Are there any more questions about who’s in charge? I think this says it all . . .
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By Sean — 11 years ago
Thanks to the widely-held view that Russia’s regional parliamentary elections held on Sunday were a “dress rehearsal” for December’s upcoming Duma elections, the former have received a considerable amount of attention from Russia analysts. One particularly interesting discussion that has emerged is the question of whether we are seeing the emergence of a two-party system in Russia, as the “Just Russia” party has recently been born to serve as a center-left counterweight to United Russia.
Most analysts recognize the fact that Just Russia is, like United Russia, a Kremlin creation and will not truly play the role of an oppositional party as understood in the western democratic sense. It is for this reason that it is misleading and dangerous (from an analytical standpoint) to speak of the creation of a two-party system, as the term implies true competition for power. It also implies that the parties provide distinct policy alternatives. As such, in a true two-party system, once in power the majority party implements its desired policies while the minority party tends to oppose those policies, working instead toward their own policy goals. Joseph Schumpeter and the followers of his intellectual tradition rightly recognized that electoral competition for power is the essence of democracy. Using the term “two-party system” to describe Russia runs the risk of leading readers to believe that such competition exists or will exist in the future, when in fact it does not and will not for the foreseeable future.
What then, is the meaning of Just Russia and the December Duma elections? It seems likely that the Duma elections will be a carefully-staged production whereby all the major actors have memorized their lines and their stage directions, and are prepared to carry out their assigned roles. The directors of the production will have worked tirelessly to pull off a flawless show that has all the glitz, glitter, and glamour of a democratic election, complete with parties competing for power. But because the director has not only selected which actors are allowed to perform, what emerges is not actual competition but the illusion of competition.
One might go so far as to surmise that in this sense, the Duma elections are themselves just a dress rehearsal for the presidential elections of March 2008, whereby two candidates will compete in what will look like a fairly balanced and competitive election. In fact, it wouldn’t be too surprising if the contest between Medvedev and Ivanov looks downright democratic. But one cannot overlook the immense power of the casting director, for both these candidates have been carefully auditioned and approved from above, while remaining hopefuls are shut out of the performance or pushed off to the side. Thus, by carefully planning the production ahead of time, it is once again possible to put on a “democratic show,” albeit one where the choices available to the audience have been determined by the director.
Perceptive observers might question whether the American system of candidate selection before the introduction of the primary system was any better. After all, weren’t presidential candidates selected in smoke-filled rooms by party leaders? Does that make Roosevelt’s selection just as managed as Ivanov’s. There are two important reasons why we must draw a distinction. First, candidates in that era were selected by the elites of their respective parties, parties which were in opposition with one another. As such, the occupant of the White House did not select both the Republican and Democratic candidate.
Furthermore, and this is a far more important point for Russia’s case, the political science literature on political parties has identified several functions that western parties perform, the most important of which is the aggregation of public opinion and the communication of that opinion to the state. When diffused and scattered, public opinion has little ability to influence state policy. When aggregated through political parties sharing a common ideological platform, public opinion becomes a powerful tool to influence policy. To return to the U.S. example, we can thus posit that even though candidates were selected by a handful of elites, those elites were still selecting candidates that would be appealing to the party base which would have to be mobilized in the general election.
In Russia political parties (perhaps with the exception of the KPRF) do not really function in this way, as the links between the citizenry and the parties are largely lacking. For an insightful discussion of the role of political parties in Russian politics, see Mankoff, J. “Russia’s Weak Society and Weak State: The Role of Political Parties,” Problems of Post-Communism, 50:1. January-February 2003, p. 29-43.
The failure of parties like United Russia and Just Russia to serve as aggregators of public opinion and their lack of strong ties to the grassroots level leads to several important implications for the Russian political system.
First, it implies that party platforms do not originate within society, but are rather top-down creations which run the risk of being detached from the needs and desires of the public.
Second, it implies that parties themselves are not accountable to the electorate once they gain power. Because parties are not accountable to the people that elect them but rather to the powers that allow them to exist in the political sphere, there will likely result a disconnect between the words of the campaign and the deeds of holding power. This fact only enhances the spectacular democratic show previewed above. It is likely that United Russia and Just Russia will carry out a campaign complete with the rhetoric of opposing political parties, each presenting their own visions for the future of Russia. Thus, like Democrats and Republicans in America, Russian voters will drift to the camp that comes closest to sharing their views. By all appearances, a convincing contest between political parties with different platforms will have occurred, determining the overall distribution of seats in the new Duma.
