The Yabloko party will purge its ranks

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Grigory Yavlinsky has a challenger: Maxim Reznik, head of the Yabloko party’s St. Petersburg branch, says he would be prepared to replace Yavlinsky as party leader. The conflict between the moderates and the radicals within Yabloko (Reznik being one of the radicals) is supposed to be resolved at the June 21-22 party congress. Yavlinsky has stated that if the congress votes against the internal opposition, the losers ought to quit the party. Analysts are predicting that there won’t be a full-scale split, since Yavlinsky’s position within the party remains strong; but the St. Petersburg branch could well break away from the rest of Yabloko.

As the Kommersant newspaper reports, the Yabloko party’s bureau met in Moscow on May 30. Speaking at the meeting, party leader Grigory Yavlinsky said that Yabloko activists have split into radical and moderate wings – and their differences can only be resolved by the party congress scheduled for June 21-22.

As Youth Yabloko leader Ilya Yashin told Echo of Moscow, Yavlinsky said the “moderate platform” includes his deputy, Sergei Mitrokhin – and Yavlinsky didn’t conceal his own preference for the moderates. Yashin said: “According to Yavlinsky, the moderates are working to create a democratic party and accept the possibility of Yabloko members working in executive branch bodies. Yavlinsky said that the radical platform includes myself, Maxim Reznik, Andrei Piontkovsky, and Yabloko members who are participating in the Russian opposition’s National Assembly.”

Proponents of whichever platform is not supported by the congress ought to leave the party. As Grani.ru reports, the Yabloko press service quoted Yavlinsky as saying: “You can’t be a Yabloko member in the morning and spend the evening meeting with nationalists or Stalinists, establishing common organizations with them.”

The St. Petersburg branch rejects the claim that Yabloko has developed two platforms. Reznik told the Novye Izvestia newspaper: “This is all a fabrication, for a very simple purpose: needing to invent a wrong line of conduct and start fighting it. This is what Yavlinsky is doing, along with Mitrokhin, the president of Yavlinsky’s fan club.” Reznik added: “We’re dealing with an attempt to suppress intra-party opposition. But for a normal democratic party, the existence of opposition within the party is highly favorable, an indication that the party is a living organism.”

“The National Assembly situation is merely a pretext for putting pressure on us. Prior to that, we were being criticized for Dissenter March protests,” said Ilya Yashin in an interview with Kommersant. He emphasized that the wish to drive dissenting views out of the party is “a Bolshevist approach.”

As Kommersant reports, the St. Petersburg branch of Yabloko nominated Maxim Reznik for party leader on June 3. Reznik himself said that he would be prepared to replace Grigori Yavlinsky.

The St. Petersburg branch has prepared two proposals for the congress. First, they will propose that the party should have co-chairs instead of the one chairman it has now. If the congress doesn’t support this proposal, the St. Petersburg branch will put forward its own candidate in a challenge for the leadership. Reznik told Kommersant: “Our opponents say there are only a ‘pathetic handful’ of us, but we don’t think so.” He disagrees with Yavlinsky’s strong statements to the effect that a split is inevitable; Reznik maintains that no matter who wins the argument, the losers shouldn’t have to quit the party.

Yabloko’s federal leadership is taking the news calmly. “There’s nothing unusual about this – let them nominate him. There were alternatives when the Yabloko leadership was elected four years ago,” said Yabloko press secretary Yevgenia Dillendorf (quoted at Newsru.com). She also noted that the St. Petersburg branch has made three proposals in the past two years arguing for the need to join forces with the radical opposition – but this has never attracted any substantial support at any party meeting.

Sergei Mitrokhin, deputy leader of Yabloko, told Vremya Novostei: “It’s a very good thing that there will be alternatives in the leadership election. The more candidates, the better – this is the most democratic way of determining who’s on whose side and what course the party will take.” Mitrokhin maintains that Reznik’s nomination will not lead to a split in the party. While not ruling out the chance that one or two regions might support Reznik, Mitrokhin predicts that the overwhelming majority of congress delegates will vote for the party’s perennial leader, Grigory Yavlinsky.

Dmitri Badovsky, deputy director of the Social Systems Institute, says that the “fronde” in Yabloko reflects “the discontent of certain regional branches – and it’s usually the strongest branches.” Nezavisimaya Gazeta quotes Badovsky as saying that in recent years, Yabloko has “lost a substantial proportion of its nationwide infrastructure, while retaining a few fairly effective regional branches – such as the branches in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Karelia, and elsewhere.”

Alexander Kynev, regional programs manager at the Information Policy Development Foundation, told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that this is a trend: as soon as any regional group becomes more influential, getting closer to the party leadership, conflicts break out between that group and Yavlinsky’s team – and then the group quits the party. Kynev describes Yabloko as a shrinking skin. He notes that no noteworthy individuals have switched from other parties to Yabloko, but former Yabloko members can be found everywhere.

