. And can I ask you how many parties are represented in the US Congress? If my memory serves me correctly, just two. You understand that no one concludes from that there is less democracy in the United States than in Russia—because in Russia there are four parties in the parliament, whereas there are only two in the United States. The American Constitution is fashioned in such a manner that the head of state is elected in two stages. There are electors choosing him or her.

And the Constitution is constructed in such a manner that a candidate can arrive in power for whom more electors voted. But those electors might represent the minority of voters. And twice in the history of the United States it occurred. Does this mean that the United States is not a democratic country? I don’t think so. But the problem is evident. And we also have problems of our own, but we’re developing.

You asked about access to the media. Certainly, the ruling party is trying to create prerogatives for itself. Do you know, or does any of your audience know, that when the head of state is elected where parliamentary elections are held, the ruling party always has an advantage of two to three percent. And why is that? Because all across the world they are using this administrative resource, their power, to secure an advantage. And that’s the case all across the world, and it’s just like that in Russia. We have hundreds of TV and radio companies and the state doesn’t control them in any fashion. Because that’s impossible. But the problem with the opposition forces is not just about fighting the power, the government, they’re trying to demonstrate to the voters that the program they are putting forward is more advantageous, is better, from the point of view of the interests of the voters. Incidentally, in Russia, the head of state is elected through direct elections—unlike in the United States. Now, regarding the multi-party system and the possibility of registration, just recently we radically liberalized the situation in this domain.

And right now the possibility of registering one’s organization, one’s party is so simple that voters are faced with another difficulty—it’s very hard to find what their preferences are. There are so many choices. But I don’t see any problems here from the point of view of democratic institutions. But all that is a living organism and the country is moving forward. Now concerning the rights of sexual minorities. During the Soviet times, there was a criminal responsibility for homosexuals, and right now there is none. We eliminated that part of the criminal code back in the 1990s. Whereas the United States has four states, I believe, that have criminal responsibility, and those laws say that homosexuals are criminals. In Texas and in three other states probably. And recently the Supreme Court of the United States adopted the decision saying that LGBTs should not be prosecuted criminally.82 But I don’t know yet what it’s going to lead to, because this area of regulation, as far as I understand, is within the purview of each and every state. So I don’t know how these judicial procedures are going to play out in the end. Why did such a surge of criticism against Russia arise? It was because the parliament adopted a law which prohibited the propaganda of homosexuals among minors. But there is no discrimination against people—either on the basis of their religion, or sex. And the LGBT community here have grand careers, they are awarded state awards for their merits. There is no discrimination against them whatsoever. The purpose of this law is the following. This law seeks to protect children who have to grow up, to mature, and only afterwards make a decision of their own on their sexual orientation. We are just telling them to leave children alone. Let children grow up, become grown up persons—there is no discrimination on this basis. So I was very much surprised to hear criticism from the United States, because some legislation in the United States provides criminal responsibility for homosexuals. I think this is just one of the instruments for attacking Russia, trying to showcase Russia as being different from the others, which would mean that some other instruments and pressure would have to be applied against it. And the question is why. And the answer is simple and I already told you the answer. That is done so that on other issues which have no relation whatsoever, either to democracy or to the rights of the LGBT community, or to the media, so that in other issues related to geopolitics and politics, they want Russia to be more malleable. But that is an encroachment and they are not using the right means. There is only one way to achieve balanced decisions, and that’s dialogue on equal footing with due regard for mutual interests. And these are not just hollow words—not just hollow phrases. Behind these words are the interests of the government, the state and of the people. Behind them lies the solution to economic issues, to security issues, and personal issues. The citizens of the Russian Federation are interested in that.

OS: You mentioned the parliament passed a law, but has parliament ever passed anything of major consequence against you in recent memory, against your administration.

VP: If I am against this or that law I can just not sign it and then it is regarded as rejected. But as to this law, I have to tell you this was not an initiative of mine, it was an initiative of —

OS: Can you point to an issue where the parliament disagreed with you on a major issue?

VP: You know, we sometimes, quite often have situations when we are required to have very thorough negotiations with different factions of the parliament. And these consultations often prove difficult. And these difficult consultations are certainly those related to social and economic matters. Right now we are at the stage where we’re working actively on next year’s budget. And there are many options, many forks.

Oliver Stone.

Source: Salon: in-depth news, politics, business, technology & culture > Politics

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