To rally or to sever: the torments of the opposition


“Call it the Pear, for all I care!” this statement by Grigory Yavlinsky, who unexpectedly turned up at the latest meeting of the Free Choice 2008 Committee, the Union of Right Forces (URF) and Yabloko, which were discussing the opportunity for forming a unified right-wing coalition, was quoted by all the national newspapers.

The right-wing parties have started to reach a compromise, was the joyful comment of the press regarding this remark by the Yabloko leader, whose “inability to compromise is legendary,” as Vyacheslav Nikonov, president of the Politika Foundation, told Izvestia.

However, after he turned up among his fellow-democrats this time Grigory Yavlinsky as usual only expressed his demands for unifying the parties and withdrew. According to Gazeta, his appearance “has given the 2008 Committee members fresh energy.”

However, Gazeta cites these terms as stated by Sergei Ivanenko, deputy leader of the party. “Reaching an agreement concerning a unified political platform is crucial for us. For instance, their attitude for the existing power is unclear to us. Besides, we demand that funding from oligarchs be rejected in our activities,” Yavlinsky’s associate stated.

According to Ivanenko, Yabloko doesn’t pose the issue of the platform on which to be unified as a fundamental problem. Besides, Yabloko members haven’t yet discussed the following problems with the URF: “who should be invited to join” the new party. “We want to see the leftist opposition structures in the coalition as well,” Sergei Ivanenko stressed.

Despite the fact that URF leaders have repeatedly declared their readiness to any concessions for the sake of getting Duma seats in the upcoming election, the sides haven’t yet accorded even the name of the future party, says Izvestia. The URF proposes the Democratic Party of Russia (DPR), while Yabloko – the Russian Unified Democratic Party (RODP).

Further on, the URF proposes composing a unified list and try to make it for the Duma on this list. Leonid Gozman, member of the URF political council who has been included into the “conciliatory commission” as an URF representative openly says that the goal of our negotiations is not to merge the parties, but create a unified list for the upcoming parliamentary election.”

At the same time, Yablko members think forming the RODP out of an existing party (i.e. their own party) is more advisable.

However, Grigory Yavlinsky offered 50% of seats in the new party to the URF: “We are no imposing our offer; it is just an offer – you’re free to accept it or to reject it.”

“We cannot accept the offer of changing only 50% of leaders in Yabloko,” Viktor Nekrutenko, member of the URF political council told Gazeta. However, he immediately added ion a reconciliatory manner that “we are ready to discuss this issue.” Nekrutenko noted with regard to the rejection of funding from oligarchs that “these are only slogans.”

Or else a “bid before the party auction,” Dmitri Oreshkin of Group Merkator noted to Izvestia. In the opinion of Oreshkin, not everything being said displays a real position of democrats, since underway now “is the phase of political bargaining.”

Available on the auction are actually two offers, states Novaya Gazeta:

1. Forming a unified coalition on the basis of the URF of Yabloko.

2. Creation of a new party with new leaders, who are not compromised with a loss during the previous parliamentary election.

Novaya Gazeta estimates the readiness of the URF and Yabloko to compromise as a “breakthrough,” committed “for the first time over the entire period of party-building.”

However, the newspaper admits there’s another viewpoint on the unification of democrats. It belongs to Vladimir Ryzhkov and Garry Kasparov, members of the 2008 Committee. In their opinion, creation of a new party is undoubtedly more preferable. “However, this must be solved at the negotiations ‘on the bank,’ so that the new coalition wouldn’t be fraught with splits,” Novaya Gazeta notes reconciliatory.

Proponents of “the opposite viewpoint” give more definite statements. In particular, as reported by Novye Izvestia, during his recent trip to Yaroslavl (on the eve of the “great assembly” of democrats) Vladimir Ryzhkov stated that “neither the URF nor Yabloko can challenge the Kremlin or secure broad support from the masses.”

Ryzhkov maintains that it is necessary to forget the discord and join forces with left-wing organizations to “form a broad coalition like the coalition in Ukraine.” Ryzhkov even suggested a slogan for Russia’s “orange” movement: “With the People – To Freedom!”

Garry Kasparov made a harsher statement concerning the unifying efforts of the URF and Yabloko. He told Izvestia that “some discord arose” in the 2008 Committee during debates over forming a new party, and he described the consolidation situation as being like a soap opera: “every time you watch it, the same sort of thing is happening.”

According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Kasparov is flatly opposed to “placing the old democratic forces in charge of party-building.” He maintains that “the prospects of the new party would be substantially undermined if it is burdened by the legacy of the URF or Yabloko.”

The sudden amicability between the URF and Yabloko hasn’t excited any positive emotions in Kasparov either. “This is a conspiracy of apparatchiks within central Moscow,” which has failed to produce the coveted results, the chairman of the 2008 committee told Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

According to Izvestia, Kasparov hasn’t yet determined what the new democratic party will be doing and whose interests it will uphold. In his opinion, the main priority is to “form a structure opposed to the current regime.”

