BOYS OF CLAY

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Just Russia and United Russia: fighting for real

The latest regional elections have shown that even with the present-day system of vote-counting, total control over the electronic media, selective control over the print media, the absence of public politics and coherent information, it’s still possible to put some pressure on United Russia.


Even the Kremlin’s political analysts are tired of analogies depicting United Russia and Just Russia as the two legs of the present-day political system – with feet of clay, perhaps, but thick and solid nonetheless. Still, the recent parliamentary elections in 14 regions have revealed a pattern: this artificial construct has taken on a life of its own. The fighters of clay have started fighting for real.

I don’t think this is because the party battles are particularly entertaining, or because people are incapable of seeing the situation objectively, or due to a sudden burst of nostalgia for socialism. I don’t think that Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov, leader of Just Russia, has developed an awareness of himself as a defender of the poor and deprived. It’s simply the case that battles for seats in parliament have long since transformed from political to financial battles. And fighting over money is always a fight to the death in our country. Thus, the project designed by Kremlin political strategists has suddenly come to life: the tame opposition created for imitation purposes has started putting up a real fight. No one in our country will do anything for the sake of an idea; but for the sake of money, people are even willing to believe in ideas. Remember how the equally artificial Motherland (Rodina) party unexpectedly turned into an independent player. What happened – some sort of racial instinct awakening? Not at all. After a successful performance in the Duma election of 2003, Motherland became aware of the potential scale of its own influence, realized its bargaining power, and got out of control. In our politicians, greed is stronger than servility.

Moreover, the people have also come to believe in the elementary staged fight acted out before their eyes. The lack of opposition is so complete – it’s been stamped out so thoroughly – that voters in the Stavropol territory gave more votes to Just Russia than to United Russia. Well, Just Russia’s performance is hardly surprising, since it has been given access to some administrative resources; the Kremlin wouldn’t create a homunculus only to abandon it to its fate. What’s far more interesting is the partial rehabilitation of the Union of Right Forces (SPS). What I predicted four years ago is happening: the SPS is making a comeback, if not as triumphantly as in the past. It managed to cross the 7% threshold in six regions on March 11, and that’s a sensational development: the 1990s might have compromised the liberals, but the state managers in gray have compromised themselves entirely within a shorter period of time. Support for United Russia is declining already, even before the party fully unfurls its election campaign and really starts crushing dissent. Just wait another six months or so, until United Russia’s presence becomes all-pervading, and we’ll see United Russia (with its lack of ideology and its arrogant rhetoric) start retreating not only before Just Russia, but also before the rust-proof Communist Party.

Just Russia is starting to position itself aggressively in the regions, not in Moscow, sensing that it would be more easily crushed under the Kremlin’s nose. Just Russia’s positions will improve rapidly in the immediate future; not only because the people don’t have anyone else to rely on, but because Just Russia will attract financial and intellectual resources. The latest regional elections have shown that even with the present-day system of vote-counting, total control over the electronic media, selective control over the print media, the absence of public politics and coherent information, it’s still possible to put some pressure on United Russia. It may be due to the disastrous situation in the social sphere, or the equally disastrous gulf between living standards in Moscow and the provinces – but the regions are waking up, as demonstrated by the Dissenter March in St. Petersburg (Moscow’s version of the Dissenter March didn’t draw even half of the 6,000 people who rallied in St. Petersburg and broke through riot police lines).

As always, the Kremlin has created problems for itself: striving for total control, it has organized politics so thoroughly that everyone’s tired of it. And one of the Kremlin’s two legs has started trying to trip the other. With this manner of walking, can they remain stable? We’ll find out in December.

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