VIOLENCE IN CENTRAL MOSCOW: THE RUSSIAN VERSION OF EVENTS IN ARGENTINA?

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The Nezavisimaya Gazeta paper headlined its article on victory of the Japanese team in a soccer match against Russia: “Port Arthur for Russian soccer”. However, the interest in soccer results was immediately overshadowed by the terrible violence perpetrated by soccer fans on Sunday in Moscow.

The Vremya Novostei paper described the disorder near the Kremlin walls as “the most extensive since October 1993”. The paper also stressed that the major reason for the violence was the “initiative of the Moscow authorities for a public broadcast of the World Cup on a large screen in the street”.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta noted: “It is impossible to presume that the law enforcement bodies, who have vast experience in maintaining public order during soccer matches at stadiums, did not know what the behavior of uncontrolled drunken crowds of fanatics could be like”. However, according to the paper, even a reinforced police presence was most unlikely to change the situation, “If a terrifying group of riot police had been rattling their clubs and metal shields from the very beginning on Manezh Square, the head of the Moscow police would be accused of provoking disorders and violence.”

The Kommersant paper states that “so far General Pronin is not to be dismissed”, as it was too hard to find him after his predecessor Nikolai Kulik resigned. The police hardly acted in the capital for about two years and no one wants this to repeat. “So all are interested in blaming for Sunday pogroms only a dozen of tipsy underage soccer fanatics.”

Kommersant noted another peculiarity of the current investigation: all especially grave crimes committed during street violence, such as murders and assaults, are investigated as separate cases. It is a special tactic, as the Prosecutor’s office is trying to comply with the wishes of the Moscow Chief Police Department and to play down public response as much as possible. If pogroms are connected with al assaults, fights, and hooliganism in the streets and at metro stations, the criminal case is to be instituted not on the basis of “mass disorders” but of “extremist manifestations” in the very center of Moscow. The paper explains, “In this case, not only leadership of the Moscow Chief Police Department is to be subjected to “personnel purges”, but also leaders of the Interior Ministry.”

This way or that, it is already clear that Sunday events will add more tension to discussion of the bill “On countering extremist activities”.

According to prior debates in the Duma, this legislative initiative of President Vladimir Putin causes apprehension among all Duma factions, including pro-presidential ones. Deputies are convinced that the government will use the new law in order to remove its political opponents from the political arena.

As Vremya Novostei explains, the Duma deputies are most of all concerned that although it is only possible to shut down an organization based on a court decision, in accordance with the new law, a simple resolution of a prosecutor’s office or interior security body is enough to suspend its activities.

Moreover, just a suspicion of extremist activities can become a basis for such a resolution. The new law defines as extremist activities not only actions but also public statements of a nationalist nature. “So some provocateur may speak on behalf of the party – and its activities will be suspended,” says Duma deputy Valentin Romanov, member of the Communist Party.

However, presidential representative in the Duma Alexander Kotenkov calmed parliamentarians down: the party would have to disown the provocateur and his or her statements in time, and then nothing will threaten it. Still, the concerns remained: it is well known how Russian authorities can use every opportunity in order to “tighten the screws”.

Similarly, Kommersant also says definitions of the new law are vague and indistinct, and enable the government to use them against anyone it dislikes. Assuming that the law comes in force in the present form, which has already been passed in the first reading, “the state will get a universal weapon for fighting not only extremism, but any dissent at all.” Besides, the paper reminds that prior Duma session controlled by the left wing, did not agree to consider the law draft “On counteracting political extremism”, which was prepared then by the Justice Ministry – the Communists were convinced that the law would work against them.

Concerning this, Effective Policy Foundation head Gleb Pavlovsky noted in Nezavisimaya Gazeta that neither the government nor its ideological opponents had ever considered the Communist Party to be an extremist organization.

Nonetheless, Pavlovsky notes, the communists “took a strange position on this point.” The unfounded apprehensions of the leftists about their fate make clear their inclination for “flirting” will all kinds of extremist, marginal, and nationalist anti-Semitic organizations. That is why, according to Pavlovsky, “The Communist Party will either have to refuse to recognize all those organizations, or take the blame for their activities.”

