Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Kremlin Transforming Political Opponents into Soviet-Style Dissidents

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 7 – In yet another example of Vladimir Putin’s restoration of some of the ugliest features of the Soviet past, his government has “politicized any public criticism and marginalized any who disagree,” thus ensuring that opponents of the Kremlin have no possibility of winning elections and transforming them into Soviet-era-style dissidents.

            That is the judgment of the editors of “Nezavisimaya gazeta” in a lead article today, who begin by quoting Boris Nemtsov’s observation that the Kremlin has made normal political opposition impossible and Vaclav Havel who in “The Power of the Powerless” outlined the three meanings of opposition in a post-totalitarian system (ng.ru/editorial/2014-05-27/2_red.html).

            According to the late Czech leader, these include people within the regime who disagree behind the scenes, those whom the authorities call “the opposition” because they view it as including anyone who disagrees, and “non-conformist groups who openly declare their position” but don’t advance a specifically political program designed to bring them to power.

            “These are dissident groups,” the Moscow paper says. “Real opposition figures, that is, politicians with alternative programs, can become part of the dissident groups.”

            “To what extent ought one to consider the current Russian state and society post-totalitarian?” the editors ask rhetorically, noting that “on the one hand, formal democracy, a multi-party parliament, and elections exist in Russia,” but “on the other, “the Soviet discourse of the 1960s to 1980s has not been overcome” and affects how these institutions actually function.

            “Formally, anyone can create and register a party and struggle for power,” “Nezavisimaya gazeta” says, but “in reality, any opposition figure by one means or another is forced into a compromise with the system” or, failing that, is put “out of politics and cannot legally achieve his desire for power.”

            Until very recently, such compromises were possible in Russia and thus there was room for opposition. However, “now, compromise has ceased to be important because the tasks of normalizing the system and of bringing it into correspondence with democratic standards” are not goals the powers that be are interested in.

            Instead, the paper says, the regime “simply attempts to defeat, to destroy and to marginalize those whom it views as an opponent.”

            The current Russian powers impose the same “marker” on those it views in this way: “Any criticism of the system, the ruling elite, and its actions is considered to be political” and intended to realize the “goal of overthrowing the authorities” and thus part of “the strategy of certain anti-Russian forces.”

            Such a designation, “Nezavisimaya gazeta” continues, which involves defining those involved as “’a fifth column’” or “’aliens’” can be applied now as in Soviet times “not only to politicians but to journalists, publicists, publishers, and musicians, in general, to all who allow themselves to engage in public criticism.”

            As the paper notes, “the very term ‘dissident’ means ‘appostate,’” a word “negative in principle” that is “exploited by the authorities in order to underscore that their critics and opponents, who speak in the name of society are far from its interests and even stand in opposition to it.” 

            The Russian regime and its media “in fact assert the marginal quality of liberal politicians and the liberal press and by so doing make dissident discourse more important,” the editors say, especially since the regime reflects the views of “the ideologues of isolationism, anti-Westernism and even neo-Stalinism” found in the Aleksandr Prokhanov’’s Izborsky Club.

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