"A Victory for Russian Democracy"
—Title of a New York Times editorial, days after the ODIHR-approved 1996 presidential election
"Exit, Russian Democracy"
—Title of a New York Times editorial, days before the ODIHR-boycotted 2007 Duma elections
When Russia told the OSCE that their election monitoring mission would be severely limited last month, it seemed as though Putin had fired an authoritarian shot out of the blue, baring his inner Stalinist once and for all. The West reacted as if the OSCE was the crucifix of democracy, and Putin's rejection of that crucifix was evil rejecting good.
Well, that's one way of looking at it. Another way is that the recent Russia-OSCE door-slamming episode is the inevitable outcome of years of cynical Western manipulation of an organization that once held enormous promise and impeccable credentials, but is now with good reason considered a propaganda tool for the West.
If that last sentence sounds like the paranoid rant of a Putin-era silovik revanchist, then think again. It's the view held by none other than the man who headed the OSCE's 1996 election mission in Russia, Michael Meadowcroft.
"The West let Russia down, and it's a shame," said Meadowcroft, a former British MP and veteran of 48 election-monitoring missions to 35 countries.
In a recent telephone interview with The eXile, Meadowcroft explained how he was pressured by OSCE and EU authorities to ignore serious irregularities in Boris Yeltsin's heavily manipulated 1996 election victory, and how EU officials suppressed a report about the Russian media's near-total subservience to pro-Yeltsin forces.
"Up to the last minute I was being pressured by [the OSCE higher-ups in] Warsaw to change what I wanted to say," said Meadowcroft. "In terms of what the OSCE was prepared to say publicly about the election, they were very opposed to any suggestion that the election had been manipulated."
In fact, he says, the OSCE and the West had made its mind up about how wonderfully free and fair Boris Yeltsin's election was before voting even started.
"The OSCE parliamentary assembly had a separate mission who were passionately pro-Yeltsin," he said. "So you had two OSCE missions for the election, one of which arrived predisposed to say things were good." The other was pressured to agree.
Evidence of fraud, such as entire towns in Chechnya voting overwhelmingly for Yeltsin, caused Meadowcroft to liken the 1996 election to those held in African dictatorships. "In Chechnya they'd been bombed out of existence, and there they were all supposedly voting for Yeltsin. It's like what happens in Cameroon," he said.
While the Western media portrays the Russia-OSCE spat as a simple battle between bright democracy and dark autocracy, the Russian elite has a deeply cynical view of the OSCE based on personal experience. As Meadowcroft was not allowed to say at the time, Yeltsin's victory in 1996 was rife with fraud. Most important to the outcome was the months-long blanket television support Yeltsin received and a "black PR" campaign against his Communist foe, Gennady Zyuganov; Russia's print media was almost as bad. The election was not a "victory for optimists," as the Hoover Institute's notorious Yeltsin-cheerleader Michael McFaul wrote at the time. Rather, the technology of the fraudulent election, blessed by the West, served as the template for future Russian elections. But if few in the West know about this, it's because the OSCE and the Western media only began to emphasize Russia's systemic electoral fraud and media manipulation in 2003.
"[The West] didn't want [pre-election] criticism that the election had been manipulated, lest the Communists get public mileage out of it," said Meadowcroft. "And the Communists regarded it as par for the course that they wouldn't get a fair deal. I went to see the Zyuganov team and they said, 'Oh it's a waste of time to give you the dossier [on election fraud], you're not going to do anything about it anyway.'"