But what happens on the next day? Parties and their leaders understand Russian politics all too well. While voters may have determined the number of seats they won (the audience’s applause, if you will), they know that it is really the director to whom they owe their career and their future ability to act on the stage. After all, they are his creation. Thus, it will come as no surprise if much of the oppositional rhetoric of the campaign is quickly dropped as both major parties line up in support of the Kremlin. The lack of ties between parties and citizens, along with the apparent passivity of the Russian electorate, will ensure that the parties will not be held accountable by the people for their practical homogenization.
As such, Russia will be left with not a two-party system, but simply a system. It is a system where actors play the role of parties and perform those roles quite convincingly when the audience is watching at election time. But once the play is over and the lights are dimmed, the costumes come off and they go back to their normal roles as functionaries.
Nor should this situation even be considered a one-party system, as that implies the presence of a dominant single party that wields hegemonic power over the political sphere, as did the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Such a party does not exist in Russia, for while United Russia is the overwhelmingly largest party in parliament, its power and the power of the Duma is relatively weak compared to the power of the executive. That is why the most powerful man is Russia is the President, who belongs to no party, and not the “General Secretary” of United Russia.
Until Russian political parties begin fulfilling the functions traditionally performed by parties in democratic political systems, it is unlikely that they will be independent political agents carrying out the will of their members. To return to our theatrical metaphor, in a democracy the citizens should be the directors who give direction to the “actors,” parties. Until this arrangement takes hold in Russia, competition between parties will be relatively meaningless and unlikely to have a significant influence on policy outcomes. Whether United Russia wins more votes or victory goes to Just Russia, the outcome will be the same because they both answer to the same director.
It seems that Russians are more or less content with their current political arrangements, satisfied with the stability, order, and prosperity that the last 7 years under Putin have brought. Let us suppose for a moment what might happen if this satisfaction should erode, either because of economic downturn or a rising middle class that begins to bristle under an overly restricted political system. What might the future hold in that case?
Because political parties are not meaningful agents of political action, it is likely that political action will take to the streets, where mass demonstrations will perform the function of aggregating and amplifying citizens’ voices. The recent oppositional rally in St. Petersburg is an indicator that the streets are the only places where political opposition can be expressed in a way that authorities can hear. In the long term it is possible that the parties themselves will evolve and eventually build mass constituencies, developing into political parties along the western model. But this evolution implies that eventually the wishes of the party base, as carried out by the party, might one day clash with the wishes of the Kremlin director. Whether party development would ever be allowed to reach such a state is difficult to say.
Neither of these developments – mass protest or evolution of the nature of political parties – is likely to happen anytime soon, as there seems to be little dissatisfaction among most Russians with the status quo (don’t forget the 141,997,000 Russians who weren’t protesting in St. Petersburg).
After all, what could be more pleasant that a night at the theater?
N. S. Rubashov runs the blog Darkness at Noon. His article “Separate but Unequal: The Duality of Free Speech in Russia” was published on La Russophobe.Post Views: 304
By Sean — 13 years ago
According an article in the 20 September edition of Izvestia, the Beslan Mothers are under the influence of Grigorii Grabovoi, a cult leader who claims to be Jesus Christ. Now forget the fact that Grabovoi’s (????????) name contains the Russian root “????”, which means “to grab or take.” Or the fact that the verb formed from this root, ???????, means “to rob”. No, let us forget that the fact that this guy is a total charlatan is embedded in his namesake. This isn’t the first time Grabovoi has been associated with the tragedy in Beslan. Shortly after the incident, he declared that for 39,000 rubles, about $10,000, he could resurrect the children from the dead. Um . . . okay.
