Whatever adjectives are thrown at the elections on December 3, everyone agrees that "Swedish" won't be among them.
But of all the many statements being made about Putin's "managed democracy," the boycott by the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights is considered the most profound. It is certainly the most influential. The ODIHR is still considered the gold standard in the democracy watch-dog game. When it says Boris Yeltsin was elected fair and square in 1996, the New York Times and the most of the rest of the western media were quick to declare a "Victory for Russian Democracy." When the same body decided not to bless Russia with its presence this year, the country's democracy was universally declared to have "Exited."
The truth is it never entered. But that didn't used to bother the democracy experts at the OSCE.
How did it come to this?
Meadowcroft has been involved in democracy-building and election-monitoring in Russia and the CIS countries since 1989. In the beginning, he said, international election monitors were seen as "the good guys." That began to change when the OSCE wrested control of regional election-monitoring duties the United Nations. That, he says, is when the ideological rot set in.
"You could trace the subversion of the OSCE from the moment that the UN had to give way to the OSCE for election monitoring operations in its area," says Meadowcroft. "There came a point where the UN's electoral division was not strong enough to insist that it carry out missions in the OSCE region. It was forced to hand over its mission to the OSCE. The UN's electoral affairs division was originally part of the political department of the UN, which was very strong. And it was shifted out. The UN was in effect politically forced to let the OSCE run stuff in its area. This was largely an American initiative."
At the end of the Cold War, when the OSCE was still known as the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, there were big hopes. The CSCE had been the forum for the major milestones that lessened superpower tensions and set the stage for the end of the Cold War, from the Helsinki Declaration on Human Rights to early negotiations on the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty.
"There was this idea that the CSCE would be a 'UN for Europe'. Havel would be its godfather, the Americans would endorse it, and it would take over the old Federal Parliament building in Prague when Czechoslovakia split," said Christopher Lord, a former editor of Perspectives: A Central European Journal of Eastern European Affairs and a former consultant for the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
"What killed it was a proliferation of countries as the Eastern Bloc fragmented," said Lord. "With the break-up of Yugoslavia the inherent weakness of the CSCE was revealed. Once it was exposed to the stresses of a hot war, the cold war dinosaur fell over sideways and died of shock. The urgency of the situation meant that attention in foreign ministries swung away from the CSCE and back to the UN, and especially NATO. The CSCE, along with the Western European Union, another structure which coulda been a contender, didn't quite make it."
The mid-90s brought an expansion of OSCE programs and saw the beginning of a steady shift in its focus. For most of its first 20 years, the CSCE was largely dedicated to hard security issues, with democracy and human rights playing a smaller role. After it was renamed the OSCE, the newly created Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights quickly began sucking up scarce resources and energy. Since then, eastern members have begun to tire of the "soft" half of the equation getting so much attention.