The Union of Right Forces holds a congress

Nikita Belykh, leader of the Union of Right Forces, announced at the party congress on September 19 that his party is firmly resolved to win in 2015. This goal should be assisted by the party’s new draft policy program. The program makes no mention of the need to unite pro-democracy forces.

Even as the United Russia party and the Russian Party of Life work on establishing a Kremlin-approved two-party arena, a threatening rival is emerging right under their noses. Nikita Belykh, leader of the Union of Right Forces (URF), announced at the party congress on September 19 that the URF is firmly resolved to win in 2015. This goal should be assisted by the party’s new draft policy program, presented yesterday.

There were three people seated at the presidium table: Nikita Belykh, Viktor Nekrutenko, and Boris Nadezhdin. URF policy council member Boris Nemtsov arrived at the last minute and democratically took his seat in the front row of the audience of congress delegates.

Belykh started by saying: “The party has finally awakened from its sleep. The level of interest in the URF is higher than it’s been for a long time.”

Sergei Ivanenko, first deputy chairman of the Yabloko party, was a guest at the URF congress. He praised both himself and URF members: “The very existence of a party which is not in power at present, and continues to uphold unpopular slogans, is, in my view, an act of civic courage.”

Belykh emphasized that a great many corrections have been made to the draft policy program, which proves that there is demand in Russian society for a liberal answer to “the challenges of our time.” On the other hand, ill-wishers might regard this circumstance as evidence that the party’s regional branches aren’t happy with the draft program. This answer to “challenges” contains some interpretations of the current political process which are unusual for the URF. The program makes no mention of the need to unite pro-democracy forces. Of course, this may be attributed to the continual clashes between the URF and Yabloko; but it should also be noted that the omission frees the URF from any need to specify whom or what the pro-democracy forces should unite against.

“For the first time, we’re not just making plans for the immediate future, or even the current election cycle, but for the next decade,” said Belykh proudly. He described this as mid-range planning. By implication, the URF need not move on to long-range planning for some time; it will focus on gradually conquering the Kremlin’s main fortifications.

Belykh said that the party’s plans should be ambitious, but not irresponsible: our society needs systemic reforms, and our country needs real liberalism, not a show of liberalism (was that a shout-out to Yabloko?). It turns out that patriotism and a heightened sense of responsibility are what’s preventing the URF leadership from seeking victory in the parliamentary election of 2007. Belykh said: “In order to solve these problems, we need to become the ruling party. We are realists and pragmatists, and we’re perfectly well aware that we won’t be able to become the ruling party in 2007. Therefore, our goal for 2007 is to make it into the Duma. Our goal for 2011 is to strengthen our Duma faction. Our goal for 2015 is to become the ruling party.” This was followed by another gesture in the direction of other opposition parties. “There’s a party of the past and a party calling for a return to the past,” the URF leader explained elegantly. “But we should be the party of the future – the party calling for progress into the future.”

The usefulness of incantations

At the post-congress press conference, Nikita Belykh said that at the next URF congress – in late November or early December – the party will “consider the question of unifying pro-democracy forces into a single party.” He said: “De facto, undoubtedly, a new unified party will emerge. De jure, it could be based on either of the two existing pro-democracy parties – the URF and Yabloko.” Belykh gave his audience hope by adding: “We have a constructive negotiation process under way.”

In 2008, said Belykh, it will be “important to nominate a single presidential candidate representing the pro-democracy forces.” He added: “The question of how this candidate will be nominated is fundamentally important. That is, whether all pro-democracy forces will be able to agree on a procedure for nominating such a candidate.” Apparently, Belykh still has some strong doubts about that. Consequently, the URF is more concerned about 2017, not 2008. By then, everything will sort itself out and the URF will have a firm hold on the reins of power. Meanwhile, “potentially,” the URF might consider endorsing People’s Democratic Union leader Mikhail Kasyanov as a presidential candidate. “We don’t react to him with rejection,” said Belykh approvingly. But Kasyanov has to meet one clear condition: he needs to make up his mind about his policy program.

The peaceful atmosphere at the URF congress wasn’t even disturbed by a harsh speech from Vladimir Ryzhkov, who said: “We’ve spent three years doing nothing more than talking of unification.” It was hard to produce any evidence against that statement, but URF delegates were convinced of the contrary and started arguing. Leonid Gozman told delegates and congress guests that “our president should be elected” in 2016. The phrase sounded like an incantation.