This weeks Russia! Magazine column, “The Russian Opposition: Between Despair and Vanguard,”
Earlier this month, Sergei Shelin wrote that a “perfect storm” threatens Russia. If that storm hits, he argued, it would bring the Putin system to suspension. Whether Shelin’s doomsday forecast has any merit demands the powers of soothsayers and palm readers. Political science is, in many ways, as prescient as meteorology. Still, amid the Kremlin bulldog fights, economic jitters, and provincial grumbling, Shelin carves out a slight role for the Russia population in this impending drama. “The election day in September,” he writes, “will be a landmark of discontent, whichever way we get to it. But this discontent by itself will hardly be strong enough to seriously shake [the system’s] foundations. Maybe it will stir it a little.” A little. Maybe. But if a stirring is in store, then at what state do we find the Russian protest movement? If “The Dynamics of Protest Activity: 2012-2013,” a new report from Olga Kryshtanovskaya’s sociological laboratory, is even half correct, any stir might inject some much needed new blood into the Russian opposition. A lot has happened in two years. The movement that exploded into the streets of Moscow in winter and spring 2011 has mutated. Pessimism and apathy may have thinned its ranks, but standing firm is a smaller, more dedicated and determined core.
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- By Sean — 10 years ago
Mikhail Kasyanov, or Misha 2% as he’s known in Russia, was interviewed in today’s LA Times. Kasyanov proves why that 2% moniker continues to stick. Like much of Russia’s self-described opposition, he has nothing to say that concerns Russians’ daily lives. Instead, he counterposes Russia with the “civilized world;” suggests Russia is a “totalitarian state,” and perhaps more insulting thinks that the Russian population are simply duped by propaganda. Here is one example,
How does Russia view the development of friendly relations between the United States and former Soviet republics such as Ukraine and Georgia?
The propaganda streaming today from television screens and newspaper pages is, in a simplified way, calling on the nation to rally together and to protect the motherland. Hinting that war is on the threshold, that the enemies are knocking on our gates and that Russia is surrounded by enemies who want to break Russia into pieces. The current authorities want the citizens to say, “Oh, thank God, anything but war.” They want to cover the problems they’ve created in the last few years . . . by alleging that evil forces surround Russia and dream of its destruction.
Luckily, Russia has Misha to speak the truth to the narod. In fact, it is his mission in life. A brave lone wolf in a forest of ignorance. “I consider it my job,” he declares, “to let people know what’s going on, because every day the number of people who can speak the truth and who are not afraid of doing so decreases.” Misha the Brave.
What strikes me is Misha’s political naivete toward the “people.” I almost reminds me of logic of Russian populists from the 19th century. Kasyanov says, “I claim that the current Russian authorities don’t enjoy the support of a majority of Russian citizens. As soon as conditions for daily propaganda disappear, Russian citizens will understand the essence of the current regime.” He may claim this all he wants, but he’s wrong. I think a more revolutionary position would be to freely admit that the authorities do have popular support and then ask yourself the hard question as to why. Citing propaganda and alleging Russia is a closed system is a cop out that only serves to embolden oppositionists’ own egotisical self-proclaimed victimhood. Alternatively, answers to the hard questions of where genuine popular support comes from could serve as a beginning for real politics. Sadly, many in Russia’s opposition rather be oppositionists in the abstract that speak “the truth” rather than doing the hard organizing to make that truth a reality.
After reading this interview, Misha should be happy with 2%.
- By Sean — 10 years ago
Dmitri Medvedev is not just President of Russia. Nor is he simply a rising global interlocutor. He, or really his visage, is also the subject to the whims of the marketplace. According to Kommersant Vlast,
People are even trying to sell the portrait of the President of Russia using spam. Evidently, the reason for the crisis of production which has arisen in the market of portraits of Russian government leaders, is because sellers overestimated buyers demand for portraits of Dmitri Medvedev. On the internet several internet shops exists that sell the portrait of the President and between them there is a genuine trading war.
One site, www.portrets.ru, is allowing you to download creepy portraits of Medvedev and Putin for free!
- By Sean — 11 years ago
Responses to the Dissenter’s March continues. The Nation’s Katrina Vanden Huevel calls for a fight to press freedom in Russia. This comes amid news that Russian authorities shut down the Samara branch of Novaya gazeta two weeks ago. The police charged Novaya editors with using pirated software. You gotta love it when copyright infringement becomes a weapon of political repression.
