Mikhail Khodorkovsky At The Tocqueville Conversations: Democracy In The West

June 12, 2018

On June 8 Mikhail Khodorkovsky took part in The Tocqueville Conversations at the iconic location of Tocqueville Chateau in Normandy.  The Conversations were set up in order to bring Europeans and Americans together to “cast our gaze upon the immediate events that concern us”, and in the words of Alexis de Tocqueville in his renowned work Democracy in America: “to consider the whole future.”

In recent years a series of crises have edged Europe and America closer towards the question: is Western liberal democracy in crisis? Populism, political rebellion and polarisation are spreading across European democracies at an alarming rate, putting the post-1989 world order to the test.  New forms of nationalism have arisen to fill the vacuum left by the failure of liberal and centrist parties to address the concerns of European electorates.

But can the founding principles of traditional liberal democracy be salvaged from the resurgence of this new form of reactionary politics?  Some of Europe and America’s most apt intellectuals and public figures gathered at the Tocqueville Chateau to seek answers to these testing questions.

Open Russia founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky participated in a discussion on the future of democratic Russia, outlining the significance of Russia’s future as an European nation, guided by principles of liberal democracy and the rule of law.  The Kremlin’s political technologists frequently refer to Russia as a unique state, poised historically between Europe and Asia, destined to a “third way” fate.  As the Russian Byzantine scholar Dmitry Obolensky remarked, this way of thinking is often little more than a convenient excuse for Russian authoritarians to justify their political behaviour.

Russia’s institutions were long ago ‘Europeanised’, the Russian Constitution even lays out the basis for a federal parliamentary democracy, with room for effective regional representation.  If Russia’s leaders wish to transition their country from a corrupt and aggressive petro-state into an enlightened democracy which respects human rights and liberty, then the basis for such a system is already in place, what’s needed is the political will to pursue an European path of development.


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