Yabloko and the Union of Right Forces: don’t get too excited

The leaders of Yabloko and the Union of Right Forces were included in President Putin’s meeting with party leaders this week, but this shouldn’t be taken to mean that these parties are making a political comeback. They are associated with the 1990s, and their voter support is still very low.

It’s been a long time since invitations to meet with President Vladimir Putin have been extended to the leaders of the “old” pro-democracy parties – the parties that aren’t represented in the current Duma. The fact that these leaders were invited to the December 6 meeting has led some excited commentators to declare that “real politics is making a comeback” to public life in Russia, thoroughly frozen in recent years. There are indeed some grounds for such statements, but they’re due entirely to calendar-focused considerations. There’s one year to go before the next Duma election, and from now on its future participants will intrude into our lives more insistently with every passing day, by any and all available means: from our television screens to the Communists’ favorite technique of door-to-door canvassing. And since the head of state “answers for everything” in our political system, according to time-honored tradition, it’s entirely logical that right now, at the starting line, he has decided to give the parties one general instruction for the forthcoming campaign: “Don’t rock the boat.”

No more than that. It would be premature to conclude that the Kremlin has seriously decided to help Yabloko and the Union of Right Forces make a comeback to public politics after being left by the wayside in 2003. The election machines of United Russia and Just Russia (soon to be joined by Free Russia) were not created in order to share power in the future parliament with yesterday’s heroes.

What’s more, although the Kremlin can give the Union of Right Forces and Yabloko more opportunities to speak out on television, it can’t restore voter confidence in them. No matter how you look at it, most Russian citizens have well and truly had enough of the 1990s, the time when these parties were among the main players on the political stage. And until “the sins of the reformers” become a less painful topic for the public than they are now, it’s pointless to talk of the “old democrats” returning to big-time politics.