Grabovoi sounds like your typical cult leader. He claims to be the second coming of Christ, and the Trinity. His followers believe that he can perform all the biblical miracles: heal the sick, predict the future, control world events, bring peace to the world, and, it seems, even raise the dead. One of his latest “predictions” is that he will become the next President of Russia in 2008. Grabovoi says that his first act will be to “promulgate a law to prohibit death in the entire country.” He’s even created a political party to facilitate this, the Voluntary Messengers of the Doctrines of Grigorii Grabovoi (DRUGG). In Russian this acronym means “friend” but English speakers are likely to get a good laugh out of it. DRUGG has held six congresses. The Beslan Mothers attended the most recent on September 16 where they declared themselves to be Grabovoi’s followers. Izvestia got an audio recording of this congress which features Susanna Dunieva, the leader of the Beslan Mothers, giving a speech:
“We related to the teachings of Grigorii Petrovich and understood that we have one road and one purpose—to save humanity. We believe in resurrection. We have now become followers of Grigorii Petrovich. I know that God has many miracles. I always read [biblical] stories to my children (cries), and I taught them to believe in them, to believe in God. And I believe that this miracle with happen. This maternal heart gives me maternal faith (cries). I and the women who are together with us, we go on this path to the end for the sake of our children. We will fight so that [the Beslan massacre] will never be repeated. All of the women, who arrived here believe in [Grabovoi’s] teachings. If you only knew the peace we felt in our soul on the day of the funeral. We stuck our already world famous Beslan with labels [it seems that these “labels” contain Grabovoi’s inspiration sayings or doctrines. I am not sure what these are—Sean] of the distant direction of Grigorii Grabovoi. Thanks to all these labels we were calm on the day of the funeral, and I think that now always and everywhere everything will be calm, harmony will be in the world. In Beslan we tried to work with people, and we told them about the teachings of Grigorii Grabovoi, and we said that only we ourselves can save ourselves and our children. People understood us.” (My translation).
A woman in the crowd then shouted, “Why didn’t [Grabovoi] help us on September 1?” and just before black suited men rushed out of the room she managed to shout “Charlatan!” After the woman was thrown out of the auditorium, Grabovoi explained to the crowd that he knew about the terrorist attack and for two weeks he called the MVD, and even offered them some of his teachings, but the “corrupt bureaucrats didn’t believe him.”
There is something to be said of how these desperate women, having lost their children in such a horrifying incident, would gravitate to someone like Grabovoi. People like him feed on such tragedies. He promises them the impossible. He reaches into the depths of their sorrow and gives them a way, however an unbelievable and impossible way, out. At the moment of complete psychological shock, vultures like Grabovoi feast on the mind’s shattered remains.
True to form, the Beslan Mothers view the recent media assault on their relationship with Grabovoi as merely a secret police plot to discredit their cries for full governmental disclosure. In a statement on the Moscow radio station Ekho Moskvy, the Beslan Mothers said: “This trip is a provocation aimed at discrediting and getting rid of our movement. The liquidation plan has been planned by the intelligence agencies and the authorities.” Some of the Mothers claim that only ten members have fallen in with Grabovoi, even though the most visible mother, Susanna Dunieva is one of them.
There is nothing worse when such a horrible tragedy is turned into an utter farce.
I guess we’ll have to wait and see how far this farce will go. Grabovoi predicts that by October 14 there will be a mass resurrection in Beslan. Get your popcorn ready . . .Post Views: 539
By Sean — 11 years ago
Speculation and debate over who will be Russia’s next president has all but screeched to a halt. While a few months ago Kommersant was speculating whether Putin would pick a governor, and if so which one, now it seems that no one is willing to hedge their bets that the next President of Russia will be anyone but Sergei Ivanov.
And, dear reader, if you’re a gamblin’ man, you wouldn’t put any money down on anyone else but Ivanov. According to the current betting line provided by the internet gaming site, Unibet, the First Deputy Prime Minster is a favorite with odds of 2.2 to one. Ivanov continues to deny that he’s running for the top job, but no one believes him. Dmitri Medvedev comes in second with odds of 3.75 to one. Following far behind is former Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov at 10 to one. Other Russia hopeful Mikhail Krasyanov is 14 to one. Finally, it appears that the Communists look to fade further into irrelevancy, at least on the level of presidential politics. KPRF mainstay Gennady Zyuganov rates at 30 to one.
Even the most unlikely of victors get thrown a bone in the betting world. Mikhail Khorodkovsky gets some love at a distant 200 to one, as does Russian first lady Liudmila Putina. One notable absence is bogey man tycoon Boris Berezovsky and Western darling Gary Kasparov. Their odds are apparently so steep that they don’t even merit mention. I’m sure they rate better in a death pool.Post Views: 399