Oh, how the times have passed! It seems like only yesterday that the Russian Presidential elections were in full predictable swing. Dmitri Medvedev was set to be President of all Russia. Operation Successor was all coming together without a hitch.
This is not to say that there wasn’t any excitement in this rather dull political ritual. There was . . . thanks to Vladimir Zhirinovsky. He’s always ready to don his jester hat and provide the electorate with a taste of melodrama. One of Zhirik’s best performances was on that fateful day February 20, 2008. Do you remember dear reader? Zhirinovsky certainly will. Now he’s paying for it. Literally.
Yesterday, the Moscow Nikulinsky District Court ordered that Zhirinovsky pay Nikolai Gotsa 30,000 rubles ($1,200) for verbally and physically attacking him during a televised discussion on Zvezda. During the “discussion,” Gotsa accused the LDPR leader of playing a double political game and betraying his supporters. Zhirinovsky constantly criticized the Kremlin, Gotsa charged, but his LDPR always voted for its legislation. That’s when Zhirik lost his marble. “Either he shuts up or I will leave the studio because I cannot sit in the same room with imbeciles, this typical idiot, lunatic, just look into his eyes. In the State Duma, my dear moron of a Presidential candidate, we vote how we see it necessary. This is the LDPR and I am its leader. And you, you scoundrel, and I will never allow you to say who betrays what. This party is 20 years old and millions of people have voted for it. And not even one percent has voted for your party of morons and lunatics!” Even in the heat of madness, Zhirik had a point. What happened next, well the video above tells it all.
Representatives from Gotsa’s Democratic Party immediately called for Zhirik’s removal from the Presidential race but to no avail. Less than one percent doesn’t get you any political clout. So Gotsa sued. He didn’t get the 1 million rubles ($40,000) he asked for but he did get $1200 out of the clown.
Zhririnovsky’s lawyers told Interfax that they were satisfied with the ruling. Of course they were. That’s cump change for a guy who essentially owns a political party and runs it like a family business. Plus, I’m sure that for a showman like Zhirik, $1200 is totally worth entertaining his adoring public.
Isn’t it about time to give Zhirinovsky his own a show? I know I’d watch.
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By Sean — 10 years ago
Meet Nikita Borovikov, a 26 year old law student from Vladimir, one of Nashi’s five national commissars, and the front runner to head the youth movement after Vasili Yakemenko steps down after the Presidential Elections in March. Borovikov’s designation as Yakemenko’s successor is not without controversy; and one that might signify divisions within and outside the movement overits direction after 2008. First there is the question whether Yakemenko’s handing over the torch will be smooth. It’s rumored that Borovikov was not Yakemenko’s first choice, (it’s said that he prefers Marina Zademid’kova, 22, from Voronezh), but the law student became the choice after chief Kremlin ideologist Vladislav Surkov stepped in. Things got even stranger when Nashi held a competition at Camp Seliger to chose a new leader. Borovikov won, but as Kommersant then reported, the Kremlin appeared unprepared to let Yakemenko go so soon, let alone leave Nashi’s immediate future in the hands of Borovikov. The next day Yakemenko was forced to announce that the election was actually “a game.” The youth organization, it seems, has been tapped play an active role in the upcoming elections.
The second issue Nashi must deal with is what purpose it will have after 2008. The organization is so tightly tied with Putin and Putinism, some feel that their existence will become superfluous after he steps down. What exactly Nashi will become in a post-Putin Russia is unknown, even to themselves. A few weeks ago, Kommsersant Vlast’ correspondent Anna Kachurovskaya, who also interviewed the former Nashi member “Ivan”, sat down with Borovikov to get some sense of the youth organization’s future. I provide translated excerpts below.
Were you offended that the election turned out to be a game?
Somehow a falsehood got into the newspapers from the start. When we organized the elections at Seliger, the word “successors” wasn’t even mentioned. There was talk about a competition of several teams, and the winners would get the right to determine the life of the movement. I say that this is “conditional.” That is to say the team will offer a strategy for the movement’s development in the period from 2008 to 2012. It’s understood that Vasilii [Yakemenko] is planning to leave. But in the movement the role of the leader, if there is one, is informal. According to the charter, we have a federal council, it has five commissars on it, and no leader.
You are one of the five federal commissars.
Yes. But I am not any kind of successor. It is first necessary to decide the tasks for December and March. And here, for all intents and purposes, there won’t be any divisions into teams or parties. Nashi is a monolith and that is precisely our strength.
Is there any meaning in your elections?
In order to begin thinking about the what kind of movement we’ll be from 2008 to 2012. It’s impossible to think two-three months ahead. Here we did all this.
That is to say that you have a program for developing the movement?
Yes. In general, there were three parties–“Democrats,” “Sovereigns,” and “NikIl'” [“NikIl’ is a combination of Nikita Borovikov and another commissar named Ilya Kostnov.–Sean]. The Sovereigns and NikIl’ decided to unite. We agreed that formerly the party “Sovereigns” would be marked off in the elections, but really we formed a single team. Therefore “NikIl'” has six leaders–three from the old NikIl’ and three from the Sovereigns. We got six excellent leaders. That’s sort of how everything was.