Meanwhile, says Vyacheslav Nikonov, president of the Politika Foundation, the democrats must set about party-building in earnest: “They would only get 10-13% of the vote at most if turnout is low, and many formations are competing for that niche.”

The Kremlin also realizes the necessity of reviving the liberal movement. According to Novye Izvestia, the Kremlin started speaking of the need to form a new liberal party as soon as the URF and Yabloko failed in the parliamentary elections of December 2003.

Observers say this plan encountered active resistance from the United Russia: “It is common knowledge that the centrists don’t tolerate any rivals.”

According to Novye Izvestia, fighting to retain its status as the Kremlin-backed party, United Russia came up with the idea that it will represent the interests of absolutely everyone – from patriots to liberals.”

Vladimir Pligin, chairman of the Duma’s constitutional law and state-building committee, announced on February 11 that United Russia is already working on a liberal wing (could this be the incentive for “liberal” democrats to merge?)

Pligin promised that “in the framework of United Russia we’ll conduct a series of activities aimed at strengthening the role of liberal values.” However, he stressed right away that the matter concerned outlining “a liberal wing of United Russia, not a new liberal federal party.”

Prominent political consultant Boris Kagarlitsky, director of the Globalization Institute, points out for Novye Izvestia that the emergence of factions and groups is just typical of United Russia as such. “This is concept of modular one-party system attract the Soviet traditions of officials and reflects the evolution of their conscience under the influence of democratic changes,” Kagarlitsky says. Kagarlitsky does not regard United Russia as a viable organization; he says it survives only due to external support. “If everything is all right with the Kremlin, the United Russia party will also survive,” Kagarlitsky said. “But it might have a great many wings and heads, eventually turning into a mythical beast.”

“The border now runs not between democrats and communists, the rightists and the leftists, liberals and conservators. It runs between the “gray,” who personify the governing nomenclature and the rest of the colors of the political rainbow,” says Novaya Gazeta’s observer Boris Vishnevsky in an article dedicated to involvement of various parties and organizations into actions of protest throughout Russia. The author stresses that associates of Yabloko, Khakamada’s party, human rights activists and many independent democratic politicians now underline a necessity for merging efforts with the leftists, who are opposed to “Putinism.” However, the URF denies participating in the actions and its leader says, according to Novaya Gazeta: “We are not a party of beggars.” Besides, there are veterans of the democratic movement (those who are called as “democratic schizophrenics” in some editions), who think that “in no circumstances should we step forth along with the communists.”

“A question arises in this connection: can the communists or, for instance, Limonov’s associates occupy the correct standing or this is impossible by definition? If so, must the democrats urgently change their position not to coincide with them? The answer suggests itself: what if a demonstration of communists scanning the multiplication table gets into the street?” Novya Gazeta asks ironically.

Refusing to cooperate with the leftists now is equivalent to acting in favor of the Kremlin’s team, “who are daily and hourly seem to observe the orange version, when absolutely different political forces successfully merged against a common enemy.”

Meanwhile, something of the kind happened in Russia when proponents of utterly opposite views rallied against the ruling regime in late 1980s and early 1990s.

These very same coalitions, notes Novaya Gazeta, inflicted a serious defeat on the ruling Communist Party in the elections of 1989-90.

“The present situation greatly resembles the situation 20 years ago – so the tactics used can also be similar. The real issue is whether fundamental constitutional rights and democratic liberties will be retained in Russia,” says Novaya Gazeta.

The parties are lagging behind the citizens, who are spontaneously uniting beneath various slogans and banners at protest rallies, says Boris Vishnevsky in Novaya Gazeta. So “the various political organizations that supported the pensioners’ demands found themselves with no option but to reach agreement and join forces. After all, they could hardly start organizing separate protest rallies with the same demands!”

However, this separate version would suit United Russia more, notes Novaya Gazeta, because “with separate protest rallies under way, the organizers would have been competing with each other and counting crowds to see who had managed to attract more people.”

But the Kremlin has undoubtedly managed to draw its own conclusions from the recent wave of protests against monetization of benefits.

At his latest meeting with leaders of the Duma factions at the Kremlin Vladimir Putin has found, according to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, “warm words,” describing activities of the Duma – in spite of the opinions of the majority of citizens (only 3% of them approve of the Duma’s performance, according to polls done by the FOM).

“In reference to the social sphere, we recall Law 122 first of all. I think the reasoning which the Duma used in making its decision on this law was valid,” the president said.

Thus, says Nezavisimaya Gazeta, “the Duma is recognized to have acted absolutely correctly, because these very people had gained the right to hold sessions at the Duma. For this very reason, the government is a priori above the president’s criticism.”

Nezavisimaya Gazeta even says that “the major institutions of government are being made sacred – above criticism – without a backward glance to the public response.”

