“If they are our own, whose are we?” Libov Sliska’s cri de coeur at her recent press conference seems destined to remain unanswered.
At any rate, judging by reports in the press, Sliska shouldn’t have described the Our Own (Nashi) youth movement, an organization created by Vasili Yakemenko, as “a public relations exercise with uncertain ideological content.” Prominent politicians and political analysts have been taking an active interest in Our Own’s summer camp on Lake Seliger. Komsomolskaya Pravda reports that guest speakers have included Andrei Kokoshin, chairman of the Duma’s CIS affairs committee, Senator Mikhail Margelov, television anchorman Mikhail Leontiev, and political analysts Sergei Markov and Vyacheslav Nikonov.
The camp’s main event has been a visit by Vladislav Surkov, deputy head of the Kremlin administration, who flew by helicopter last Wednesday, together with Governor Dmitri Zelenin of the Tver region. Komsomolskaya Pravda quoted Surkov as saying: “We need to share our beliefs about Russia’s development with the younger generation, and protect our young people from the West’s influence. Come to join us – we shall hand on the country to you. Most importantly, you need to know that we’re on your side.”
Gleb Pavlovsky, consultant to the head of the presidential administration, also favored Our Own with a visit. He said: “A revolution is a coup. The US has tried to organize them in the past, and will soon try to do it here, probably during the election of the Moscow city legislature. Your task is to physically resist any attempts to carry out an unconstitutional coup.”
It seems the Kremlin seriously thinks that neither the Armed Forces nor the security and law enforcement agencies, annoyed by endless reforms, are able to defend the constitutional order.
To all appearances, the authorities do not rely on the Armed Forces any longer. Nezavisimaya Gazeta reported that it’s no coincidence that the famous 119th airborne regiment, which stormed the government building in Moscow in October 1993, is being disbanded. The regiment, stationed at Naro-Fominsk, was considered to be the president’s reserve force for quelling unrest in Moscow. According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the regiment has been disbanded due to changing sentiments among officers: the officers in elite units are dissatisfied with their social status, remuneration, and the progress of the military reforms.
As far as other security structures, especially the FSB and the Interior Ministry, are concerned, the plan of their reforming testifies that they have serious problems too. Nezavisimaya Gazeta reports that a special government commission has been established for reforming these ministries, and its activities will be based on “the lesson of Dagestan” and the disastrous situation in the North Caucasus, which Vladislav Surkov described as “an underground fire” in his controversial speech at a Business Russia meeting. Russia needs effective law enforcement agencies and security services to prevent the fire from spreading to other regions.
Kozak’s commission proposes that the FSB, currently responsible for investigating economic crimes, and countering drug trafficking and other crimes, should hand over these functions to the Interior Ministry, and focus on countering crime within the law enforcement system itself – including the Interior Ministry. And the mechanisms for evaluating the end results of the FSB’s performance should be clearly specified. A commission member who asked to remain anonymous told Nezavisimaya Gazeta: “Each and every incident of treason or misappropriation within the Interior Ministry should count against the FSB.” The current practice is different, since “any sign that police might be breaking the law is investigated by the Interior Ministry itself.” Nezavisimaya Gazeta noted that a similar oversight function for abuses within the FSB would be performed by the relevant division of the Interior Ministry. In short, according to the source, the proposal is “to divide powers so that no one has a monopoly and there is reciprocal oversight.”
It’s hard to evaluate the actual effectiveness of such oversight but it’s obvious that it would be a mistake to rely on the security services, which focus on each other, in force majeur situations.
It seems that the authorities are preparing for an apocalyptic development of the situation. Boris Nemtsov noted in an interview with Nezavisimaya Gazeta that “the regime has a paranoid fear of the people. I talk to the regime’s representatives every now and then, and it never fails to amaze me. And yet the regime continues forcing its candidates on all of us.” Unlike Pavlovsky, Nemtsov is sure that the election of the Moscow city legislature will take place without problems this autumn: “It’s evident that everything will be determined in high offices. Perhaps there will be a few mistakes, but they will be cosmetic.” According to Nemtsov, government’s fears are linked with voters’ reaction to the results of the election – the matter again concerns the ghost of the orange revolution.
These fears become stronger when the matter concerns the impending parliamentary and presidential elections.