Then why are they only talking about you in connection to the elections and not about the other five participants?
It’s very simple. I already told you that we are all equal. But even despite the fact that there was a game, it was an election. It was necessary to have a formal leader, and I became it by consensus of the leadership.
. . .
A when will they vote for a leader of the movement and who will it be?
I can’t tell you that now, because, as they say, you want to make God laugh by telling him his plan. But theoretically we will occasionally talk about figures for the 2008-20012, and that beginning with the new year there will be the question of working with a new team. Now we are thinking about the tasks that confront us in 2007.
And how will you decide these tasks?
These dates, which can have a strong influence on us, which we, to say the least, must not miss. This is December and March. For me personally there is a key date–2 September where we will conduct a test-vote: “If there were an election today, who would you vote for from the party?”
Does this have any relation to the program “Nashi Votes”, in which you participated in?
The tasks of the program are to form a team of professional electors. You know a project has a “turn key”, yes? And the election campaigns have “turn keys.” Here we want teams in the region that can direct the electoral campaign by a “turn key.” We have there several courses, which we formed participants into networks. There are lawyers, analysts, managers, and well, leadership headquarters, yes? These will be the future deputies. We call this course “candidates into deputies,” although we reckon that they will become deputies eventually after participating in the program. These people, who were train in courses, for example, a lawyer, after improving personally and filling in posts at local election commissions, flawlessly organizing votes, will make our small contribution so that we have elections where no one can say we had falsifications.
Moreover, we will take upon ourselves plenty of difficult tasks–conducting exit polls, because exit polls are a button which sets off “orange revolutions”, yes? On the basis of these, the “orangists” say: You see, they deceived you, we won, and they tell you different. Observing all methods of exit polls is one of the tasks of the program. So that we can say: here is the official count of votes, here are exit polls, conducted according to established scientific methods, all have the possibility to compare. Because a party cannot have 3-4% before the elections (or as I already said, 2 September we will have a poll), and suddenly win.
Finally and this is very important. One of the main problems comes from the fact that nowhere in the country do we have trained deputies and deputies’ assistants. You agree that the deputy pool is an important element in a democratic system. It’s one of the authorities of power, which, strictly speaking, decides everything. And it’s certainly necessary to be a professional person, and not simply someone popular from some region to get elected–and beyond that its not clear what to do. We want this branch of deputies to be trained in the first round of deputies’ assistants. We organize guys for training so that they understand what kind of a person a deputy assistant is and how he must ideally work. We hope that the best of the best will proceed to a stage of development of a candidate in the deputies.
And where is the guarantee that only your pupils will become deputies?
There is no guarantee. We train him as a deputy. He wins then he wins.
Do you already have many trained “deputies”?
We just got back from the camp at Seliger, where the representation for the program “Nashi Votes” was more than 700 people. Not all could come. We had close to 35 cities, of those considered deputies–its somewhere around a third of the general number of program participants.
You said that the elections can be seriously fixed. How?
An attempt to take over the government and establish a regime in Russia in the name of a foreign power can occur in December during the State Duma elections and in March during the Presidential elections.
You have in mind the United States?
An external power—this is when decisions in the state are made not in the national interests of this state or the population of the state, but in the interests of other political actors, for example, the United States, which manufactured similar operations in Georgia and Ukraine. Russia, in the span of its thousand year history, when it was called the USSR, when it was called the Russian Empire, and when it was called Rus’, was independent. In light of geopolitics I understand that Russia is the most delicious piece, so they don’t want to miss out on it. There is a division of labor in the world, if the world market is any indication, Russia now occupies the place of a seller. And countries like the EU or the US, which are involved in organizations of color revolutions, we have them as buyers. Here these buyers always casually enter into the store and dictate to the seller how much oil must be sold, for example. I as a representative of Nashi, and the Nashi movement as a whole, and as an ordinary normal person am not going to sit idle if they attempt to impose such a form of life on me.
You think that such a situation would change the lives of Russian for the worse?
One of the basis of Russia’s well being at the moment is oil. If we start to sell cheaper that we can, it can damage the quality of life.
And it’s true that in December and in March on the squares of Moscow tents will be erected, where Nashi will live in order to prevent “orange revolution.”
I didn’t hear about it.
Do you honestly believe in the possibility of an “orange revolution”? To what extent do you think that it’s a reality?