Jonas Bernstein gives a tacit “yes” to the question of whether Sunday’s “crackdown” represents a wider wave of repression. Closing down newspapers, arresting and harassing political opposition–specifically SPS, Other Russia and Yabloko–are all part of something larger. But those in a real pinch according to Bernstein might just be Russia’s regional governors. The regions have taken Putin’s mixed message that United Russia needs to show leadership at the same time “all kinds of crooks” have wormed their way into its ranks, have taken this as a hint to ratchet “up pressure on the opposition” and “to secure a strong turnout for United Russia in order to ensure their own futures.” This engenders the question of whether “repression” is more fueled by centripetal paranoia over their own local power base. Kinda of reminds me of when Stalin told his regional secretaries that there would be free and open elections in 1936, and in response they bombarded the vodzh’ with reports about kulaks and priests making a possible electoral coup.
This doesn’t mean that there aren’t signals emanating from the center. Bernstein likens Putin’s linking of the “opposition” with the West as a possible sign of more repression to come.
Bernstein’s words come on the cusp of Putin launching more salvos against the West, specifically the United States. Today he announced that he has “information” that OSCE’s pullout was at the behest of the US State Department as a means to “delegitimize” the elections. “We will take this into account in our relations with that country,” Putin told the Russian press. The State Department has denied any such thing but I’m sure the Kremlin counted on that. The Russian state media got its sound bite, which was probably the point anyway.
Still, rhetoric against the Western bogeyman has been ratcheted up of late. But I suspect it’s all show for domestic consumption. If the airbrushed images that don websites like Za Putina are any indication, this election like so many others around the world is more about image rather than substance. If Putin looks strong, Russia is strong. The Tsar-President, if the effort from “below” to make him a “national leader” has any real substance, is one with the narod. One should remember that the possible real target of the Kremlin’s “pressure” is not so much the “opposition” but United Russia’s middle management. Populist appeals as a means to squeeze regional chieftains are an tried and true form of Russian rule. Basically, Putin is telling them, “I am everything, you are nothing. You need me more than I need you.” Whether this is true or not remains to be seen.
What is amazing about all this is that it seems that the Kremlin clans have circled the wagons. The talk about clan warfare that hit the press weeks ago has fallen silent. It seems that the siloviki and the business elite have made a tacit peace around their mutual interests of plunder, power, and prestige. The Russian centers of power are standing firm, while the regions scramble to secure their piece of the post-electoral pie. Smacking down “opposition” in the provinces make for good demonstrations of loyalty.
Where does all this leave Russia real opposition, the Communist Party? A few days ago the Guardian’s Luke Harding bravely stated that the KPRF might be Russia’s last “democratic option.” Gensek Zyuganov has been traveling the country speaking to Russia’s downtrodden about the real social-economic issues. “When Putin came to power there were seven oligarchs. Now there are 61,” he reminded a crowd in Moscow suburb Korolyov. He even displayed some political anekdoty to charm the crowd.
Zyuganov tells a Roman Abramovich joke. Roman arrives in heaven only to find his way blocked by St Paul. St Paul asks Abramovich: “Do you own Chelsea, five yachts and a 5km stretch of beach in the south of France?” Abramovich replies: “Yes.” St Paul replies: “I’m not sure you’re going to like it in here.”
The KPRF’s message: they are the only ones keeping Russia from slipping into a completely corrupt morass. One only hopes that they aren’t too late. Still despite what some may think, the KPRF can bank on this statement by the Levanda Center’s Leonid Sedov: “The others have been excluded from the parliamentary sphere. The Communists will be the only oppositional force. This means voters who want to retain opposition in any form have to vote for the Communists.” Oh, the historical irony.
You wouldn’t known the Communist were in contention if you rely on English media for your electoral news. Kasparov must roll off the English tongue better than Zyuganov. The Communist Party seems more often mentioned to paint United Russia as a CPSU redux, rather than a party running for election in their own right. The KPRF is currently polling way behind United Russia. VTsIOM gives them 6 percent to United Russia’s 55, and Levada honors them with 14 percent to UR’s 67. Whatever the hard numbers, United Russia holds a 49 to 53 point margin. However distance the KPRF may be numerically, maybe its time to face reality and see them as the only real potential political bulwark to United Russia’s dominance.