However, according to the newspaper, leaders of the Duma factions felt quite at home in the Kremlin. In particular, Dmitri Rogozin told a reporter of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, that in the presence of the president “heatedly debating with Gryzlov and Zhirinovsky, who responded negatively with regard to actions of protest against the law on monetization of benefits.” Moreover, Rogozin was debating with Putin.

According to Rogozin, in response to being accused of arranging protests, he said at the Kremlin that “the opposition gets outside the parliament when it is not reputed at the parliament.” According to Rogozin, the president rebuked Boris Gryzlov. The Duma speaker was asked “resolve any problems with the opposition within the Duma, rather than making them the subject of a harsh dialogue with the president.”

Kommersant maintains that today “President Putin considers it very important for the ongoing nationwide protests against the monetization of benefits to take place calmly and without any excesses, if they don’t cease entirely. And if the Kremlin also instructs the majority United Russia faction to take the Duma minority’s opinion into account, at least sometimes, then returning the opposition from the streets to the Duma would become a realistic prospect – at least until another of these meetings takes place at the Kremlin, in May,” concludes Kommersant. At the same time, the previous meeting of that kind took place long ago – in April 2004. However, the possibility of a social outbreak wasn’t discussed then.

Alexander Dugin, president of the Center of Geopolitical Expertise noted in Novye Izvestia that the reason why the president hasn’t conducted meetings with party leaders for long is simple: “In Russia political parties have actually ceased playing any significant roles” by turning “either into a subsidiary of the presidential administration or phantoms which have lost any ties to the people.” According to Dugin, the latest meeting took came about possibly because “the virtual nature of parties is starting to annoy the president,” who “is feeling more lonely in front of the multitude of problems, both domestic and external ones” and therefore hopes that various political forces will rally around him.

In the opinion of Dugin, Putin is only exacerbating his solitude by meeting with the Duma politicians: “This is an assembly of phantoms. They are not forces, nor tools, nor personalities, just something like cotton clouds.”

As reported by VTsIOM, no increased attraction for the left-wing parties has been noticed as a result of a social tension in Russia, says Vremya Novostei. Moreover, up to 70% of respondents said they didn’t know which side any given political party had taken in the crisis.

Over the coursed of latest events, only Motherland showed a slight gain thanks to Rogozin’s hunger strike.

According to VTsIOM, Dmitri Rogozin is starting to be perceived as the most promising leader for the left-wing opposition, capable of uniting the left around himself and his party. And although relatively few respondents (11.6%) currently view Rogozin as a prospective leader of the united left, this is the first time that a poll has placed him ahead of the tradictional leader of the left, CPRF party leader Gennadi Zyuganov (11.4%), whose aspirations to become the leader of the united left are looking increasingly unlikely.

The prospects of such an alliance seem fairly nebulous. Only 4.9% of respondents are absolutely certain that such an alliance is possible; a further 17.8% are mostly certain. On the other hand, 46.1% of respondents have some degree of doubt about whether such an alliance is a realistic prospect; and 13.4% are certain that it will not happen.

“All this reflects a party crisis on the left; even in a social discontent situation which is favorable for them, the leftists have proved incapable of gathering more support from the public,” states VTsIOM employee Leonid Byzov.

In the meantime Vedomosti brings results of the polls done by the Levada Center, according to which 11% of respondents identify as democrats, 15% as communists, 7% as patriots, and 8% as supporters of United Russia.

Thus, stresses the newspaper, followers to two largest “ideological groups” in society now have no parties which are influential enough to defend their interests.

According to the same poll, 47% of respondents say they don’t like any of the parties; and it’s this group that generally determines election outcomes, by swinging towards one party or another.

On the other hand, continues Vedomosti, believing results of the Levada Center, “respondents have a fairly clear idea of what democracy means: free speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion (44%); economic prosperity (31%); order and stability (29%); the rule of law (24%); and holders of public office being elected (18%).”

But if this is the case, “why do Russia’s democratic parties appear and behave like they’re completely on the political fringe?” asks Vedomosti. In the opinion of the newspaper, the problem concerns the political rhetoric of the democrats: it is “still stuck in the 1980s and 1990s.” Vedomosti describes it as the “democracy of ideals”: “It says that if a country has a normal market economy, independent courts, equality of all under the law, and civil society – then people will have a good life. But what are you supposed to do when none of that is applicable?! Er, well… (embarrassed half-smile) – just vote for us and wait, they reply.”

Meanwhile, says Vedomosti, according to the Levada Center only 10% of respondents think Russia is already a democracy; 9% say it will be a democracy within five years; 23% say it will be a democracy within 10 to 20 years.

So, concludes the newspaper, the people “are prepared to wait; but there’s no point in voting for the democrats.”

Indeed – either wait, or vote for those who are capable of action.

Otherwise we’ll get what we got last time.