Deputy Duma Speaker Oleg Morozov on United Russsia and its rivals

Oleg Morozov, one of the United Russia party’s senior policy-makers, says that the three-party merger project headed by Sergei Mironov will only produce a distorted reflection of United Russia. He points out that there are substantial differences between the three parties.

To keep voters from being bored to death during the managed parliamentary election of 2007, the Kremlin has come up with the idea of creating a second party for itself, headed by Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov. The Russian Party of Life (RPL), the Russian Party of Pensioners (RPP), and Motherland (Rodina) haven’t actually merged yet, but all the same… How does the United Russia party feel about it? Until now, United Russia had been accustomed to the comfortable role of the Kremlin’s “only child.”

We asked one of the party’s leaders: Oleg Morozov, first deputy speaker of the Duma and member of United Russia’s supreme council. It turns out that United Russia is slightly nervous, but hoping to survived past 2008. What’s more, the party still finds it hard to explain “sovereign democracy,” a concept included in its new policy program.

Question: Many of United Russia’s politicians had expressed regret about the lack of a strong rival for United Russia. Well, now a rival is being created for you. Aren’t you glad?

Oleg Morozov: I never think of political realities in categories like joy or sorrow. As for the lack of a strong rival – what about the Communist Party, which used to be the only party?

I can recall many attempts at creating social-democratic parties in Russia. Unfortunately, all have ended badly.

Question: Do you think Mironov’s party will make a good “left leg”?

Oleg Morozov: In principle, it would be no bad thing to have a proper, strong social-democratic party. Will Mironov’s project produce that? I really don’t know – because the political organizations being merged here are very different. Let’s say I collect some quotes from speeches by certain members of Motherland and present the collection to Mironov, inviting him to guess who said those things. I fear he’d name some of the worst names in 20th Century history. So the next question is whether the RPL is prepared to “marry” that. Will that be its ideology?

Question: The Levada Center’s polls show that 7% of respondents who intend to vote say they will vote for the new merged party. And how will you co-exist with it?

Oleg Morozov: There’s an ironclad rule in politics: no friendship between houses during elections. The merger project is being described as the emergence of another party that will support the president, just like United Russia. But that’s the curious aspect of this situation – the new project will fail dismally if it remains silent about United Russia! So they’ll criticize us, and that’s a problem, of course: we’ll be competing for the same voters and confusing them. It’s as if a stranger walked into your home and said: “Look, I’m not claiming the whole place, but I will be living in your kitchen.” Naturally, you would object.

So I visit my home district and meet with potential left-wing voters – state-sector health workers and teachers, and I tell them: we’ll work on solving your problems – vote for us! Am I now supposed to start telling them that there’s a special, separate project for them?

Question: That’s exactly what Mironov and the television networks will tell them!

Oleg Morozov: Well, I’ll tell them a different story!

Question: Until now there has only been one Kremlin party, and almost all regional leaders have joined United Russia. Aren’t you concerned that they might turn slightly schizophrenic, with two Kremlin parties in existence? They’ll be ordered to use administrative resources in the interests of the other party as ell.

Oleg Morozov: This is like rain: it’s pointless to take offense at it, even if you don’t like being rained on. The new project certainly will cause confusion – I think we’ll get a case of deja vu, a distorted reflection of United Russia.

Question: Your new policy program says: “The policy course of President Putin and our party has received public support.”

Oleg Morozov: Yes – we have been the president’s party and his support, and the president has been open about that.

Question: But he’ll probably step down in 2008 – the Constitution hasn’t been amended so far. What will happen to you?

Oleg Morozov: There’s a widespread and incorrect impression about the relationship between our political party and its moral leader, Vladimir Putin: the idea that United Russia exists only as long as he’s in power, and once he’s gone, United Russia will be gone as well. In the past, Kremlin parties have indeed been nothing more than campaign projects – so when political circumstances changed, the parties were changed as well. But now the situation is quite different: United Russia has a million members, and not all of them are motivated by career considerations. Such a machine can’t be destroyed overnight.

We don’t doubt this for a moment: the person who replaces Putin, if that is Putin’s will and the will of the people, must continue Putin’s cause.

Question: But why are you so confident about the successor’s policy course?

Oleg Morozov: Because the people won’t vote for a successor who doesn’t continue Putin’s course. Besides, failing to continue the course would doom Russia to upheavals. There is no alternative to this policy course! Otherwise, we’d have to declare ourselves a party of historical defeat.

Question: But when oil prices fall, you could turn into such a party overnight.

Oleg Morozov: We are aware of this danger, and we understand that unless the quality of Russia’s development is changed, it won’t be possible to safeguard Russia’s existence as a sovereign democracy. And as for 2008… Why ask questions that don’t have any answers? Our party has a policy course. At present, it coincides with Putin’s course. We intend to support the next president, who will continue that course; we are prepared to be a political construct he can rely on. That’s all. The successor’s name is a secondary issue.

Question: United Russia recently released its new policy program. Rumor has it that all your drafts were edited in the Kremlin by Vladislav Surkov, deputy head of the presidential administration. Is that true?

Oleg Morozov: Believe it or not, the presidential administration only saw the final draft, and Vladislav Surkov supported the position we had already formulated.

Question: You claim that what Russia has isn’t just democracy, but “sovereign” democracy. Does any other country have this as well?

Oleg Morozov: Of course! France, Britain, Germany, the United States. These are countries which claim very influential places in world affairs. That’s because some countries can be democratic and have the formal trappings of sovereignty – borders, a flag – but everyone understands how much that sovereignty is worth. No offense to little Estonia, but it cannot participate in developing the rules of international politics with as much influence as Germany, for example.

Question: So the countries with sovereign democracy are the G8?

Oleg Morozov: Not just the G8… India and Brazil can also be considered part of that group.

Question: You mentioned France – but Boris Gryzlov, in a speech introducing your policy program, said that what France has is “open democracy,” not sovereign democracy, and that’s a bad thing: allowing all comers into the country, letting them do whatever they like. He also said it’s bad to have a “liberal” democracy, with power held by a small circle of individuals, barricaded away from the majority.

Oleg Morozov: What Gryzlov meant is that an open democracy is when there’s more democracy than sovereignty – when democracy isn’t restricted in any way. Then there might be the kind of problems that France has experienced recently.

Question: So France is an open democracy?

Oleg Morozov: No, of course not! It’s a sovereign democracy! However, like any other democracy, it’s passing through various stages of development.

Question: So what would be an example of a liberal democracy?

Oleg Morozov: Russia in the 1990s!

Question: Why do you need the word “sovereign”? In order to camouflage our model’s vulnerability?

Oleg Morozov: We’re in a major historical dispute these days – Russia and the rest of the world. Sometimes I receive visitors from Denmark, for example, or the United States, and they say they don’t like the fact that we have moved to new procedures for electing regional leaders. And I ask them: “In what textbook is it written that direct elections of regional leaders in a federative state are the rule?” There is no such textbook!

The declaration of sovereign democracy is evidence of our right to build the kind of democracy that rests on basic values, while also being a national model! Because unless we specify that, we’re immediately told: “You’re building the wrong kind of government hierarchy, you haven’t got direct elections for regional leaders, your president’s powers are too extensive… but if you correct these flaws, then we’ll recognize you as a democracy!” In specifying sovereign democracy, it’s as if we’re telling them: “Don’t lecture us!”