Berezovsky – today’s Alexander Herzen; or, life on the dark side of the Moon


“Will Berezovsky become a new Alexander Herzen?” Literaturnaya Gazeta offered well-known politicians and journalists a chance to discuss this question. The answer was no, though the arguments were most diverse.

Vitaly Tretyakov and Alexander Nevzorov, who lose no opportunity to emphasize their loyalty to the disgraced oligarch, think that Russian society is not yet ready for Berezovsky’s ideas.

Tretyakov, editor-in-chief of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, notes with regret that Berezovsky cannot count on any social or political support: “Russia currently lacks a foundation for right-wing opposition groups. Neither Yabloko nor the Union of Right Forces are active, effective structures which could offer Berezovsky some support. It’s not so much that they don’t want to do so – they just can’t.”

Alexander Nevzorov thinks that Berezovsky resembles Alexander Herzen in his “high level of sincerity”: Berezovsky “is not some kind of vampire in a top hat and cape, who appears periodically from behind the curtain to drain more lifeblood from poor Russia”. He is a man with “an exaggerated wariness of totalitarianism”, he really cares about Russia’s fate. Nevzorov notes: “It’s another matter entirely that Russia probably likes the totalitarianism which shines through the layers of the government’s verbosity.”

Sergei Yushenkov was harsher on Boris Berezovsky: according to him, Berezovsky has nothing in common with Herzen, the publisher of “Kolokol” (except their common destination as emigres). “Berezovsky has created this regime, and he admits having done so. The fact that they are now having their differences on some point has nothing to do with Herzen.” Nevertheless, Yushenkov thinks that “such an attitude” from the regime to Berezovsky is unacceptable, and “driving him out of the country is the height of folly”.

Journalist Georgy Vladimov said that “glasnost has come to Russia, and Russia no longer needs a Herzen, a Kolokol, or London.” According to Vladimov, there is more freedom in Russia than in emigration these days.

Valeria Novodvorskaya’s attitude to Boris Berezovsky was the harshes: she is sure that Berezovsky “won’t even be able to become an Ogarev”. Her reasoning is simple: “Berezovsky is not an idealist, he’s basically a scoundrel.” Even if Berezovsky starts publishing a “Polyarnaya Zvezda” or a “Kolokol”, Novodvorskaya will not read them, because this would amount to sacrilege. In short, Berezovsky will never attain “the dissident’s thorny crown”. Novodvorskaya warns that Berezovsky has only himself to blame: he has done wrong all his life, and is finally reaping what he has sown. Novodvorskaya notes that one should not feel sorry for Berezovsky, because he won’t go under: “Whatever happens, Berezovsky will be all right.”

Novoe Vremya says that when Berezovsky gives interviews these days, “any long-term liberal human rights activist would gladly sign their name under nine out of ten words by Berezovsky – of course, if the activist did not know who had spoken those words”. It seems that nothing can rehabilitate Berezovsky’s reputation. All his sensational revelations have not had the effect he intended: “The more correct he is, the more disgust one feels for him – and the worse the outcome is for those ideas which the oligarch now propounds.”

Berezovsky, the talented “insider” who managed to make a fortune out of Russia’s perennial “Black Tuesdays”, is now facing (for the first time) a situation in which the main principle of political insider trading (the worse things get, the better it is for us) does not work.

Berezovsky’s predictions that Putin probably won’t last until the end of his first term, because he’s “lost the thinking people” (“they will not understand or forgive a return to the past”), have not made an impression on the regime. This is not surprising. Novoye Vremya asks if Berezovsky has ever paused to calculate how many “thinking people” there are in Russia. According to Berezovsky’s estimate, “thinking people” account for some 20% of the population; he claims that it was for the purpose of fooling them that Herman Gref’s Strategic Developments Center was set up. “If Berezovsky is correct, now the president might as well stop relying on these 20%. But the remaining 80% don’t need any Center at all in order to support the president!”

According to the magazine, the regime will comply with Berezovsky’s demands and reveal its face “to the 80% of the population who will not be shocked at the sight (and even if they are amazed, this amazement will in fact be amusement).”

Thus, according to Novoe Vremya “the insider has tuned out to be an outsider”. And Berezovsky will not be able to sell this, his own failure, to anyone.

