Just Russia: aboard the same ship

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The Just Russia party (Spravedlivaya Rossiya) is holding its third congress on April 25 at the State Kremlin Palace. Just Russia plans to completely change its party structure and charter, and adopt a policy program.

The very fact that Just Russia is being allowed to hold its congress in the Kremlin is regarded by the party as recognition of its services and achievements: as the Kommersant newspaper notes, Just Russia made it into the Duma in the December 2007 elections, and then became one of the four parties to nominate Senior Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev as a presidential candidate – along with United Russia, the Agrarian Party, and Civil Force.

In terms of territory, Just Russia has even managed to beat United Russia, which held its April congress 150 meters from the Kremlin, at Gostinyi Dvor. True, neither Vladimir Putin nor Dmitri Medvedev are expected to attend Just Russia’s congress; however, as Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov has hinted, the president-elect “will find a way of publicly expressing his gratitude.”

According to Gazeta.ru, few doubt that that Sergei Mironov, Just Russia’s founding father, will be re-elected as party leader. Moreover, he will be the one and only leader; the party’s new charter does not include any deputy leaders.

Nikolai Levichev, head of Just Russia’s Duma faction, told the Vzglyad newspaper: “The kind of leaders who need deputies are the leaders who are incapable of working more than two hours a day – but Sergei Mironov is not in that category.”

Like United Russia, Just Russia has also decided to do a purge of party ranks. As RBC Daily reports, Mironov announced on April 22 that the party will “start a new stage of development.” The key aspect of this new stage is a complete revision of the party leadership. Firstly, procedures for changing the party charter require all branch and division leaders to resign. Secondly, the party will start getting rid of some useless members.

Kommersant quotes Mironov as saying that verification of membership lists and cards has shown that the party now has 438,000 members – not over half a million, as reported earlier. “A further 15-20,000 names will be deleted,” said Mironov. “They were added to the lists, but they don’t even know that they are members of the party. We don’t need people like that.”

Gazeta.ru quotes Mironov as saying: “We shall rid ourselves of accidental fellow-travelers – those who have joined our party in pursuit of their own goals.”

Ilya Ponomarev, a member of Just Russia’s Duma faction, told RBC Daily that the number of party offices will be cut back drastically. This will apply to party headquarters as well as regional branches. “I don’t think there will be any political component to the upcoming purges,” said Ponomarev.

RBC Daily disagrees, predicting that some party functionaries will lose their jobs for political reasons. A source within Just Russia told RBC Daily that the April 25 congress could lead to dismissal or demotion for everyone who is loyal to Duma member Alexander Babakov, secretary of Just Russia’s central council presidium. The source claims that Babakov has drawn the party’s displeasure for being overly independent and maintaining links with United Russia, Just Russia’s chief rival for the president’s attention. According to the source, Babakov’s party office – secetary of the central council presidium – is likely to be abolished.

But Kommersant predicts that Babakov will be promoted rather than dismissed. Sources have told Kommersant that the new version of Just Russia’s charter will establish the office of first secretary of the party’s central council, and Babakov is tipped to get this post. Igor Zotov, former leader of the Party of Pensioners and former secretary of Just Russia’s central council, is likely to remain one of the ordinary secretaries, subordinate to the first secretary.

Moreover, party leader Mironov himself assured the Vzglyad newspaper that the party purge will not affect Babakov or Zotov, both of whom are among the party’s founders.

Mironov said: “The congress will make the decision, but I would prefer both Babakov and Zotov to keep their positions in the party leadership. There has been some friction between us, and we have had our differences with regard to the party’s development. But both have proven themselves competent.”

Gazeta.ru predicts that billionaire Alexander Lebedev, a member of Just Russia’s presidium, will leave the party. “Our paths have long since diverged. Lebedev himself has said that he is no longer a member of the party,” said Mironov.

Mironov is particularly incensed by a controversial article published recently in Moskovskii Korrespondent, a paper owned by Lebedev. The article alleged that Putin is about to get divorced and marry Alina Kabayeva, a politician and former gymnast. “Publishing such articles about the president is shameful,” said Mironov.

Lebedev himself maintains that he will be the only accidental fellow-traveler to reach a parting of the ways with just Russia. In an interview with Gazeta.ru, Lebedev said: “If the party is now ridding itself of accidental fellow-travelers, this means that an alliance between the party and the Kremlin is firmly in place. But I think I will be the only accidental fellow-traveler – after all, the tail-end of the controversy over the Moskovskii Korrespondent article is the perfect time to get rid of me. Although I make no secret of the fact that I haven’t joined any party, I have cooperated with some parties when our interests coincided – Our Home is Russia, United Russia, Just Russia. And now Mikhail Gorbachev has invited me to become a co-chairman of the Socialist Party, which he had recently registered – and I have agreed to do so.”

