Why hasn’t Russia become a democracy?

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In 2023, Memorial, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Russian human rights NGO, turned 30 years old. Almost as old as the Russian Federation. This parallel offers the opportunity to try and answer some key questions about a country that took the path of authoritarianism, instead of becoming a democracy like many had hoped. Through the "30 Years Ago" project, Memorial is exploring all the facets of this downward spiral.

How did the current regime come about? How was freedom of expression destroyed in Russia? How did Putin manage to stay in power for so many years? Will the dictatorship in Russia last forever? Over the years, Memorial has both witnessed and been a victim of the growing authoritarianism in Russia. This position enables it to provide pertinent answers to these questions, based on thousands of eyewitness accounts and documents.

To contribute to the understanding of Russia’s authoritarianism, Memorial has launched the "30 Years Ago" project. It called on journalists, experts, human rights activists and NGO representatives. It established a partnership with several independent Russian media: 7x7, Khata s Krayou, Kholod, Mediazona, The Moscow Times, Nastoyachee vremia, Pskovskaya Goubernia, Republic, Takie dela, Tcherta, Viortska. The project is also open to contributions from foreign media.

The project is being developed in French, English, and Russian. Articles, videos, podcasts, and interviews are regularly posted online, as well as posts on the main social networks. The hashtag #30YearsBefore is used to find this content on Instagram, Facebook, and X (Twitter).

"FIDH is delighted to support this project, which is educational, enlightening, rigorous and intuitive, and which attempts to lift the veil on the most difficult question of all", says Alice Mogwe, President of FIDH. "By providing an answer, Memorial rejects fatalism: Russia is not destined to be just another authoritarian empire. As long as there are dissidents, there will be hope for this country.”

The Russian army is a mass murders factory

The first part of the project, which has also been translated into Arabic, focuses on the Russian army. In conflict after conflict, from Chechnya to Ukraine, via Georgia and Syria, the army has multiplied its war crimes and atrocities against civilians.

Why is Russia so special? Memorial offers to go back to the origins of an army in a country at permanent war for over 40 years, whose structures are inherited from the Red Army. It has always refused any civilian control over its institutions, without changing its doctrine since World War II. The Russian authorities have given the same treatment to Grozny, Aleppo and Marioupol. Bomb, raze, disregard civilian lives, and then claim victory. The legacy of the USSR does not explain everything: post-Soviet wars are not random, isolated events, but rather a chain of crime and impunity.

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