Staunton, October 13 – Russia is experiencing “a clash of nostalgias,” Vladimir Pastukhov says; but the one the liberals are offering cannot compete or hope to defeat the nostalgia the Kremlin is peddling, just one more reason why the liberal opposition must change or risk becoming irrelevant in the future.
In “Novaya gazeta,” the Russian historian at the London School of Economics points out that playing on nostalgia is one of the most powerful means politicians have of promoting their own agendas for the present and the future, but their success depends on what they say they are nostalgic for (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2016/10/12/70157-stolknovenie-nostalgiy).
After the turmoil of the last decade of the 20th century, he suggests, “’the extra-systemic opposition’” has been promoting nostalgia for the early 1990s while the Kremlin has been pushing the much more widely shared nostalgia for its and the population’s understanding of the late Soviet period.
“But if nostalgia for the USSR is widespread … nostalgia for the 1990s is encountered quite rarely and is confined to a narrow ‘stratum,’ which is almost professionally involved in ‘opposition activity,’” Pastukhov continues. Not surprisingly and regardless of official manipulation of the voting process, the Kremlin is thus set to always win this competition.
The Russian historian notes that “although the Russian opposition thinks of itself as a revolutionary force, in fact it is situation on the position of ‘the White Movement’ of 1919: it continues to believe in ‘political idols’ which have long fallen and lost the trust of the leaders” and can hope for success only if there is “’foreign intervention.’”
“By definition,” Pastukhov argues, “the political agenda of the Russian ‘liberal’ opposition cannot be successful: it is quite simple to look at what really interests the population and what that group is offering it.”
The Russian opposition “completely ignores the successes of the current powers that be – despite the fact that in the eyes of the socially undefended strata of the population, these appear extremely significant,” especially if one compares where Russians are today with where they were in the first few years of the 1990s.
Moreover, the Russian historian continues, the opposition compounds its problems by talking about theft and corruption while “not devoting attention to the preservation of the level of live of the population that has been achieved not to speak about promising something more for the future.” In particular, it won’t address any revision of privatization.
“The program of the ‘liberal opposition to a large extent is ‘destructive’” in that it wants to destroy what is rather than build on it. And that means that even those who might find a real liberal program attractive has, in this “clash of nostalgias,” nowhere to go but to support the current authorities.
In fact, Pastukhov suggests, “opposition parties in Russia are not parties in reality. They are social clubs or even pressure groups with their own narrow agendas which are more concerned with the preservation of their ‘internal’ ideals and retaining the supporters they already have” rather than reaching out to get more.
When the opposition criticizes the authorities for “an inability to change themselves, they themselves consider in the deputy of their political soul that adapting to the demands of the population, that is, to the electorate is a deeply vicious thing and the evolution of ideals is the equivalent of betrayal.”
If the Russian opposition is to succeed, Pastukhov says, it will have to create “a program oriented not on the past but on the future and one that takes into consideration the real views of voters, including their misconceptions, phobias and prejudices.”
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