An interview with Sergei Mironov, Russian Party of Life leader

The Russian Party of Life, the Russian Party of Pensioners, and the Motherland party have announced merger plans and their aim to become an opposition force. Sergei Mironov: “We shall be in opposition to United Russia. We understand opposition to mean opposition to monopolism.”

The Russian Party of Life (RPL), the Russian Party of Pensioners (RPP), and the Motherland (Rodina) party have announced merger plans and their aim to become an opposition force. This is an interview with Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mikhailovich Mironov, leader of the RPL.

Question: Why is this new party being formed, and what will it be called?

Sergei Mironov: It’s no secret that quite a lot of discontent with the present state of affairs has built up in Russia. But until now there hasn’t been any force that could give this discontent political form and support – clearly, specifically, and on principle. Our new party is prepared to provide this kind of political representation for people who believe that the economy and social security should be organized differently.

This will be a powerful party with about half a million members. It will be stronger than each of the three existing parties on its own. But Motherland, the RPP, and the RPL are uniting on a parity basis. Our unification will preserve the resources and personnel of all three organizations. The key words will be retained in the party’s name. For example: “the Union of Confidence: Motherland Pensioners Life.” The final version of the new party’s name will be approved at its inaugural congress.

Question: You say it will be an opposition party. In opposition to what?

Sergei Mironov: We shall be in opposition to United Russia. We understand opposition to mean opposition to monopolism. We support President Vladimir Putin’s course, but we consider United Russia’s pretensions to political monopoly to be a course that’s deeply mistaken and harmful for our country.

For us, opposition is not a goal in itself. Actually, this will be good for our opponent, United Russia, as well. A real political party can only prove itself in real political competition, not by using administrative resources.

Question: Some political analysts describe the RPL-Motherland-RPP merger as a Kremlin project entirely.

Sergei Mironov: That’s the most convenient way to discredit any new movement in contemporary Russia: by attributing its creation to the Kremlin. I’d like to remind you that the RPL was disqualified from the Sverdlovsk regional election recently. We’re sure that this move was unlawful. Is this supposed to be part of a “Kremlin project” as well?

Question: Like any other political force, your new party will have to attract voters with ideas and slogans that appeal to the average voter.

Sergei Mironov: What you call “slogans” is actually everyday political and lawmaking work for our parties. Even separately, before the unification process, we have prepared legislation such as a bill on state service status for teachers and doctors. There are proposals regarding pensions for survivors of the Leningrad blockade and the last wartime call-up, and for a fairer distribution of revenues from the use of natural resources. We are realists. We take account of the fact that most of these initiatives will not be approved by the present composition of the Duma. That’s precisely why we need a large faction in the next convocation of the Duma, to be elected in 2007. In order to pass laws aimed at solving the demographic problem, for example.

Question: And where else is there a need for urgent change, in your view?

Sergei Mironov: We support setting an hourly wage rate. The concept of the minimum monthly wage – the unfortunate MROT – should be eliminated, as a standard that insults human dignity. The calculation of the hourly rate should be very simple. Take the average monthly subsistence minimum – a sum that should include housing and utilities payments, recreation, vacations. Divide it by 23 or 24 – the number of working days per month. Dividing this result by eight – the length of the working day, eight hours – will give us the hourly rate. This is the minimal social standard that should be set down in law, so that no one in Russia can earn less! And after that there would be sector-specific coefficients, skills-specific coefficients, and other coefficients raising the value of the working hour.

Similarly, we have proposals regarding pensions: pensioners should receive no less than half the average wage.

Question: Sounds tempting. But aren’t you afraid that other parties – United Russia, for example – might steal your ideas during the election campaign, so you’ll be left out again?

Sergei Mironov: In general, it doesn’t matter who uses the fruit we have grown. What’s important is that there should be fruit.

Question: You have many good bills, but they need to be pushed through parliament and then implemented. Will you be nominating your own people for key post, including government posts?

Sergei Mironov: I’m still skeptical about the idea of a party-based government as such. A government ought to be professional, above all. We know about the Western model of democracy: the winning party nominates its leader for prime minister. But this leader might have reached the top thanks to his skills as an orator, for example – he might not have the necessary education or experience. So he forms a government, handing out portfolios to members of his party… Is this always a good thing?

Question: All the same, living standards in those Western democracies are somewhat higher, to put it mildly, than living standards in Russia with its “professional” government.

Sergei Mironov: Our system hasn’t been created overnight either. Our parties – regardless of who’s in power or who’s in opposition – ought to think about what our country will be like in ten, 20, or 50 years, rather than focusing on the next election. If we allocate more funding for child benefits now, if we introduce a parenting wage, if we introduce a “family algorithm” for mortgages… Yes, these moves would mean nothing but extra spending right now – but they will result in population growth years from now.

Question: As an opposition force, will you use mass protest events in your political struggle?

Sergei Mironov: If it becomes necessary to put some pressure on the government, in the good sense, by methods including the authority of mass support – then we don’t rule out using protest marches, referendums, petitions. Naturally, you’ll never hear us calling for the overthrow of the regime or any extremist slogans. Our legal mass protest events will be intended to exert real influence on government bodies or particular officials, so that the people’s interests will be taken into account. For example, the RPP is currently organizing the March Against Poverty. The RPL and Motherland are joining the effort. Signatures are being collected on petitions. I assure you, when four or five truckloads of signatures are delivered to the federal government’s offices – real demands from real people all over the country – this protest will be very hard to ignore.