Garry Kasparov’s United Civic Front holds a conference

United Civic Front leader Garry Kasparov says that his movement aims to “dismantle the Putin regime” and establish “an opposition coalition independent of ideology.” But speeches at the UCF conference showed that opposition parties are unlikely to “overcome their allergy to working together.”

The United Civic Front (UCF) held a conference at Tourist House in Moscow yesterday. Participants voted in favor of converting the UCF from an inter-regional to a national organization. Garry Kasparov, chess champion and UCF leader, declared that the UCF aims to “dismantle the Putin regime” and establish “an opposition coalition independent of ideology.” He proposed that opposition parties should unite to endorse the same candidate at the presidential election of 2008. But speeches at the UCF conference showed that opposition parties are unlikely to “overcome their allergy to working together.”

UCF leader Garry Kasparov described yesterday’s conference, attended by representatives from 50 regions, as “an initial show of strength.” Kasparov said that when the UCF was first established nine months ago, its manifesto about the need to dismantle the Putin regime may have seemed too radical – but now everyone understands that “the present regime has no intention of relinquishing power because of election outcomes.”

The UCF, established in summer 2005 by chess champion Garry Kasparov, was registered with the Justice Ministry as an inter-regional public organization in November. Kasparov said at the time that he planned to increase the number of UCF branches from six to 50, and transform it into a national organization. Marina Litvinovich, consultant to Kasparov, said that “six months to a year” would make it clear whether the UCF will grow to become a party.

At yesterday’s conference, Kasparov did not raise the issue of transforming the UCF into a party. He said, however, that the UCF policy program fits in with the programs of both left-wing and right-wing parties – but “only those that are truly in opposition to the regime.” Kasparov said: “It would be suicidal to adopt a strategy of surviving the ‘freeze’ in embryonic form, awaiting a ‘thaw.'” Kasparov emphasized that UCF activists in the regions have cooperated successfully with the Communist Party, Yabloko, the National Bolshevik Party, and other protestors; he proposed that this experience should be adopted at the federal level. “We have to overcome our allergy to working together, in order to endorse a common candidate at the presidential election of 2008,” said Kasparov. “It doesn’t matter whether an election is held in March 2008, or whether there’s an Operation Putin II – what matters is that there should be an alternative.”

Thus, the OCF has declared its main aim to be “dismantling the Putin regime” and establishing “an opposition coalition independent of ideology.” For the purpose of unification, the UCF proposes a policy platform based on four principles: fair and democratic elections, restoring federalism, eliminating the nomenklatura system, and “the state for citizens, not citizens for the state.” The OCF sees “the path to saving the nation” in organizing mass protests in the streets and endorsing common candidates in elections at all levels.

Andrei Saveliev, representing the Motherland (Rodina) party, said he could see some “grounds for cooperation” in Kasparov’s speech. Saveliev said: “We have common enemies: corrupt bureaucrats, fuel sector oligarchs, and the United Russia party, which draws its strength from lawlessness.”

But most other conference participants were skeptical about the OCF’s proposals.

Valery Zubov, co-chairman of the Russian Republican Party and former governor of the Krasnoyarsk territory, pointed out that there are “differences” between opposition forces. “The Russian Republican Party has more faith in legal, judicial procedures, so we disagree on that point,” he said.

National Bolshevik Party leader Eduard Limonov noted that he has spent the past two years trying to unify parties at the leadership level, and it’s “impossible.” According to Limonov, “the traditional parties lack activists capable of fighting – and radical measures are needed to fight an aggressively reactionary regime.” Thus, Limonov proposes “forgetting about parties for the time being,” and relying on “other forces” – public organizations. Their nature doesn’t matter; Limonov’s speech implied that many organizations would be suitable for the purpose, from unrecognized religious communities to resettler societies. Limonov also proposed that the opposition parties in parliament should orchestrate a political crisis: “They should start a scandal for the whole world to see: walk out of parliament and slam the door, making the regime illegitimate.” Judging by their loud applause, conference participants liked this idea.

Our Choice movement leader Irina Khakamada said: “Those who only move into opposition after losing the Kremlin’s favor do not make suitable allies.” As for uniting the pro-democracy forces, Khakamada says they have now “matured” to the point of being in two camps: “It’s time to draw a conclusive distinction between those who have chosen the line of survival within the system and those who are prepared to become outsiders.”