United We Stand. What For?

(This piece originally appeared on Russia Beyond the Headlines.)

I know what former President Ronald Reagan would have said had he learned that Russian liberals decided to unite: "There you go again."

Indeed, anyone watching Russian politics couldn’t escape an acute sense of déjà vu upon learning that four Russian opposition leaders – Mikhail Kasyanov, Boris Nemtsov, Vladimir Ryzhkov, and Vladimir Milov – have signed an agreement to form a new coalition named "For Russia without Lawlessness and Corruption." Other similar coalitions appeared and then rapidly disappeared in the past, loosely following Russia’s election cycles: Committee 2008 (2004), The Other Russia (2006), National Assembly (2008), and Solidarity (2008). Given that the faces of the four co-founders look all too familiar (perhaps, only Vladimir Milov, the leader of the "Russia’s Democratic Choice" movement, could be counted as a relative new-comer) there is little reason to expect that this time around, something will be different.

Suspiciously absent from the list of signatories was Garry Kasparov, a tireless coalition builder and the co-founder (along with Boris Nemtsov) of Solidarity. An official explanation was that Kasparov was "out of the country", yet everyone knows that given his dictatorial impulses, Kasparov would be a death sentence to any coalition. (Milov reportedly threatened his partners: "Kasparov in, me out."). On the other hand, Kasparov has name recognition and proven fund-raising abilities. With him "out", the new coalition might last longer, but achieve less.

A page-and-a-half agreement doesn’t tell much about the coalition’s ideology or long-term objectives. It however defines two major immediate goals: to nominate a single candidate for the 2012 presidential election and to form a "united democratic" political party (with the name yet to be chosen) to take part in the 2011 Duma election. Fulfilling the first goal looks doable if the spirit of cooperation will suddenly prevail – obviously not a sure thing, given that every coalition member will likely to fight for being the chosen nominee. This however doesn’t guarantee the presence of a "united democratic" presidential candidate in 2012 since any of the multiple "splinter" groups left out of the coalition may come up with their own, exotic, candidates like British citizen Vladimir Bukovsky or the Prisoner-of-Conscience-in-Chief Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

The second goal — to form a "united democratic" party to compete in the 2011 parliamentary election — looks more like a joke, if not a deliberate fraud. To register a political party in Russia, a group has to collect at least 40,000 signatures of prospective members. Nemtsov’s Solidarity can boast no more than 4,000-5,000 members at best; Kasyanov’s People Democratic Union has even less; Ryzhkov’s unregistered Republican Party simply doesn’t exist; and Milov’s Democratic Choice represents only himself and a dozen obscure activists. In order to take part in the next year’s Duma election, the new party would have to start the registration process no later than early next year. There is no way that the coalition will be able to bring together so many supporters in such a short time. Acknowledging the problem, Ryzhkov already promised protest actions to be held should the registration of the new party be denied. It appears that these "protest actions" will turn out to be the only real outcome of the whole new party idea.

It’s commonly believed that all previous liberal coalitions had collapsed as a result of internal squabbling. This might be true, but only partly. The real reason why such coalitions don’t last is a complete detachment of Russian liberals from the interests and concerns of ordinary Russians. The first signs of this persistent detachment are already there. Nezavisimaya Gazeta reported that Milov had put forward the idea of direct elections of regional governors as the cornerstone of the coalition’s political platform. Other coalition members opposed him insisting that a broader set of political demands, such as freedom of demonstrations, should be promoted instead. At the same time, the results of a recent VTSiOM poll show that the Russians consider alcohol and drug addiction, inflation, and unemployment as Russia’s three major problems. What country are Milov & Co. living in?

Russian liberals should finally realize that being a liberal doesn’t mean simply possessing a set of abstract liberal "values." It means offering liberal solutions to people’s everyday problems. Unless this happens, the new coalition will become another short-lived reminder of a popular definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results.

About Eugene Ivanov

Eugene Ivanov is a PMI-certified Innovation Management Consultant who helps organizations increase the efficiency of their internal and external innovation programs.
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4 Responses to United We Stand. What For?

  1. Roobit says:

    Those people who call themselves liberal are unelectable. There is one bright politician in Moscow whom I support and who suggested to form a real liberal, anti-American, nationalist and libertarian bloc – Boldyrev-Shevchuk against the duo of Medvedev-Putin. What we need are electable people with ideas ordinary people care about, people who do not appease the United States of Evil and do not build yachts in Holland at the cost of a major intercity highway. I also know that freedom of elections like freedom to express oneself is important for most ordinary citizens, although the absolute majority, everyone I know in fact, does not believe in fair elections. Obviously, the man in the street associates the “official liberal” coalitions with different things – ranging from Israel to the CIA (and those stodges are obviously American-funded) but no one sees as an alternative to the current regime. In fact even I would prefer the present plutocratic tyranny to the alternative of being transformed into a US colony under real despicable characters like Nemtsov and Kasparov, who, thank God, would never be elected as the population at large detests them.

  2. Alex says:

    Hi, Eugene
    A compact overview of the officially approved opposition” in Russia. The ruling party there is acting so much far out of the interests of the common people in their country, that it is not surprising that the population is simply not interested in yet another version of EdRo.
    Cheers

  3. Alex says:

    Hi, Eugene. Despite my zipped language, you understood me correctly – the legally permitted “opposition” in Russia does not offer a program sufficiently different from the current EdRo to make the population interested in them. This sort of “opposition” can meaningfully exist in a country where the population is generally happy with the existing economic & political system. IMHO – this is not exactly the case in Russia.
    Cheers

  4. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Patrick,
    All four are practicing politicians in the past: Kasyanov is former prime minister, Nemtsov is former deputy prime minister, Ryzhkov is former vice-speaker of the Duma, Milov is former deputy minister. They want back.
    After all, you don’t really need any more motivation than this desire “to do this again.” Bill Clinton is still advocating the idea of the third presidential term. Why? He has everything. Because “this” is in his blood.
    Best Regards,
    Eugene

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