Sergei Markov from the Institute for Political Research thinks that the opinion that the law on counteracting extremism is directed against opposition has no grounds: according to him, the authorities does not intend to use the law against the Communist Party. At the same time, Markov does not rule out that hypothetically, the new law provides a possibility for such actions in the future – consequently, it requires a deliberate judicial consideration.

According to the Novaya Gazeta newspaper, the area of action of the new law may be almost universal, as now extremists are “persons objecting to legal activity of federal bodies, regional bodies of the Russian Federation, and local administration bodies.” So the paper notes, it is now possible to charge people and organizations with any discontent about actions of the authorities. “First they will dissolve a rally because of a suspicious person on the square. Then, they will close the paper, which will publish an article about it. Next, they will ban political parties that will be defending the “extremist newspaper”. Such a law is a perfect weapon in the hands of the power – “if it is used properly, it is possible to put an end to any political opposition in the country for many years.”

Besides, Novaya Gazeta notes, from now on any person, “who is charged with extremism” will not be able to serve in governmental, municipal, or military structures. As there are radical nationalists in power structures of all levels, it is most unlikely that they will be too eager to “purge” themselves. On the contrary, they will acquire an instrument that has been well know since the Soviet Times, “Now it will be possible to force all suspected of dissidence to work as street-cleaners.”

In the opinion of the Versia weekly, the thesis that the anti-extremist law does not threaten the Communist Party was valid only while the Communist Party was a traditional and respectable party. However, the latest events in the party and its internal scandals have abruptly changed the situation.

Versia writes that the times when Zyuganov and his associates ideally fit Yeltsin’s system of checks and balances are over. “the Communist Party does not fit the system of ruled democracy that is being currently created by Vladimir Putin.”

That is why the presidential administration decided to “restructure the left wing of the political spectrum”. The first stage of the plan was weakening of moderate wing of the Communist Party as a result of expelling Seleznev, Goryacheva, and Gubenko from the party.

According to Versia’s sources, an inevitable consequence of this action, which was worked out by Alexander Voloshin and Vyacheslav Surkov, will be strengthening of position of the radical left wing. Developers of the cunning plan put their stake on Alexander Kuvaev, leader of the Moscow City Committee of the Communist Party, who does not conceal his intention to abruptly change the character of the party after he replaces Gennady Zyuganov at his position.

In these terms, Versia states, the expulsion of three “renegades” is only the beginning. It is highly likely that soon it will be turn of Gennady Zyuganov. This will finally split the Communist Party and will finally turn it into a “marginal radical left force”. In this case, according to Kremlin’s forecasts, the party’s popularity rating may fall down to 15% – in this situation any influential faction in the Duma of the next session is out of the question.

According to Versia, Alexander Kuvaev is quite satisfied with such prospects. He is ready to lead the new radical left party and, according to “confidential sources”, he coordinates his activities with the presidential administration, which even “gives him some money for the good deed”.

As for the left centrist electorate, a moderate left party is to be formed specially for them. Beside Gennady Seleznev, a candidate for the leader of the party is Nyzhny Novgorod Governor Gennady Khodyrev, who recently demonstratively withdraw from the Communist Party as well.

In any case, Versia summarizes, there are to be two similar parts of the left wing in Russia instead of one large party; “members of both parties are entirely incompatible and conflict with each other”.

The Inostranets weekly says that according to appraisals of the Kremlin’s political consultants, the marginal Communist Party is to lose the support of friendly regional leaders, and will be unable to elect many deputies from single-mandate districts. Simultaneously, the new moderate Communist Party will also help to split the communist electorate during voting by party lists.

As a result, the Kremlin hopes that loyal centrists will have over 300 seats in the next session Duma. It is stated that this is the main objective of pro-presidential political structures and their supervisor Vyacheslav Surkov.

