Some aspects of establishing democracy in Russia


On December 21, the anniversary of Stalin’s birth, the papers reported that over 30 formerly-destroyed statues of Stalin in various parts of Russia have been restored over the past few years. Moreover, a further 20 statues of Stalin are planned in a number of cities. “People’s museums” dedicated to Stalin operate in a variety of cities – Makhachkala and Volgograd, Vladikavkaz and Vologda.

The Novye Izvestia newspaper reports that on the 126th anniversary of Stalin’s birth, Communist Party (CPRF) leader Gennadi Zyuganov followed tradition by laying flowers at Stalin’s grave in the Kremlin wall. Zyuganov said: “Stalin was a great statesman, with the Great Victory, and a great strategist who succeeded in carrying out economic, social, and political reforms, creating a qualitatively different country where workers had a sense of confidence and social security.”

Novye Izvestia also reports some poll results from the All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM): over half of respondents take a positive view of Stalin’s role in Russian history, and 42% say that Russia needs that kind of leader now.

The results of another VTsIOM poll are also interesting: while 66% of respondents regret the collapse of the USSR, only 23% of them say it’s because they regret that the achievements of socialism were lost, and 74% primarily regard the disappearance of the USSR as the collapse of a great state.

Novye Izvestia approached a number of public figures for comments on these results. Performer Sergei Yursky said that Stalinism in our country seems to be “something that emanated from the nation itself long before Stalin came along, and continues to emanate now.” Priest and columnist Mikhail Ardov said that such attitudes are “a terrible sign, a sign of the End Times, a sign that people have completely lost any sense of the truth.”

The people really do seem to be confused. The Levada Center polling agency reports that 24% of respondents in a December poll said they don’t trust any federal politicians at all.

True, 40% said they trust Vladimir Putin – but the Levada Center points out that this is less than half of respondents.

Trailing behind Putin is Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu (16%); understandably enough – as Novye Izvestia notes, winter is the peak period for accidents. The list continues, as usual, with Vladimir Zhirinovsky (12%) ahead of both Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov (10%) and Gennadi Zyuganov (8%).

Zyuganov’s trust rating in this poll is about the same as his party’s result in another poll: the Public Opinion Foundation (FOM) reports that 8-10% of respondents say they would vote for the CPRF in a parliamentary election.

Novoe Vremya magazine says it’s not clear why the CPRF got twice that percentage of the vote in the Moscow city legislature election on December 4. Novoe Vremya even allows for the possibility that “forces from the other side may have intervened.”

The United Russia party has been winning regional parliamentary elections consistently, but its support rating is clearly far below that of President Putin: the FOM poll shows 27% of respondents saying they would vote for United Russia. Naturally, this indicator increases substantially during election campaigns. All the same, United Russia is clearly striving to improve its electoral prospects as Nezavisimaya Gazeta notes, it has taken account of the CPRF’s experience.

United Russia’s methods include absorbing the slogans of its political opponents.

As Vremya Novostei points out, the slogans used by United Russia and the CPRF are similar as twins: “increased federal budget spending on social needs, higher wages for state-sector workers, and various other forms of looking after the people.” The ideological resemblance has become so substantial, says Vremya Novostei, that it may be confidently asserted that “the Kremlin’s battle against the Communists is no longer the main axis of politics,” and the CPRF “is changing from the Kremlin’s opponent to its ally.”

At the same time, the Kremlin is working tirelessly and consistently to restrict the ability of opposition parties to have any real influence on the situation in Russia.

In this context, it’s interesting to note some comments from one of Russia’s most prominent regional leaders, Governor Alexander Khloponin of the Krasnoyarsk territory, about the controversial legislation on appointing regional leaders.

In an interview with Izvestia, Khlopin admitted that he had “breathed a sigh of relief” when he found out about the new selection procedures for regional leaders: “Now I won’t have to act against my own convictions and conscience by curtailing development projects and shifting to the left in order to appeal to the older generation, because voter turnout is highest in that group.”

Khloponin also said: “Unfortunately, the younger generation still isn’t taking an interest in politics. In that sense, any politicians who work for the younger generation’s interests and for Russia’s future find themselves at a disadvantage, because young people don’t vote.”

That is why the CPRF is still playing the role of “Her Majesty’s loyal opposition,” although it isn’t as strong as it used to be.

Vremya Novostei quotes Mercator Group chief Dmitri Oreshkin’s description of the present situation as a “degradation of the political spectrum.” Oreshkin maintains that the Kremlin’s efforts to reduce the number of political players are aimed at “creating a two-party, three-party, or one-and-a-half-party political model.”

Oreshkin also says “In itself, Zyuganov’s presence in politics prevents the formation of a consolidated social-democratic bloc on the left, which might potentially be dangerous to the authorities.” Actually, Russian politics has more than enough politicians to form a united left-wing front: Gennadi Semigin, Sergei Glazyev, Dmitri Rogozin, and even Viktor Anpilov. In Oreshkin’s opinion, whoever can unite the parties headed by the abovementioned politicians would be able to “get 60% of the vote rather than 10-15%” in Duma elections. But as long as Zyuganov holds his present position, says Oreshkin, that scenario can’t possibly work.

