Staunton, February 20 – A key feature of the Putin political system is the distinction between “systemic” parties who play by the Kremlin’s rules in order to stay in the game and “extra-systemic” ones that position themselves in complete opposition to what the Kremlin is trying to do.
That arrangement has allowed Putin to present his system as democratic at least in appearances while not presenting him with any challenges that he cannot easily deflect. To get into the Duma, candidates must be from the “systemic” parties, and so the Russian Duma is much like the multi-party system of East Germany than like a real democracy.
The system has always been frayed at the edges: Some extra-systemic parties have managed to get their candidates elected in local and regional elections, one reason that Putin has worked so hard to eliminate most voting at that level. And some systemic politicians have occasionally appeared to go off the reservation as it were.
But now the systemic party system may be breaking down. KPRF leader Gennady Zyuganov, whose party has been very much “systemic,” has issued an appeal which Novyye izvestiya calls a declaration of “farewell” by the systemic opposition (newizv.ru/news/politics/20-02-2018/proschay-sistemnaya-oppozitsiya-gennadiy-zyuganov-prizval-k-vosstaniyu).
At a press conference this week, the KPRF leader, commenting on attacks on his party’s candidate for president said that in his view, “one must not only protest but rise up in the most decisive way! But you just wait: the citizens will display their character on the streets if you have learned nothing from 1993 and 1996.”
Oleg Goryunov, a journalist for the Moscow paper, says that any ordinary citizen who said this kind of thing “certainly would have been detained by the law enforcement organs, charged with extremism and an appeal to overthrow the existing system.” But Zyuganov said it and nothing happened to him.
These words were the most dramatic, the journalist says; but for about an hour, Zyuganov sharply criticized the federal media for their attacks on Pavel Grudinin and the federal government, including Putin, for failing to keep their promises and improve the lives of the Russian people.
Zyuganov expressed particular anger about the government’s failure to address the problems of debtors who have been cheated by banks. Indeed, it was in that context that his most incendiary words were uttered. But that issue is clearly a matter of increasing concern to him and others.
Not only are people upset that the 500,000-strong army of Russians at risk of losing their homes aren’t getting the attention that events in Syria and Ukraine do, but they are aware that ever more people are talking about their plight anyway. The winner of a recent drawing competition among children drew a picture of “Mother, Father and I – a Homeless Family!’”
“We see around us lies and blather,” Zyuganov says. And then he made a promise: “We will show our character on the Day of the Defender of the Fatherland, February 23rd.” Will people come into the streets then as Zyuganov threatens? And how will Putin react? At the very least, the threat suggests the old rules for the systemic parties are now changing.