On the other hand, despite successiveness of the first stage of “restructuring of the left wing”, there is no guarantee that Kremlin’s political consultants will win, writes Inostranets. According to the paper, “Zyuganov must have been right when he reminded to journalists at “historic May 25 plenum” that they had predicted the end of the Communist Party many times and it is still the largest Russian party.”

Besides, Zyuganov also demonstrates great skills in eliminating his opponents.

At the same time, Inostranets thinks, present “communist dissidents” are most unlikely to be able to lead away a considerable part of current left wing electorate. “This electorate is characteristic of enviable stability and is consolidated by Soviet mentality and consequent loyalty to the “communist label,” the weekly writes, “The prevailing majority of this electorate is not afraid of splitting, and it is simply unable to understand and accept any social-democratic ideas.” Numerous and vain attempts to establish a mass social-democratic party in Russia also prove this. So in the opinion of Inostranets, Gennady Zyuganov is highly likely to repeat the fate of his predecessor Ivan Rybkin, who used to lead an also artificially formed on the threshold of previous parliamentary elections left centrist party.

Nonetheless, establishment of a moderate left centrist bloc still makes certain sense. It is no accident that the Duma Speaker rejected his first unwillingness to “change parties” and decided to transform his Rossia movement into a party, or at the worst, to an election bloc.

According to observer of the Novaya Gazeta paper Boris Kagarlitsky, the essence of this decision is to first of all make it easier for Zyuganov’s former associates to adjust to the new situation. Kagarlitsky thinks that the way Seleznev chose does not lead to social democracy, but to the political center. So judging by everything, his Rossia bloc is highly likely to duplicate the United Russia. At the same time, it is rather improper to transform from the Communist Party straight to a pro-presidential party. That is why, observer of Novaya Gazeta writes, from the very beginning “Rossia was invested as a bridge to cross the gap.”

Thus, according to the paper, the prospects of the Communist Party are not quite clear yet. Apparently, the Kremlin plans to follow Anatoly Chubais’s example of treating the Russian Joint Energy Systems while treating the Communist Party. “All precious is to be extracted as a “moderate opposition”, which in fact will not be an opposition, but a president’s support. The truncated radical part is to be left on the margins of Russian politics, without governors’ support and with only 15% of votes in the Duma.”

On the other hand, it is just an option. Boris Kagarlitsky does not rule out that more than two organizations will appear. “The monopoly of the Communist Party made it impossible to have a serious left or oppositional politics. Now, when the monopoly has been undermined, new political forces may appear, which will meet requirements of the society.” So Kremlin political consultants may receive a completely unexpected outcome.

Even the Zavtra paper noted with unusual for it austere reasonability that “the case of Seleznev and Co. is a consequence of a real growth of social-economic contradictions in the Russian society….”

Meanwhile, observer of the Vremya MN paper Leonid Radzikhovsky thinks that current apprehensions of the Communist Party and its allies concerning the law on counteracting extremism, have some grounds.

“If you push aside the most primitive xenophobia and slightly disguised anti-Semitism, the Communist Party will not have a single distinct and popular idea left,” Radzikhovsky writes. And if ideology of “Russian patriots” and communists is “Russia for Russians!”, then the new law is directed against them, in particular, the Zavtra newspaper is to be immediately closed.

On the other hand, it is absurd to consider skinhead idiots to be extremists, “Politics and ideology belong to others – those, who make their business on someone else’s nationalistic hooliganism. And communists are the first on this list.” As is known, “red governors” support the Russian National Unity movement, Nazi newspapers, and skinheads. While communist leaders, such as Makashov, Kondratenko, Mikhailov and others use every chance to make ardent Nazi speeches. The author insists, “It is the Communist Party and only the Communist Party, as the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia is a midget comparing to it, that is currently the major ideological and organizational “cover” for Russian Nazis, and Nazi ideas in the society are fed with energy of the Communist Party.”

It is indicative that in his first after Sunday pogroms interviews, Gennady Zyuganov stated that “soccer pogroms are well planned provocation” (cited from Komsomolskaya Pravda). According to him, the aim of the action is to pass through the Duma the anti-extremist law. Zyuganov stated he expected something of the kind.