Khloponin remarks condescendingly in Izvestia that at present, the left-wing forces “are getting reasonably good, if irregular, results in regional elections – 15-20%,” by consolidating around the CPRF and its leader.

In other words, as Vremya Novostei says, “The impression is that Russia shouldn’t have any opposition other than the CPRF.”

But even Khloponin, known for his liberal views, is pessimistic about the right wing: in his opinion, “nothing can be achieved by consolidating the existing forces and individuals on the right.” Still, he says there is potential support for liberalism in Russia: “It requires new individuals, new right-wing forces – liberalism based on Russia’s system of national values.”

But it seems that unlike Khloponin, ordinary citizens see no connection between liberalism and national values.

ROMIR Monitoring poll results published in Novoe Vremya indicated that most citizens are not enthusiastic about liberal values. When asked to define liberalism, 11% of respondents defined it as the transition from socialism to private property, which many people don’t appove of; 12% defined it as the dominance of big business and oligarchs; 9% defined it as having people like Yegor Gaidar, Anatoly Chubais, and Boris Nemtsov in power (this option was chosen by 13% of respondents in large cities); 5% defined it as Russia’s subordination to Western corporations; and 5% defined it as accelerated development of the private sector without state intervention.

As Novoe Vremya points out, “all these connotations discouraged rather than encouraged support for the liberals and democrats coalition in the Moscow city legislature election.”

Nevertheless, democratic parties aren’t abandoning hope of gaining political weight in the two remaining years before the next federal elections. So far, however, they haven’t been very successful.

The papers report that the leading claimant to the “unifier of democratic forces” title, former prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov, suffered his first defeat last weekend. As Nezavisimaya Gazeta put it, he “lost a party – the Democratic Party of Russia (DPR) – failing to become its leader.” The party was “simply led away” from Kasyanov.

Kasyanov and his supporters were denied entry to the House of Unions building, where the 19th congress of the DPR was scheduled to take place. Its agenda included electing Kasyanov as party leader and uniting with Our Choice, the party led by Irina Khakamada.

Eventually, however, those DPR delegates who remained in the House of Unions elected political consultant Andrei Bogdanov as their leader. Bogdanov admits to “having been involved in establishing a number of parties” in the past. Kasyanov and Khakamada had to move to the Izmailovo Hotel and hold an alternative congress, at which Nezavisimaya Gazeta quotes Kasyanov as saying that “this isn’t the end of the world.”

Khakamada, however, described the situation in fairly grim terms: she called the gathering in the House of Unions a “witches’ sabbath,” and said that Russia is heading into an abyss. Kasyanov told journalists that around $2 million had been spent on bribing delegates at the congress he had abandoned.

Igor Mintusov, general director of Niccolo M Consulting, told the Vedomosti newspaper: “A political decision was implemented effectively, with the aid of political techniques.”

Kasyanov may be said to have lost the political initiative, says Nezavisimaya Gazeta. The experts approached by Nezavisimaya Gazeta say that Kasyanov might have aspired to the role of “leader of the pro-democracy movement, unaffiliated with any party, standing beyond or even above parties.” But a politician cannot get himself elected to such a role: “Only the course of events can put an individual in such a position – as in the case of Boris Yeltsin in the late 1980s.” Nezavisimaya Gazeta admits that at present, it’s hard to tell whether Kasyanov is capable of such a breakthrough, or whether he’ll remain “a politician of marginal significance, with an imposing appearance and nice manners.”

According to Vedomosti, Kasyanov obviously “isn’t coping with the most important part, the public part, of his political efforts.” And this is entirely understandable, given his past: “Bureaucrats develop their careers gradually, quietly; public politicians do it with lots of publicity, in the public eye.”

Kasyanov couldn’t overcome the dacha purchase scandal a few months ago, and he hasn’t coped with the DPR congress situation either: “He couldn’t find any convincing way of turning the situation around in his own favor, or at least neutralizing the actions of his rivals.” And now “his whole imposing, authoritative image is swept by uncertainty.”

Still, perhaps not all is lost for Kasyanov and Khakamada. At any rate, Khakamada said in an interview with Moskovskie Novosti that she isn’t really interested in “the fate of the party as such.” She said: “I’m interested in seeing that a strong, united team, independent from the Kremlin, is in place by the next elections – and this is a difficult task, of course.”

Khakamada maintains that “unification of all democratic forces, based on the Western model” is feasible in Russia – “given will, courage, and independence from the Kremlin.” Khakamada warns that the most dangerous aspect is parties constantly looking over their shoulders at the Kremlin: “It will be using some very complicated maneuvers, capable of snaring any party.” That’s essentially what happened to the DPR.

Therefore, Khakamada says it’s time to stop “playing the Kremlin’s games and start aiming to take power,” rather than aiming to “find a place in the next parliament with 8% of the vote.”

As Profil magazine notes, VTsIOM poll results indicate that “fighting the authorities isn’t a very popular topic among voters.”

