Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Russia’s Major Parties Haven’t Kept Their Promises to Avoid Nationality Issues

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 19 – Earlier this year, Russia’s major parties pledged not to exploit ethnic issues in their election campaigns, but a survey by Natalya Totskoynova and Ivan Kovalyov shows that they have not avoided them and may do so even more frequently as the campaign heats up.

            The two Nazaccent portal journalists cite what they say are statements by the parties and their leaders that indicate how these parties are positioning themselves at present (nazaccent.ru/content/21346-proverka-vyborami.html).

            Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) has violated its pledge most openly. It has listed among its official campaign slogans two which show where it is headed: “Stop denigrating ethnic Russians” and “For the Russian People,” although party leaders routinely insist that the LDPR “isn’t against anyone” and “doesn’t promote radical views.”

            This is nothing new for Zhirinovsky’s party. His candidates ran for the sixth Duma under the slogan “LDPR is for the Ethnic Russians” and for the fourth Duma with the slogans “Russians are Tired of Waiting” and “Remember Ethnic Russians and be concerned about the poor.”

            The Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) has also talked about nationality problems even though it too pledged not to do so.  Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, for example, in a recent speech argued that “the fifth column continues to promote Russophobia and anti-Sovietism,” implicitly linking the two.

            The Rodina (“Motherland”) Party has also raised the nationality issue but largely in terms of immigration questions.  Its leader Alekssey Zhuravlyev, for example, has said that “migration must serve the economic interests of the citizens of Russia rather than harm them … and foreigners must not be allowed to drive our fellow citizens from their workplaces.”

            The Just Russia Party (SR) has spoken in a rather different tone that the others. Its program declares that “we are convinced opponents of racial and national exclusiveness, of any manifestations of chauvinism and xenophobia, and attempts to limit the opportunities for the development of the national culture of the peoples of Russia.”

            And the ruling United Russia (ER) party has come closer to keeping its promise of not raising the nationality issue. It hasn’t talked about it at all, Tokstoynova and Kovalyev say. The only exception so far was Vladimir Putin’s remark that the party’s policies are based on “respect for the traditions, culture, and history of our multi-national people, a deep understanding of the state interests of Russia, and the ability to competently and effectively defend them.”

            It is far from clear, hwoever, how much these different positions will affect the parties’ electoral outcomes even in single member districts, given the widespread use of administrative measures by the authorities to ensure that those whom the powers that be want to win in fact do so. 

            But the differences may matter at the margins, especially in the 26 districts where the parties are competitive (rbc.ru/politics/18/07/2016/578b94db9a7947284a4b858e?from=main).  It will be interesting to see whether the parties turn to or away from the nationality question in the days ahead, and Nazaccent.ru pledges to do so.

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