It is a rare case that the opinion of the main Russian communist fully coincided with the opinion of such an anti-communist periodical as Novye Izvestia.

Observer of the paper Valery Yakovlev says pogroms in Moscow are an “unexpected and perhaps thoroughly prepared gift” to the Kremlin administration and the Russian special services. “Now after numerous reports from the Manezh Square, after demonstration of broken shop windows, burning automobiles, and outrageous crowds, no one must doubt that the law on fighting against extremism that is being actively lobbied by the presidential administration, is absolutely necessary,” stresses the author.

The Sovetskaya Rossia paper is entirely convinced that the “action was organized”. The paper could not help asking a number of rhetorical questions, such as: “Why were not the Moscow police able to dissolve the crowd, despite its rich experience of scattering rallies?” According to the paper the answer may be “Because they were less vigilant, as it always happens when the action is organized ‘from the top’. The paper asks more detailed, though still pathos questions, “Please tell, where would hooligan teenagers take dozens of well made, similar three-color flags? Who taught these city wolf-cubs, backstreet kids, who are so far from any politics, to shout “Russia! Russia!”?” Further, the paper summarizes, “It is impossible to simulate patriotism, as they tried to do it this time. Surrendering one position after another in the world, and reinforcing social inequality in the society, it is impossible to bring up real patriots.” Besides, nowadays teenagers are easy to manipulate, “Today’s Russia gave them nothing but deafening, staining with tobacco and drugs discoth?ques.”

At the same time, respectable Izvestia also believes that the May 9 events on the Manezh Square is a very significant event. For the first time in the latest history of Russia – unlike the events of 1993, which had an ideological basis – “aggressive teenagers without any ideology conflicted with passive forces also lacking ideology.” The drama was developing gradually – its first signs were teenagers’ pogroms. Eventually, “people without ideology, principles, and hopes broke loose from a thin political chain and poured their empty bitterness on the world of the replete, which similarly does not have ideology and principles.”

Izvestia writes, it became clear that the attempt of the authorities to limit its activities to resolving of pragmatic issues only failed. It is impossible to fill out ideological vacuum with an amazing mixture of “Soviet anthem, imperial emblem, and czarist flag.” The illusion that the society can be united around a sport idea is also annihilated, “It is possible to united around a sport idea only a narrow circles of businessmen, who find it convenient to resolve their own issues with the help of belonging to a closed club, which also involves representatives of the authorities.”

According to Izvestia, the country did not even notice how it found itself in a political dead end, “While the Russian power and business elites are self-content, marginal layers are accumulating aimless aggression.” Thus, the paper notes, it resembles an upside-down revolution, when “The top is unwilling, the bottom is unable.”

Izvestia called the Sunday events a “last call before chaotic actions”. The paper hopes that the authorities still have some historical time to prevent them.

“If a wrong goal during a soccer match is able to cause such large-scale disorders, what are they likely to be if other, more powerful reason for protest works?” asks the Moskovskie Novosti.

In fact, if the conflict between the authorities and the population because of prices, housing reform, or taxation deteriorates, what will happen then?

Moskovskie Novosti writes, if before June 9 it was considered that mass disorders like in Argentina are impossible in Russia, now no one will insist on this.

According to Moskovskie Novosti, there is another political component of the events. The concern of liberal politicians and democratic newspapers about “turning Russia into a police state” is most unlikely to be shared in the “top power”. They say before the president admitted that it was necessary “to reduce police functions of the state”, however, after a mass violence by the Kremlin walls it is out of the question.

Besides, it should be remembered that the president gave considerable attention to the issue of extremism in his annual address to parliament. He even said that in such a case it is necessary to act more decisively than in fighting against a criminal organization. According to Moskovskie Novosti, from this standpoint, events in the center of Moscow are also an attack on the presidential image. May it be a response from security forces?

Overall, as observer of the oskovskie Novosti weekly Ludmila Telesh said, it is senseless to be surprised that “young freaks with only one convolution in their brains rushed to the Manezh Square” in order to protect the national pride of the Russians with knives, clubs, and iron bars.

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