Newsweek Russia reports that “The last winter of Vladimir Putin’s term in office will be hot. Obeying the West’s orders, hundreds of thousands of citizens dissatisfied with Putin’s successor will come to the Tverskaya street. Limonov’s supporters and young people with orange, red and other flags will assume the offensive. Our Own and the Interior Troops will defend the authorities (unless they scatter).” They need special training, which has already begun in Lake Seliger.
Frankly speaking, it’s hard to explain the Kremlin’s “presentiment of a civil war” because there are no reasons to worry. “The people believe Putin. The opposition presents pitiful sight. Pickets organized by supporters of the orange movement don’t draw more than 100 people. However, the government does not disdain to fight this political small fry.”
According to the long tradition, the Reds will also get it.
Novye Izvestia report the scandalous abolishment of the camp of activists of left-wing movements of young people in the Krasnodar territory. The tent camp in which only 50 representatives of the Young Communists Union, the Russian Communist Union of Young People, the Red Youth Vanguard, Social Resistance and other left-wing organizations gathered was encircled by police. This happened after local television showed footage about the Che Guevara camp. To all appearances, exercises at which coordinator of the project Vasily Koltashev, an employee of the Globalization Institute, taught young revolutionaries to break through the encirclement produced a special impression on the authorities.
However, an open conflict did not happen – the leadership of the camp decided to finish the shift and go home. It should be noted that the “defenders of workers’ rights” preferred to escape along paths in the mountains.
This happened when Our Own’s camp, covered with “scattered bikes, canoes, catamarans and balls” (the description given by Komsomolskaya Pravda), was visited by guests from the Kremlin.
Gazeta stated that the Lake Seliger camp might cost around $2 million. Yakemenko explained to Gazeta: “We don’t have any funding problems. Having the Kremlin’s moral support enables us to approach companies and say: guys, we need donations for a national project.”
Novye Izvestia asks: “Why does government split young people into our own and aliens?”
Sergei Markov, director of the Institute of Political Research, answered this question most frankly: “I think that the state’s attitude to the camps of leftist forces and Our Own is the attitude to political close and politically distant forces.” It evident that Our Own are politically close to government because this movement “seeks to realize Putin’s ideology and go even further.” As far as “aliens” are concerned, Sergei Markov noted that “there is little justice in Russia, and in this regard attitude to leftist forces can be characterized as attitude to political distant forces.”
Stanislav Belkovsky expressed his opinion in Novye Izvestia. Belkovsky is sure that young people evaluate the situation adequately despite the absence of political experience: “Fat men who have obtained everything in this life seek to retain what they have and leave a lot of problems to younger generations. This is why such movements as Our Own do not have prospects.”
Belkovsky noted that the leaders of Our Own use the critical situation, which takes shape as the election gets closer: “They take tips but will act as they want. Most likely, they will oppose government.” From this point of view “the few representatives of leftist movements who gather despite government’s will are more precious than 10,000 people who gathered for money and will never gather at the crucial moment in order to defend the authorities.”
Newsweek Russia states that Russian revolutionaries are reassured by the fact that at first the situation in Ukraine did not look serious either: “Wild people were not isolated on time in Ukraine – the result is well-known.” The magazine states that this is the main reason, which makes government worry.
It should be noted that voters’ attitude to the incumbent is worsening, “let alone his unknown successor.”
Newsweek Russia predicts that the situation will aggravate in the prospects. Sociologists state that Russian young people “do not see a place for themselves in the Putin era.” They state that “the social elevator, which used to lift young people in the 1990s, is broken.” The situation will be very bad when young people understand that they are useless.
Vedomosti reports that in a poll done by the All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM), 48% of respondents said that political opposition is not necessary when “the political, social, and economic situation is normal.” Two-thirds of respondents say that “true” democracy is possible without opposition. That is probably why 43% of respondents are prepared to vote for the incumbent regime even when they “do not agree with the authorities on everything,” and 18% more say they won’t vote for either the authorities or the opposition.
Alexander Oslov, president of the Public Opinion Foundation (FOM), stated in Vedomosti that the promise to vote for the Putin administration is not a statement of confidence in the authorities as such, but a pledge of loyalty to the regime and to President Putin personally.