Lyudmila Telen, a political observer with the Moskovskie Novosti weekly says: “Soon the club of justice will descend on the heads of those whom the voters dislike. The Kremlin is staging a remake of Zyuganov’s favorite play: put Yeltsin’s gang on trial!” The most hated oligarchs have the starring roles. However, the audience can’t help asking a few questions. For instance: “Why was Berezovsky moved from the category of accused to witness before the parliamentary and presidential elections, and back to accused after the elections?” or “If the General Prosecutor’s Office really intended to put Berezovsky behind bars, why did it release details about his impending arrest in the media 13 days before it was scheduled?” The reason for such caution is clear: “If anyone imprisons the master of campaign techniques, he might start talking…”

Moreover, all the harassment of oligarchs is not aimed at putting them in jail. According to the observer of Moskovskie Novosti the aims are quite different. Firstly, “the regime wants to show the public that it is strong, and is working in the public interest.” Secondly, it is necessary to “shake up the TV networks and newspapers” which are still owned by the media barons. And to give other tycoons a fright, so they don’t forget “who is the boss”.

And finally, “voters need to be given some grounds for hope”. It is now advisable to comfort the people with the thought that soon the Buturskaya prison “will open its doors to the tycoons”, and soon the loot will return to the people in the form of pensions, subsidies and free passes to Black Sea resorts.

But as it turns out, writes Tulen, the regime has done its usual mediocre job at these tasks: “Instead of strength, it has shown its weakness. Instead of dictatorship of the law, there’s a lot of stupid busywork by prosecutors. Instead of taming the oligarchs, there’s a political comedy act. Life hasn’t improved, but it’s already become more entertaining.”

Alexander Prokhanov, editor-in-chief of the Zavtra newspaper, takes a tragic view of all the contradictions in the president’s actions.

In his article in the Delovye Lyudi magazine, Prokhanov compares Vladimir Putin with the Moon, the duality of which is explained by its two sides: the light and the dark.

According to Prokhanov, Putin’s light side is connected with his state philosophy, as expressed in his first address to the Federal Assembly. Prokhanov thinks that Putin found its main concepts – such as “the Fatherland”, “the nation”, “patriotism”, “a strong state” – in “our nationalist newspapers”. “Putin’s opposition to the most hated oligarchs” is a trait of this light side, says Prokhanov: “We like such actions.”

But to Prokhanov’s regret, there is also a shadow side: “It has the ‘craters’ of Herman Gref, Alexei Kudrin, Andrei Illarionov. This side is comprised of the free-market policies of Chubais and Gaidar, which the president supports.” From this point of view, Putin is worse than Yeltsin for Russian nationalists: “We had become accustomed to the pitch darkness of Yeltsinism, but here we have a kind of unfocused personality. This is why we are violently opposed to his economic policies.”

Putin’s duality is the cause of the instability of his regime: “The stores of public confidence are not inexhaustible.” Because Putin has alienated many liberal journalists who are connected with the oligarchs, this confrontation may turn into a disaster: “The oligarchs, with the media at their disposal, can control and direct public protest.”

Prokhanov believes that President Putin, who has stumbled into power through luck, lacks Boris Yeltsin’s power and decisiveness: “Putin fears to address the people directly, over the heads of all the elites with whom he is fighting a losing battle.” Prokhanov considers that this indecisiveness holds the key to the mystery of Putin’s behavior.

Meanwhile, Prokhanov warns, the president’s attempt to maintain his current duality will most likely backfire. The president is trying to consolidate Russian society by absolutely inappropriate methods. Thus, he “believes that he is capable of forcing the nationalists of Kuban to make friends with Gazprom”. Prokhanov considers this to be a dangerous game: “The collapse of President Putin could be sudden. This would be a tragic outcome for all of us, since all our current illusions would disappear along with the president.”

Thus, the pessimistic political forecasts of Russian nationalists second the grim predictions of Berezovsky.

Meanwhile, the Argumenty i Fakty weekly has attempted to assess how close the public is to “the limits of its patience”, as President Putin opponents so often put it.

As it turns out, all the prophets of doom are being far too alarmist. According to the Interior Ministry, the number of demonstrations fell twelve-fold over the first ten months of 2000, and the number of protesters is 160 times less than it was. Official reports state that November 7 left-wing demonstrations marking the anniversary of the 1917 Revolution drew 7,000 people in Moscow, 6,000 in St. Petersburg, and a total of about 300,000 across Russia.

