Russian Dissident Kara-Murza Visits Skidmore

Russian Dissident Kara-Murza Visits Skidmore

This week, Skidmore welcomed distinguished Russian democratic oppositionist Vladimir Kara-Murza. His visit was the central point of the annual policymaking debate sponsored by Periclean Honors Forum. The two-evening event included a screening of Kara-Murza’s movie Nemtsov on Wed. 31, and a panel discussion about the future of Russia’s politics on Thurs.1.

The movie, directed by Kara-Murza, tells the story of his long-time political friend, Mr. Boris Nemtsov, who committed his life to advocating for democracy and who served as Russia’s Vice Prime Minister in the late 1990s — months before Vladimir Putin’s ascent to power. The second part of the event was an insightful conversation between Kara-Murza and Professor Jonathan Brent, whose groundbreaking work in the 1990s revealed numerous facts about the Soviet era and largely contributed to the scholarly understanding of the practices of communism. The conversation was moderated by Dr. Kate Graney, Director of Skidmore’s Gender Studies program, as well as a professor in the political science department.

Kara-Murza’s activism and his work in the areas of policy and scholarship place him as one of the most influential characters in Russia’s democratic opposition and one of the country’s leaders in democratization attempts. Currently serving as the vice chairman of the pro-democratic Open Russia organization, established by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Kara-Murza has been strongly involved in advocacy for human rights and rule of law in Russia. Open Russia serves as a uniting platform for various communities and civic associations, vigorously supporting the building of civic society structures and aiming at decentralizing the country’s governance. Kara-Murza was also one of the leaders of Russia’s 2017 rallies against the corruption and misuse of public funds by Prime Minister Medvedev. Soon after the protests, Kara-Murza was poisoned in what was the security forces’ attempt to silence one of its fiercest government critics. Kara-Murza was also instrumental in passing the Magnitsky Law by the United States Congress and imposing economic sanctions on key members of the Russian regime. The 2012 Magnitsky Act was a major bipartisan gesture of reassurance towards Russia’s democratic opposition, and a major international success.

When talking about his vision for Russia’s future, Kara-Murza asserts his strong belief that the 2020s will bring a long awaited democratic change to Russia’s politics, by underlining the youngest generation’s role. According to Kara-Murza, there is an entire generation of students and youth who use independent, online news sources, and who grew up ignoring the official Kremlin-backed propaganda. That generation, Kara-Murza admits, believes that Russia is a European country and that it should be governed using European standards in aspects such as human rights, institutional transparency, separation of powers, pluralism and decentralized structure. The Russian opposition should be prepared for a sudden regime change anytime in the near future, and thus prepare its own strategies and policies for the transfer of power, emphasized Kara-Murza.

An array of working groups have been formed around the democratic opposition movement. Their aim is to work out the strategies in the most important policy fields and prepare for the future transition of power. According to Kara-Murza, it is crucial that the opposition is prepared for any scenario, because “as history teaches us, the political changes happen instantly in Russia.” As for what kind of policies would be enacted under the future democratic government, Kara-Murza said this: “We will act to decentralize a system of power, restore parliamentarian rule, ensure freedom of private entrepreneurship and make Russia a genuine federation.” He also highlighted the fact that countries with parliamentary systems of power are more likely to retain their democratic regime.  

When a member of the audience asked Kara-Murza about the potential replacement on the post of the Federation’s President, he answered that it did not really matter, unless the whole system was remodeled in a truly democratic fashion. “The point is not to replace a bad tsar with a good tsar, but to change the whole system,” he said. Speaking of the future, Kara Murza expressed his hope that the Western governments will have the courage to take proactive measures in supporting Russia’s opposition by, for example, sanctioning the offshore assets of government officials, oligarchs and Kremlin associates. Another big challenge for the Western societies and leaders, Kara-Murza stated, will be integrating a democratic Russia into the European family. In the concluding part of the event, Kara-Murza also called for rejecting and debunking one of the most harmful yet vivid political myths—that Russian society is not suited for a democratic rule.

Photo Credit to Eric Jenks

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