According to RIA Novosti, political analysts say that Yabloko’s split into radicals and moderates became apparent after the Duma elections, where Yabloko got 1.59% of the vote. The intra-party debate grew more acute after a group of Yabloko activists (including Reznik) joined the National Assembly along with Eduard Limonov’s supporters, Communists, and Garry Kasparov’s supporters.

Novye Izvestia notes that Yabloko officially declined to participate in the National Assembly – the opposition’s alternative parliament which met for the first time in Moscow on May 17. However, around 25 Yabloko members attended the National Assembly as individuals. Earlier, the party had advised its members against participating in any events aimed at establishing supra-party associations. Yavlinsky noted that dialogue with the authorities is necessary “in all acceptable political forms,” but “protests as a form of self-indulgence for the protesters” cannot be the meaning of political activity.

Alexei Mukhin, general director of the Political Information Center, says that changes ripened within Yabloko after the parliamentary elections – but Yavlinsky wouldn’t accept them; so now he and his team are pretending that there isn’t a crisis at all. Mukhin told Novye Izvestia: “In order to deal with this situation, Yavlinsky has to make some major changes to his own inner circle – because it is incapable of dealing with the situation.” In Mukhin’s view, this might even reach the point of a court battle for the Yabloko brand-name.

In an interview with Polit.ru, Andrei Ryabov from the Carnegie Moscow Center says: “I think that one of the groups will end up quitting the party, or will be forced to leave. It wouldn’t be a split – it would be one part of Yabloko breaking away. But I don’t think this will be a mass exodus. The St. Petersburg branch is very strong, but it doesn’t stand a chance of taking control of the party or attempting to restructure it. To be honest, no amount of money would be enough. Neither could the St. Petersburg branch succeed on its own, since there are already plenty of radical liberal organizations like it.”

Alexei Makarkin, deputy director of the Political Techniques Center, says that if the St. Petersburg branch and Youth Yabloko split from Yabloko, “the party would grow even weaker, since the St. Petersburg branch is one of its most effective branches.” Makarkin told Novye Izvestia: “The party is already in trouble. Its election results do not inspire optimism. But these developments would make it a more convenient partner for the Kremlin. The West constantly criticizes the Russian authorities, claiming that we don’t have any democrats. But then there’s Yabloko – not represented in parliament, but occasionally coming up with ideas and distancing itself from the radical opposition, while the authorities occasionally engage in dialogue with this party.” Makarkin doesn’t rule out the possibility that this might be Yavlinsky’s strategy, aimed at ensuring the party’s survival in the current political conditions. “And there is every indication that this strategy will win out within the party,” says Makarkin.

Kommersant suggests another possible motive for Yavlinsky’s actions. According to political analyst Dmitri Oreshkin, Yavlinsky may be hoping that with the more liberal Dmitri Medvedev in power, he might be offered a suitable appointment within the authorities – and he doesn’t want to find himself on the political sidelines like Mikhail Kasyanov. And within his own party, Yavlinsky is incapable of working with strong personalities (like Reznik and Yashin) as partners; he can only work with subordinates.

Dmitri Badovsky points out that Yavlinsky seems to have emerged from hibernation in the past few months, and changed his tactics. For example, he made Yabloko announce that it is unacceptable to cooperate with radical opposition groups like the Other Russia coalition.

Boris Makarenko, deputy general director of the Political Techniques Center, told Kommersant that if the radicals take over the Yabloko leadership, the Kremlin “may be tempted to shut down this party.” At present, the Kremlin ignores the existence of organizations such as the Party of Peace or the People’s Union, since they don’t cause any problems for the authorities. Makarenko predicts that if the Union of Right Forces (SPS) and Yabloko retain their current leaders, they will join the ranks of those political nonentities. But if there is a change of leadership, the Kremlin could no longer ignore Yabloko – and, according to Makarenko, it would “have the party deregistered.” For example, the authorities could declare that Yabloko fails to meet the minimal requirement of 50,000 members nationwide.

When asked what the Kremlin intends to do with Yabloko – heal it or put it out of its misery? – a Nezavisimaya Gazeta source in the presidential administration replied confidently that the Kremlin won’t get rid of Yabloko. The source said that “normal healing processes are under way within this party.” When asked what this healing entails – a win for Yavlinsky or his radical opponents? – the source said that it would mean a win for Yavlinsky, of course. He suggested that the Yabloko party congress in late June “will end in another purge of the party’s St. Petersburg branch” – letting it be understood that the radicals will be forced to quit the party.

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