In other words, the current protest movement’s scale in this country is a mere shadow of the 1990s, when rallies would gather up to 300,000 people in Moscow alone. The people’s demands have also changed since those times; today they are mainly financial: teachers and doctors rally over wage backlogs, residents of cities and towns when the local authorities have failed to organize proper winter heating demand better communal services, etc. Despite the Communists’ efforts, the slogan of returning to the former regime has been practically erased from society’s agenda.

As for participants in such rallies, apart from those driven onto the streets by dire necessity there are people who have come to perceive protest actions as a kind of communication with the like-minded. We may place supporters of Valeria Novodvorskaya in this category. However, there also are professional protesters, or at least those protesting to order. The most obvious example here is the 1999 rallies organized by supporters of Fatherland-All Russia, where crowds were gathered from Moscow-based enterprises.

Argumenty i Fakty cites Maksim Grigoriev, head of the Upravleniye PR consulting group, as saying, “Organizing rallies is a controllable crisis technique. It may be used by business or political groups, or the secret services.”

However, the Russian media has a habit of writing off many phenomena as “intrigues by the secret services”. And we are unlikely ever to know whether such stories are true – the secret services aren’t known for commenting on their actions.

Versia, which has recently had great problems over its articles about the Kursk submarine disaster, reports that recent developments in the case of Berezovsky (and Gusinsky) are due to “intensified pressure from people representing the interests of the Security Council” and, further, that even the latest extravagant statements by new Governor Alexander Mikhailov of the Kursk region, about the Jewish ancestry of his predecessor Alexander Rutskoi, are also part of the secret services’ intrigues.

Mikhailov’s Communist party comrades have assured a “Versia” correspondent that the new Kursk governor is a typical bureaucrat, “a completely controllable man who would never permit himself to do anything unsanctioned by his superiors, especially any excesses”. The paper’s sources in the security departments believe Mikhailov’s attacks on Rutskoi’s alleged Jewish background to be nothing else but “a sort of probe meant to gauge the public mood, initiated by the St. Petersburg KGB team”. The paper claims that the choice of the Jewish topic was no coincidence either: with the help of Mikhailov, the Kremlin decided to test the public’s possible reaction to “anti-Semitic attacks”, “It is an open secret that the majority of the Russian oligarchs are Jewish.” Thus, Mikhailov’s escapade turns out to have been aimed not against Rutskoi personally, but marked the beginning of a new nationwide campaign “not only Gusinsky and Berezovsky, but also against other members of old-guard teams and business clans”.

Novaya Gazeta offers a different explanation for Governor Mikhailov’s sudden interest in the Jewish topic. The paper states that those who have known Mikhailov since before he was governor have never heard a single bad word about the Jews from him. “However, he has not spoken about anything else since he took office.” Novaya Gazeta considers the key to such a change in Mikhailov’s behavior to be very obvious: the regime must be able to blame someone else for its own failures. “A year ago, a regional leader could tell voters that the region’s problems were caused by the oligarchs.” Today, however, the old problems remain, but there is nobody to pin the blame on except for the Kremlin (and who has ever dared blame the Kremlin?). “The only remaining solution for regional leaders is to blame the Jews, as the usual suspects.”

Governor Mikhailov’s statements naturally discredit the Communists. However, Novaya Gazeta states that both the Kursk region governor and Gennady Zyuganov couldn’t care less: “Their main concern is how to gain the president’s goodwill.”

A new political game designed specially for the regional leaders – the State Council – has not only satisfied their need to be wanted by the federal government, but also has put other aspects of the reforms (such as the formation of the new Federation Council) and even the struggle for federal funding, on the back burner.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta believes that regardless of the Kremlin’s true plans concerning the State Council, the latter is still doing well: “The regional leaders have something to keep them busy.”

Segodnya says that the first session of the new advisory body has confirmed the worst apprehensions of many politicians: “The State Council is a device for letting off political steam.” The paper quotes President Putin as saying, “The State Council can have input into national development strategy, but it should not replace the Cabinet and Parliament.”

In other words, the regional leaders have retained the right to give the federal government advice, but their direct responsibility is to reinforce power in the provinces. “Vremya Novostei” notes in this regard that one of the main postulates of President Putin’s administrative reforms is: “Regional leaders should stay in their regions.”

The 100th session of the Federation Council, which is currently rapidly losing its former political influence, was formally celebrated. Segodnya says that the exodus of regional leaders has begun, and will be completed by January 1, 2002. However, the paper is certain that “the current changes in the Federation Council are not the last stage of its evolution”. Many politicians believe that a changeover to a single-house parliament is inevitable (…).