It has become conventional wisdom that the Russian opposition has no plan. So much conventional it appears that recently this claim was repeated by the star of the French cinema and newly-minted Russian citizen Gérard Depardieu, someone who can’t be a priori suspected in knowing much about Russian politics. Yet the rising star of political analysis confidently told the Rossiya 24 TV Channel that “[t]he opposition in Russia has no program–nothing at all.”
Conventional things are only useful for as long as they are periodically reassessed, and in this post, I want to reassess the conventional wisdom so eloquently articulated by monsieur Depardieu.
Let’s begin with the so-called systemic opposition, the one represented in the State Duma by the three minority parties: the Communist Party (KPRF), the Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR), and the Just Russia Party (SR). A brief examination of the party’s websites (something I can assist mon ami Depardieu with) reveals that all three include special sections named the Party Program: here is for KPRF, here is for the Liberal Democrats, and here is for Just Russia. Naturally, you can disagree with specific provisions in these programs–I, for one, disagree with the Communists’ assertion that capitalism leads Russia to the national catastrophe and the end of the Russian civilization–but you can’t say they don’t exist.
Political parties not represented in the Duma have their programs too. Here is a set of program documents of the liberal Yabloko Party; here is the program of the newly-registered Democratic Choice; here is the program of the People’s Freedom Party (PARNAS). The last document is actually quite elaborate: it includes 105 specific demands organized in three major “goals.” Again, you can argue with every single of them, but you can’t say they don’t exist. Incidentally, the federal law on political parties (Article 16) lists presentation of a party program as a mandatory requirement for the party’s registration. That means that whatever number of Russian political parties (among 55 registered as of today) can be called “the opposition,” ALL of them have programs.
Of course, we all understand that critics of the opposition primarily target its so-called non-systemic part, a.k.a. “the street opposition.” These guys, the argument goes, don’t have any program, any plan. Don’t they really? Here is a webpage (“The Documents”) created by Sergei Udaltsov‘s Left Front movement. The page includes such sections as “The Political Platform of the Left Front,” a draft of the program and even specific goals of the Front for 2012. True, cold winds of October 1917 blow from the pages of these documents, but we all remember what happened back then. The Bolsheviks had a program; moreover, they had a plan.
Finally, my account won’t be complete without mentioning the Opposition Coordination Council, a motley group of political activists united only in their rabid opposition to the Kremlin. Barely three-month-old (it was formed by a public on-line vote in October 2012) and composed of only 45 people, the Council has already come up not with one, but two program statements, a fact reflecting more the lack of ideological coherency than the extreme productivity of its members. Yet, this is hardly a reason to claim that the “street opposition” has produced “nothing at all.”
Constantly accusing the opposition in having no plan naturally assumes that such a plan has been clearly articulated by the powers that be. More specifically, that the ruling United Russia party has a detailed and up-to-date plan addressing Russia’s most pressing problems. Does it really? In fact, it doesn’t. Here is a six-page, completely empty-worded document posted to the party’s registration page at the Ministry of Justice’s website. Composed in December 2001 (when United Russia was created) and obviously serving as a placeholder to satisfy the registration requirements, this “program” isn’t even posted to United Russia’s official website. Far from having a program that is better than the opposition’s, United Russia is the only Russian political party that doesn’t have a working party program. As mon petit Gérard would say: no program–nothing at all.
The perils of lacking actionable party program has been debated within United Russia for years, but privately, many in the party leadership have argued that the party didn’t need any program at all for as long as it could associate itself with a mysterious “Putin’s Plan,” a never published and reportedly never finalized bundle of political and economic ideas of Russian president Vladimir Putin. And here lies the real problem: like his “pedestal party,” Putin himself has no program and no plan. Having returned to the Kremlin shockingly unprepared to lead the country, all that Putin could offer was a twelve-year-old–and woefully inadequate today–slogan of “stability.”
Overwhelmed with joy about the weakness of the opposition, Russian political elites have forgotten important historic lesson: every government is as strong as strong the opposition it faces. That lacking, the government rapidly loses its agility, becomes sclerotic and eventually impotent. The string of idiotic laws coming out of the State Duma as of late–in a process resembling more diarrhea than lawmaking–is a clear evidence of such impotence.
Unfortunately, today’s Russia reminds me of the proverbial Headless Horseman: a huge country with the real problems and government that is unwilling–and, I’m afraid, incapable–of tackling them. By the way, don’t you think that if someone decided to make a new version of the “The Headless Horseman” movie, no one would have been better fit for the title part than Gérard Depardieu?