The Problems of the Opposition
Why are Russia’s Liberal Parties Losing Ground?
While criticizing Russia’s current crop of liberals, I want to stress that at the same time I generally agree with their criticism of the current authorities. The circle of people making the decisions in the Russian state today is very small, and much-needed action is slow in coming as a result. A paradoxical situation is emerging in which the authorities are consolidating, but the state is becoming weaker – not stronger. A strong state does not fear criticism and involves a huge number of people from different parts of society in resolving problems.
The Stalinist model state was a weak state: like a frightened dog it attacked anyone and everyone it perceived as being a threat, and in the end, a few newspaper articles were enough to bring the Soviet Union tumbling down. A strong state would not have met such a fate. This is why restoring the Soviet model of management would be dangerous.
In this respect, I agree with my former comrades from Yabloko and the other liberal parties in their criticism of the current authorities. But they propose no alternative solutions and focus on one thing only – the removal of Putin from power.
These discussions remind me of the Soviet years when I used to say to my fellow dissidents that if we carried out their program, the state would collapse. But rather than developing a plan, they continued to concentrate only on the end of the Soviet Union.
The last 15 years have taught us that if the state is absent, criminal groups take its place. Chechnya is a classic illustration. It is not possible to live without the state. Another matter altogether, however, is that the state has to be genuinely strong. The state should not be afraid to involve people with different views in running the country, and it should not be afraid of newspaper articles causing its collapse. The institutions of a state that involves all kinds of groups of people in political life create a sense of shared responsibility among citizens for their country’s future and should be given every protection and support. The programs proposed by today’s liberal opposition parties fail to provide for this, however, and this anti-state approach is their biggest mistake.
Their other great mistake is their anti-patriotic attitude. I encounter many liberals who do their utmost to ensure that Russia loses in any dispute with the United States, convinced that this will somehow be better for democracy.
I remember how Yabloko party leader Grigory Yavlinsky said after NATO began bombing Yugoslavia that now everything would be alright with human rights in the region. Those words of Yavlinsky’s nearly caused a split in Yabloko. And yet the human rights situation in the former Yugoslavia is no better today. There are still refugees, but they are Serbian instead of Albanian, and big problems remain with ensuring respect for the rights of ethnic minorities.
None of the official leaders would ever say so publicly, but it remains a fact that the Russian liberals want to establish democracy and liberalism in Russia by diminishing their own people and country. This explains their glee at Russia’s political defeats in Georgia and Ukraine, although the regimes that came to power in both these countries as a result of the “revolutions” are far from democratic.
The result is sad: no one has proposed a real democratic alternative for Russia’s future. This is all the more bitter for me as I have spent my life in the liberal-democratic camp. For 40 years, beginning in the dissident days, I opposed first the Soviet authorities, then Boris Yeltsin’s regime and now the current authorities. We cannot give up on changing the regime, but a change only makes sense and is feasible if the political forces that take its place offer an alternative based on the following principles:
They must have patriotic values;
They must recognize the state as an indispensable instrument for society’s development and ensure within the state’s framework high standards of democracy and human rights;
They must abandon Social Darwinist economic policies.
Today’s liberal parties fulfill none of these conditions. Because the liberals were involved in the privatization programs of the 1990s and the default of 1998, the public associates today’s liberals not with the vague notions of post-Putin democracy that they promise the voters now, but with the “great grab” of the Yeltsin years, when their actions were more prominent.
The upshot of all this is that, disappointed by the liberals, people drift easily towards radical nationalism or ultra-leftist radicals. I have come across a fair number of former supporters of liberal former Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar who have now chosen as their guru publicist Alexander Prokhanov or pseudo-leftist punk writer Eduard Limonov.
Recent times have seen an even more dangerous trend emerge. Prokhanov has become one of the main commentators on the liberal radio station Ekho Moskvy, and Yabloko leaders are uniting with Limonov. The idea is simple: join forces against Putin with anyone and everyone. Russia has already seen enough examples of such unscrupulous unions over the course of its history and they have always come to a bad end.
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