Alexander Muzafarov, an analyst at Bashkirova and Partners, noted that “Russian citizens have never liked change. They always regard political and economic changes with apprehension, fearing that they might be changes for the worse.” It should be noted that Russian citizens have reasons to think so.
Boris Nadezhdin of the Federal Council of the Union of Right Forces told Vedomosti that a third of citizens think that protestors smashing windows in the streets, rather than politicians running for parliament, are the opposition. Nadezhdin referred to results of an opinion poll conducted by his party in early 2004. “As soon as a person gets TV coverage or gets elected somewhere, he is immediately associated with the authorities,” Nadezhdin said.
Valery Fedorov, General Director of VTsIOM, believes that the conclusion that any opposition project is automatically doomed to failure is “too bold.” Fedorov told Vedomosti that citizen’s distrust “in the potential of the existing opposition” but the population remain endeared to two slogans of the opposition: leftist-populist and liberal-human rights.
Muzafarov says that the opposition may score only if and when it abandons the slogan of unseating Putin. “Only the slogan that Putin has done a lot but not nearly enough has a chance to succeed,” Muzafarov said. It’s easy to notice that this is precisely what Our Own’s ideologues proclaim.
FOM analyst Ivan Klimov told Vremya Novostei that 1-4% of citizens are taking part in ongoing protests around the country. “It isn’t hard to see that protest moods permeate society,” Klimov said. “The opinion is that protests may bring some changes about. In the meantime, the people don’t want any revolutionary changes.” Klimov told Vremya Novostei that protest moods are a fine mechanism of social integration, but the authorities should be careful not to mistake them for a revolution.
When asked whether deliberate distortion of election outcomes in Russia could serve as a catalyst for mass protests, 42% of respondents said yes and 39% said no. Vremya Novostei notes that most of the skeptics are people with relatively high incomes and university degrees, and Muscovites – that is, the most politically active citizens.
The results of the poll show lack of confidence in the existing system among the clear majority (55%), in whose minds the presumption of guilt for the authorities is firmly fixed, since election results are usually to the advantage of the authorities. This part of respondents consider that the results of national elections do not reflect public opinion; 31% say otherwise; 51% say that the next parliamentary elections will be dishonest, 44% say the presidential elections will be dishonest; while 23% and 41% of respondents respectively say otherwise.
However, Ivan Klimov noted that elections are “something everyone is already used to. Something like shopping. We always go to the store which is the closest, even though the variety and prices there leave much to be desired. But it is the closest store, and that is convenient.”
Nevertheless, there is enough time until the election. Dmitry Oreshkin, head of the Mercator analytical group, told Newsweek Russia that voters can be driven crazy during the remaining two years.
Konstantin Simonov, director of the Political Conjuncture Center, said that “the candidate who can draw hundreds of thousands of people into the square will become the winner.”
Simonov asked: “Why should parties spend money on preparations for the election? They need to create network structures, which will receive an order and gather in one place. Such networks will be created by political consultants and sold to those who are prepared to pay, including Boris Berezovsky.”
In this situation, the authorities cannot do without Our Own. A high-ranking Kremlin official explained the essence of their existence: “If the police beat up revolutionaries, everyone will sympathize with the revolutionaries. It’s necessary to shift this to the phase of confrontation between different groups of citizens. In that case, the authorities will play the role of referees.”
The question is whether the “young bureaucrats” are prepared to play the role of “town fools” (the definition given by Profil).
In addition, Profil states that government should not ignore the main peculiarity of “real madmen” – they are absolutely uncontrollable. Ichkerian leader Aslan Maskhadov once said that “they accept money, but do not sell themselves.” As a rule, they act according to their own program and consider any coincidence of interests “as a resource.”
Newsweek Russia’s experts Konstantin Simonov (Political Conjuncture Center), Andrei Ryabov (Socio-Economic Research Foundation) and Dmitry Badovsky (Social Systems Institute at Moscow State University) agree that the “broken social elevator” might become the actual cause of the impending unrest.
Simonov told Newsweek Russia that “the revolution might be orange or brown, but aggressive and dissatisfied young people will be its driving force anyway.”
However, he thinks that the abscess may not mature until 2008. Most likely, it will burst open a year or two after the presidential election (in 2010). At any rate, the Kremlin doesn’t have a candidate capable of governing a rebellious country and a discontented elite.