VTsIOM director Vladimir Petukhov told Profil: “At present, around 70% of respondents agree that in principle, it is necessary to participate in socio-political life – but they also think that people like them can’t possibly have any significant influence on important political decision-making.”

And citizens who are likely to support liberal economic principles – that is, the most prosperous citizens – are less interested in politics than any other group.

According to Petukhov, 15-17% of respondents say they’re in favor of democratic values. It is believed that a further 10% may support them. Thus, the pro-democracy forces would appear to have a substantial support base of 25-27%: “But this is only a potential, or latent, electorate.” Therefore, says Profil, the democratic forces should not expect a large share of the vote, since their supporters would only turn out to vote if the circumstances are extrordinary.

Then again, Profil maintains that the right wing can certainly rely on support from the private sector (“not large-scale, but real enough: in the form of money and resources”).

That is the kind of support Kasyanov is counting on, says Dmitri Oreshkin. But according to Profil, support intensity will largely depend on the Kremlin’s behavior: if it starts “conciliating elite groups and buying their loyalty,” Kasyanov’s already-low chances would fall even lower.

In other words, says Oreshkin, “the keys to the political situation are entirely in the Kremlin’s hands.” If the presidential administration can refrain from “any abrupt moves that are disliked by the ruling elites,” then resource-owners and ordinary pro-liberal voters will act on the principle of “why change anything, when things aren’t all that bad now.”

In that case, right-wing voters simply wouldn’t turn out to vote – or would be more likely to vote for United Russia, especially since that party also has a right wing.

As Petukhov notes, “the inertia scenario always works in favor of United Russia,” so the democratic forces will only get an opportunity if the Kremlin can’t restrain itself from obviously unreasonable, aggressive actions.

Or if oil prices fall.

At present, however, all is stable: “the Kremlin is managing to maintain a balance between liberal and forcible methods,” while oil prices remain high.

What’s more, says Profil, it should be kept in mind that the principle of “the worse things get, the better” is a double-edged sword: a deterioration in the economic or political situation might offer an advantage to forces other than the liberals – “the nationalists and fascist chauvinists,” for example.

Profil adds that the Kremlin is “making fairly intensive efforts to convey this message to ordinary voters.”

And meanwhile, as the Vedomosti newspaper reports, the Kremlin has other concerns – such as making United Russia stronger.

United Russia is recruiting senior executives and business tycoons into its ranks. The chief executives of Rot Front Confectionery, Babayevskaya Confectionery, and the Mechel Group (Viktor Palatov, Mikhail Zaichenko, and Viktor Tregubko) joined United Russia the other day. They’ll find themselves in good company: party members have long included RosNeftegazStroi President Ivan Mazur, Moscow Oil Company (MNK) VP Valery Churilov, Krost CEO Alexei Dobashin, and many others. United Russia’s drive to “conscript business executives” is being managed by Valery Gruzdev, party member and owner of the Seventh Continent supermarket chain.

Vedomosti described this drive as “Surkov’s call-up,” since at a Business Russia meeting six months ago, Vladislav Surkov, deputy head of the presidential administration, called on business executives to join United Russia.

So United Russia has clearly decided to become more active on the right as well as on the left.

Leading political analyst Gleb Pavlovsky described this party project as “healthy competition with other parties, including the Union of Right Forces.” Pavlovsky told Vedomosti: “United Russia is sending the message that it is more pro-business than any other party.”

And here’s another message of that kind: speaking at a meeting of the November 4 Club, also attended by a number of Duma members, business executives, Civic Chamber members, and political analysts, Vladislav Surkov assured those present that the Kremlin doesn’t intend to revise the outcomes of 1990s privatization for the sake of “giving the authorities a short-term popularity trend.” He said: “One injustice should not be multiplied by another. Our objective is to leave private property in the hands of its present owners.”

However, Surkov added reproachfully: “The private sector still hasn’t managed to demonstrate that it’s truly effective and beneficial for the economy. Private enterprise still lacks clear public support.” Therefore, said Surkov, “the state should explain the role of private enterprise” in Russia, while also preventing “the restoration of an oligarchic style of government.”

No more oligarchs! As Surkov said: “Many consider that (the period when oligarchs grew strong in Russia) was democracy. I don’t think so. This contradicts the fundamentals of democracy. And returning there would also be a disaster for Russia.”

Then again, Russia is well accustomed to disasters. As for democracy – it has some specific features in our country, as the press has noted repeatedly.

In an interview with Novye Izvestia, prominent liberal economist Yevgeny Yasin said: “Ways of thinking are the product of history. It’s not that our mindset is wrong; it’s just archaic.” Yasin says: “The deferential attitude of Russians towards the authorities is the legacy of a thousand years of despotism.”

Then again, this national peculiarity doesn’t stop ordinary citizens from mocking those very same authorities, or stop those in power from stealing at any opportunity. All while occasionally succumbing to feudal nostalgia for fallen idols – the Tsar, the Secretary General, and especially the Great Leader and Father of All Peoples.