Alexander Babakov told RBC Daily that the main changes in the party leadership will be gender-related. “There will be more women in the leadership,” he said.

As for the new command structure itself, Nikolai Levichev told Vzglyad that the April 25 congress will abolish the party’s two management bodies – the political bureau and the organizational bureau of the central council presidium; they will be replaced by one bureau with broader powers than its predecessors.

Moreover, members of the central council presidium will now be elected by congress delegates rather than central council members. Thus, the central council presidium will become the party’s chief management body, empowered to make immediate decisions, including election-related decisions.

Mironov says that in order to mature, the party requires a new charter. Radio Liberty quotes Mironov as saying: “The key factor in why we need a new charter is the flawed nature of the old charter – it is rough, unpolished. And some aspects of that charter have been so hard to comply with, especially at the regional and local levels, that our opponents were able to turn our own weapons against us in two election campaigns.”

Just Russia’s new charter runs to 59 pages rather than 57, according to Vzglyad. Mironov stated proudly that this is an abbreviated version.

Just Russia also intends to adopt a new policy program at its congress. The vote on this “foundation” is also supposed to launch a policy debate within the party. Just Russia’s dialogue will culminate in the final version of the policy program being approved at the next congress, which “isn’t too far away,” according to Mironov.

It is already known that the party has no immediate plans to change its name, but the color of its flag will be changed: from red to beige-yellow-gold. Gazeta.ru explains that this is being done in order to prevent confusion between Just Russia and the Communist Party (CPRF). According to Mironov, “our charter still says that the party’s flag is a red banner with gold lettering.”

“As soon as we raise this flag, we’re surrounded by the elderly – who see a red flag and assume it’s a CPRF rally. So we’re just being mixed up with the CPRF, and we want to stop this,” said Mironov.

What’s more, according to Mironov, the party’s new logo may include swallows.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta reports that even though Just Russia is discarding its “opposition red” flag, it is continuing negotiations regarding a merger with the CPRF. Both parties are in an unenviable position: Just Russia stung by Putin’s decision to become United Russia’s leader, and the CPRF recovering from an election campaign where its share of the vote was less than expected.

Mikhail Vinogradov, head of the Political Conjuncture Center, said in an interview with RBC Daily: “Just Russia has great potential. The idea of merging with the CPRF may be raised again at its congress.”

A Duma source told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that there has been some discussion of who might be the leader of a party formed by merging the CPRF and Just Russia. None of the current party leaders are prepared to “abandon their principles” at this stage.

The Nezavisimaya Gazeta article about merging Just Russia and the CPRF came out on April 23 and was immediately spread by online publications. By April 24, as ITAR-TASS reports, Nikolai Levichev held a press conference and advised everyone to remember what Mikhail Bulgakov said: cut down on reading newspapers early in the morning. According to Levichev, Just Russia does not and cannot have any agreements with the CPRF regarding a merger.

Levichev did confirm that some fairly active members of the CPRF are migrating to Just Russia – this trend has become established over the past year. “I would say that this process is even becoming more intensive,” said Levichev. He noted that Just Russia congress delegates will include some people who were CPRF members as recently as last year. “I think this process will grow, and when it reaches the critical point for the CPRF, that party might make some decisions of its own.” Levichev said that if internal opposition to the party leadership’s decisions builds up within the CPRF, the party could split – or it might make some sort of decision to sort out the situation.

Analysts at Lenta.ru say that the CPRF is still the only full-fledged opposition party in Russia. A number of analysts maintain that one of the Kremlin’s main goals in domestic politics is to have the CPRF merge with Just Russia, a pro-Putin party.

Sergei Mironov has also categorically denied the possibility of a coalition with United Russia. “We are prepared to cooperate with them, but we can’t possibly have a political coalition,” Mironov told Prime-TASS. He explained that United Russia’s ideology tends to be conservative-liberal, while Just Russia’s ideology is socialist or social-democratic. Just Russia stands for building a new, modern version of socialism in Russia.

Mironov said that an outline of the party’s policy program will be adopted at the April 25 congress, and this will give a clear definition of the socialist model that Just Russia proposes for our country. “We were, are, and shall remain in opposition to United Russia,” said Mironov.

In an interview with Vzglyad, Alexander Babakov said: “We’re aboard the same ship as United Russia. We are not the kind of opposition that sits on the shore, shouts all kinds of orders, and occasionally shoots at the ship.”

Alexander Moskalets, senior deputy chairman of the Duma’s constitutional law committee, told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that a coalition between Just Russia and United Russia is possible, “but only if Mironov isn’t in it.” Moskalets predicts that Mironov will step down from the Just Russia leadership after the government changes in late May, and move to “the kind of appointment where he can live up to his potential at last.”

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