The upcoming election in Russia became a focal point of discussions at a conference held in Prague last Monday. Organized by the international NGO “European Movement” and Czech think-tank FONTES RERUM, the conference, entitled “Central Europe, EU and the new Russia,” was held at the Czech Parliament.
Academics and politicians participated, including Luboš Zaorálek, deputy chairman of the Czech Parliament; Vladimír Špidla, former Czech prime minister and former Euro commissioner; Aleksander Babakov, vice speaker of the Russian State Duma; Ján Carnogurský, former prime minister of Slovakia; Mikhail Starshinov, member of the Russian State Duma; and Laura Bianconi, member of the Italian Senate.
Organizers said: “The conference took place in the midst of many world events – the revolution in Libya; the hurricane in the USA, which even prevented the arrival of some participants; and what the delegates called the second wave of the global crisis. How world events will play out (including the multiple countries having elections in 2012) and how the EU, Russia and Central and Eastern Europe countries will react, both individually and as a collective, provoked a variety of opinions.”
Moderator Jan Mladek said: “European politicians are lagging after economic development, and next year will decide the future of the Eurozone and also the future of the EU. While in Europe, development will be driven more by the economic factors, the USA and Russia will clearly take a more political stance on things. The interest of the EU, which is weakened by the Eurozone crisis, is in a stable and credible Russia, which should emerge from the Presidential elections of 2012.”
It was noted by Lubomír Zaorálek, deputy chairman of the Czech Parliament, that “Russia and NATO already share much, without integration. They share the perception of many global threats, including terrorism, from narcotics trade, from nuclear proliferation. Step by step, they have grown closer, even when politically it seems expedient to claim otherwise. This trend will continue and, in fact, must continue.”
According to organizers, a lively discussion broke out on the merits of the likely candidacy of Vladimir Putin in Russia’s upcoming elections. A variety of viewpoints were shared, but the reaction was overall positive with many believing Russia had seen good economic times when Putin was at the helm.
Ján Carnogurský, former prime minister of Slovakia, said: “Russia is aiming for integration with the EU. However, countries with a weak government will never serve as a good example for Russia, and there are quite a few such countries in the EU. Also, Europe is still slightly afraid of a strong Russia, and the symbol of Russia with a strong government became Putin. But, we must not forget the Eurozone crisis and that Central Europe has Germany and Russia to choose from in terms of a partner. Germany is not a global power, while Russia is, therefore, the chance for Russia to influence Central Europe is not bad.”
Sergei Serebrennikov, director of the Institute of International Integration in Moscow, said: “We are standing at the point of choice for further developments in Russia. It doesn’t matter who will lead the government, as Russia is destined for cooperation with Europe. It is very important to understand that we, here, in Russia are learning to listen to and understand others.”
For his part, Vladimir Spidla, former Czech prime minister and former Euro commissioner, pointed out that the upcoming Russian elections won’t be so “significant.” According to him, “the outcome of the elections will depend on Putin. If he decides to run he will be the president.”
Leonid Litinetsky from Israel cautioned: “The upcoming presidential elections should reinforce democracy in Russia; democracy but with a charismatic leader. I believe that Russia should go its own way – combining democracy with a tough vertical power, in order to be able to use this transitional period to heal the problems with the economy, corruption, and other issues. And a bit more on democracy – in my opinion the very discussion of elections in Russia here in the west alongside representatives from the Russian establishment signifies the strengthening of democracy in Russia.”
Meanwhile, Laura Bianconi, member of the Italian Senate, said: “Russia, under Putin was able to diversify its political influence, not only in Europe but also towards India and China. He has conducted a series of reforms, ensured stability and economic growth, which should culminate in acceptance into the World Trade Organization.”
Organizers added that topics discussed also included upcoming elections in the US, France, and Spain; geopolitics in Russia and in Central Europe, as well as the opportunities for more open borders and idea exchanges. The panel discussions were said to have been moderated by Jan Mládek, chairman of FONTES RERUM, and Peter Fellegi, managing director of PPF Investments.