What is Russia's alternative to liberalism?

In an interview with the Financial Times, Russian president Vladimir Putin criticised liberalism, in particular regarding the way liberal democracies have dealt with migrants. Liberalism is obsolete; the majority of the population doesn't want it, he maintained. But for commentators from East and West, Russia does not have anything better to offer.

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newsru.com (RU) /

A backward-looking pioneer

Putin thinks and acts in line with his openly anti-liberal attitude, writes Mikhail Poscharsky in newsru.com:

“When Putin says that Western elites have distanced themselves from the people, he's talking about a representative democracy which just sits around talking in parliament instead of doing 'real things'. He sees being in touch with the people in terms of the mysterious 'direct line' and in the polls conducted by VZIOM. Putin is visibly present in the lives of the people: a grandma can call him in a live broadcast when the light bulb in the staircase has blown and it will be replaced as if by magic. ... No, Putin does not lie - he is a genuine anti-liberal and pioneer for the 'old order'. It's just that this 'old order' looks like Russia today. And it always has done.”

Le Monde (FR) /

China outdoing Russia in challenging the West

Putin's Russia is not a challenge for Western liberalism but China is, according to le Monde.

“All Putin provides is a counter-model, the negation of liberal democracy; it's reactionary. ... Putin never explains why, when the people vote with their feet, they're always heading in the same direction, namely from Russia to the West. If any country can boast that it has an alternative model nowadays it's not Russia, but China. Because China are showing that they're capable of being competitive through technical innovation without the free exchange of ideas. This is a true challenge for liberalism, not nostalgia for the traditions of a bygone age.”

Gazeta Wyborcza (PL) /

No such thing as the perfect system

There is no functioning alternative to liberal democracy, Gazeta Wyborcza asserts:

“Sometimes we face the choice of which values to dedicate ourselves to: freedom of opinion or the right of the individual to protect their private sphere; the freedom of the entrepreneur who wants to offer services or the protection of disadvantaged groups against discrimination. These decisions always trigger discussions, but they don't undermine the principles of liberal democracy. The enemies of liberal democracy, by contrast, have no coherent programme or ideas that could solve real problems. Politics, the economy and life are not perfect. We solve one problem only for another to arise. ... But all enemies of liberalism should travel to Putin's Russia to see what 'illiberal democracy' really means.”

The Irish Times (IE) /

Plenty of counterevidence

Putin may mock liberalism and have pronounced it dead, but there is still hope, the Irish Times writes:

“Recent events around the world confirm that democracy still has plenty of champions, from Istanbul's triumphant opposition voters to the huge crowds at anti-government rallies in Hong Kong and Prague and the thousands of Russians who protested over the arrest of reporter Ivan Golunov on trumped-up drugs charges.But if liberal values are not defended, then the rules they underpin will wither and Putin's desired order will prevail: a system in which might is right and the strongest powers carve up the globe and dictate the fates of smaller nations.”

Financial Times (GB) /

Russia not a role model

The Financial Times clearly distances itself from the Russian president's position:

“Mr Putin's triumphalism is misplaced. Not all of liberalism is under threat. The superiority of private enterprise and free markets - at least within individual nations - in creating wealth is no longer seriously challenged. What is at risk is open borders, and values such as social tolerance, individual rights, democracy and rule of law. ... While America is no longer the shining city on the hill it once seemed, the world's poor and oppressed still head overwhelmingly for the US and western Europe - not just because they are wealthy, but because they are also seen as havens of freedom. Russia is a magnet neither for the poor, the wealthy, nor much recent foreign investment.”

Nowaja Gaseta (RU) /

A limited perspective

Russian opposition politician Leonid Gozman explains in Novaya Gazeta why Putin rejects liberalism:

“His ideas regarding liberalism are very fragmented. They come from the yellow press, from works by marginal authors or conversations with their readers. For example you can't reduce all the world's problems to migration and the adjustment of immigrants or gender discrimination. ... But how has liberalism provoked the ire of the president now? Is it that in liberal democracies society controls the state power, that the leading politicians must act in accordance with the law and submit to the principle of separation of powers which is so alien to our leader?”