The Russian Opposition Movement is Gradually Abating after Putin’s Victory
Compared to the good electoral results of the Communists (CPRF) and of “Just Russia” (Spravedlivaja Rossija), a party somewhere near Social Democracy, the presidential candidates of these the rates received for the party lists lagged far behind. There is often a wide gap between votes for the candidates and votes for the party. This phenomenon is most obvious with the “Just Russians” whose top candidate Sergey Mironov managed to secure only 3.8 percent of the votes (while his party gained 13.2 percent and thus achieved a much better result). The votes of protest voters went to both Gennady Zyuganov (CPRF) and to billionaire Mikhail Prochorov who announced that he would now really start building a political party “for active and thinking people”.
Due to Prochorov’s strong presence in the media and against the background of the old and well-known top personnel of the parliament parties, a majority of the urban middle classes and of young and first time voters gave their vote to the only political newcomer in the March elections. It seems that Zyuganov’s time is over – an impression which is true also for all the other candidates except Prochorov.
“Just Russia” is crumbling and is considering renaming itself. The CP is locked in its conviction that Putin’s election victory is illegitimate and unfair. Meanwhile, the mass protests are losing ever more impact. If on February 4 the official number of protesters was 100,000, only 20,000 have remained since the elections. Of the figureheads of the protests only a handful has remained, among them Sergey Udalzov, self-authorised coordinator of the “Levyj Front” (Left Front) movement.
The creativity of the protesters regarding creative solutions, word play and outfits does not discontinue, but the movement has been pushed from the centre of interest to the side. Also the hope to uncover manipulations with the help of volunteer election observers has – at least so far – not been realised. Instances of electoral fraud are small in number and limited locally to specific areas. The circle of those who want to persist is becoming smaller. No exponent of the opposition is voicing demands, which would allow discerning a further-reaching political programme. Not even the arrest of participants in the manifestation on the day after the election seemed to particularly upset anybody. Those arrested were released a few hours later. People are getting increasingly tired of protesting, the enthusiasm is giving way to a mood of diffuse impatience. Moscow’s deputy mayor was quoted saying that he was considering a reform of the text of the law concerning the right of assembly, since the high number of manifestations since the Duma elections were a huge extra burden on the budget, in particular because of the huge presence of police and fire-brigades.
Putin’s concession – or at least his staged concession – to enter a dialogue with the forces of the opposition seems to be taking the wind out of the sails of the latter. Putin’s interest in election observation – as celebrated in the media – and announced sanctions for election manipulations adopted the opposition’s central demand for honest elections in a very skilful way. Even if it is not a real dialogue which is taking place – there was no real leader, Putin had complained after the first demonstrations, whom it was possible to meet and talk to –, the political climate has changed.
Among other ways this was reflected in the media, for hours broadcasting talk shows dealing with the events between Duma and presidential elections in which all the presidential candidates (except for the winner Putin) and some representatives of the opposition were coming and going seemingly endlessly.
Obviously, the heterogeneous opposition alliance is falling apart. Common positions of the four blocks of the last big demonstration – civil society movements, liberals, nationalists and leftists – have so far not been formulated. Current president Medvedev initiated a reform of the party law which is to make considerably easier the foundation and registration of parties. This led to an immediate split in the ranks of the civil movements: into quite an important part of the activists now sitting in workgroups or preparing a re-foundation and another part accusing the others of collaboration with the system, while the protest spirit of intellectuals and television stars displayed so effectively in the media has faded remarkably.
For the left movements the protests have led to an important event: Prior to the mentioned demonstrations about 400 representatives of the otherwise usually divided “Left Forum” – the communists of the capital who had split from the CPRF, Trotskyites, anarchists, antifascists, but also leftist intellectuals – agreed upon a joint course of action. Since then, Sergey Udalzov has developed into the figurehead of the left, extra-parliamentary opposition. Udalzov, who had in 2005 been a candidate on the list of the Communists for Moscow’s City Duma, had drawn attention prior to the opposition’s manifestations by unexpectedly calling for supporting Zyuganov in the elections.
He refuted claims of preparing to be Zyuganov’s successor in the CPRF. According to other rumours he is said to be planning the foundation of his own left party. Anyway, the great-grandson of a famous Bolshevik, Udalzov brings with him experience in individual oppositional behaviour – according to legend he has been arrested about 100 times. If under these preconditions, Udalzov can succeed not only in unifying the splintered leftist movements but also in leading them into the sphere of party politics, remains to be seen.
In mid-March notable left representatives and activists of the street protests “For Fair Elections” presented a cross-party alliance, the so-called Social Democratic Union, the aim of which is to integrate all left-wing forces as well as the independent trade unions. Russia was facing a foreseeable boom of political parties which would pose a particular threat to the left due to the expected foundation of minute parties, said representative of the Duma and “Just Russian”, Gennady Gudkov. All relevant forces from the Communists to the right-wing Social Democrats are invited to join the alliance. Gudkov’s party colleague, Ilya Ponomarev, puts the focus on projects able to take up the citizens’ winter protest in numerous voluntary initiatives. “These people and the emerging civil society are our basis”, Ponomarev said. The new “Social Democrats” are oriented towards a movement beyond the traditional “leadership type”. The time had come for more flexible structures based on soft principles of co-existence, said lawyer and former representative of the CP, Elena Lukjanova.
From Darya Mitina, blogger and activist of the Left Front, rather sceptical words can be heard on this issue: although all possibilities at networking were good and important, election blocks were still forbidden, which made small parties incapable of policy-making, while at the same time the consent of voters to social democratic party formations had remained very low. Rather, the Russian left was inclined to Communist ideology, while the socialist topic had so far been the playground of those in power (two-party system) or rallying issue for those politicians of the left who were afraid of radical slogans, Mitina said. To them it would be risky to form an alliance with the C-parties, while on the other hand they would see that liberalism did not have prospects in Russia (Prochorov’s 8 percent would represent the upper limit).
Surprisingly, social democratic vocabulary is booming again. Meanwhile, former president Mikhail Gorbachev is sensing the opportunity to breathe new life into his ailing Social Democratic Party with the assistance of big banker Alexander Lebedev and the harsh criticism of Putin. The reactions of political analysts are not overly enthusiastic: Gorbachev would only play a role as patriarch and moderator in the event of a serious loss of power of the Kremlin, since the West listens to him, judges Evgeny Minchenko, head of the International Institute for Political Expertise. A voice from the government party of United Russia: Mikhail Gorbachev who had once sent the Soviet Union on its fatal nose dive and had in the name of a political rebirth created confusion and chaos in Russia was now playing into the hands of the “Weisband Sect”. No comment …