You would like for me to talk in percentages? It’s like in an joke about the dinosaur on Nevskii prospekt: Either we meet or we don’t meet, 50/50. Well how is it possible to count here? I have another fear, Anna. I fear that there is a counter-agent who already knows what we know. Meaning, he will concoct something different. Apparently, “orange revolution” for Russia is a missed opportunity, but they are prepared. They sit and think in some office beyond the oceans or beyond the channel: Aha, well then we need to think up something else. The threat of an “orange revolution” is understood, the mechanisms are clear. How it works is understood and we did all of this and we didn’t succeed. If they didn’t think something new up, they wouldn’t have tried.Post Views: 163
By Sean — 10 years ago
What is going on between the siloviki and what does it means for Putin and post-Putin Russia? It’s old news by now but a quick recap of the story is necessary. The siloviki’s infighting became public in early October when FSB agents arrested the head of Russia’s Federal Narcotics Control Service (FSKN), Lieutenant-General Alexander Bulbov at Domodedovo Airport. The FSB accused Bulbov of taking bribes and conducting illegal wiretaps of 53 journalists and businessmen. But it also turns out that Bulbov had been heading an investigation of the Moscow furniture outfit Tri Kita for smuggling goods from China without paying import taxes. It is believed that there are top FSB agents providing “protection” to Tri Kita. In a statement released by his lawyers, Bulbov said, “I insist that the legal action against me, including my arrest and the unsubstantiated charges, as well as the ongoing media frenzy, are due to my part in the investigation into the Tri Kita [furniture chain] and the smuggling of Chinese goods. FSB officials acted on their fear of new facts coming to light.” The judges either didn’t think so or are in the FSB’s pocket because they upheld his arrest as legal in Moscow’s Basmanny Court on Tuesday.
In Russia, the arrests of top agents from one security organ by another is never really about stopping crime and corruption. As most quickly noted, they are a sign of clan warfare within Putin’s government. And clan warfare it is. In response to the arrests, FSKN head Viktor Cherkesov published his now famous “We must not allow warriors to become traders” statement. Breaking with protocol, he decided to make the feud public because it was “better to open the abscess right away than to wait for gangrene to set in.” He also gave an additional warning: “There can be no winners in this war, there is too much at stake.”
Cherkesov’s words opened the floodgates. Over the next few weeks former KGB/FSB notables echoed of his calls for unity in the conservative Zavtra. Putin finally stepped in. He scolded Cherkesov in Kommersant for airing chekist dirty laundry in public. “If I were in the place of people who defended the honour of the company, I would not blame all round, especially with the help of mass media,” Putin told the paper. He then gave Cherkesov a promotion.
But Putin’s intervention might not have been enough. There is now speculation that the poisoning of Konstantin Druzhenko and Sergei Lomako in St. Petersburg is yet another episode in the clan war. (One should remember that when Yuri Shchekochikhin, the deputy editor of Novaya gazeta turned up dead in 2003, he was investigating FSB connections to Tri Kita.) Druzhenko and Lomako were no drunks as police originally thought when they stumbled upon the two men’s bodies. Both were agents of Cherkesov’s FSKN. According to Alexander Mikhailov of the Drug Contol Service, “poison was involved” but what exactly what kind of bane required more tests. The murders are another threatening sign that the clan feud might erupt in open and bloody warfare. It’s like 1936 all over again. Well, maybe not exactly.
But to return to the initial question: what does all this mean? A good place to go for some answers is Jonas Berstein of the Eurasian Daily Monitor. Bernstein has published a few articles dealing with the subject. One just the other day on the Druzhenko and Lomanko murders and another today analyzing a commentary by Vladimir Milov published in Gazeta.ru on October 22.
In both articles, Bernstein argues that the infighting has intensified because each clan is jostling for position in a post-Putin Russia. So far Putin has acted as a mediator but there is a growing belief that his role as Godfather might be waning. So much so that Bernstein entertains a possibility drawn up by Milov: the infighting is “reminiscent of what happened during 1990-91, when “Gorbachev’s conservative circle gradually strengthened their influence on decision-making.” The way he breaks it down is as follows:
Today, the siloviki in Putin’s administration have already accumulated “real power,” meaning that Putin can no longer give them orders and must instead reach “an understanding” with them, Milov wrote. “They are in many respects dissatisfied with the essence of the policy [currently] being carried out, which still contains rather many elements of liberalism (above all in the economic sphere),” he wrote. “They have begun to express this dissatisfaction in public and to propose their prescriptions for solving this problem.”
While not predicting a hard-line coup, Milov wrote that Putin, like Gorbachev, will increasingly have to heed the demands of the hardliners in his administration. “The prescriptions proposed by the insiders of Putin’s circle are already clear – spend the Stabilization Fund to support enterprises …, intensify regulation of the economy, regiment the entire country under the Chekist corporation,” he wrote. “If we want stability in Russia, it would be better if these people sat quietly and didn’t thrust themselves forward. However, they do not want to sit quietly … and Putin already cannot force them to be silent. Such an evolution of the system of governance he built arouses serious fears for Russia’s future.”
For those who think that the results of Russia’s Presidential Elections are written in stone might do well to pay attention to the power play taking place between the factions within, possibly until now, Putin’s most ardent allies. We might be witnessing another example where Russia’s elites bust up the state’s stability through their own horizontal power intrigues. You can pick whatever historical allegory you want to draw conclusions or lessons. There are many to chose from with their own particular dynamic. The only historical constant is that Russia’s ruling class might be a class with a consciousness of itself but not certainly not necessarily one for itself.Post Views: 160
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: 96