Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Russian Opposition’s Key Weakness: It’s as Moscow-Centric as the Authorities, Yakovenko Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 30 – “One of the key problems of the Russian opposition,” Aleksandr Yakovenko says, “is that it is based on the very same vertical principle as are the authorities.” Protests in recent years may spread to the regions but only “thanks to an impulse coming from Moscow.” In short, “the opposition is just as Moscow-centric as are those holding power.”

            In a commentary for the After Empire portal, the Russian commentator says that this reality makes it very easy for the authorities to deal with protests.  If they move against its leaders in the capital, they effectively decapitate the opposition and can feel “extremely comfortable” as a result (

            For all their apparent shortcomings, Yakovenko says,, the authorities understand the importance of this arrangement and have worked hard over the last 20 years to create a situation in which regional parties and political blocks are not permitted and everything – pro-regime or anti- emanates only from Moscow.

            In the first 15 years after the end of the USSR, he continues, “regional parties and blocks not infrequently defeated the party of power in local elections. ‘Transformation of the Urals’ unseated a sitting governor and led to the victory of Rossel with the convincing result of 59 percent.”

            “The regional bloc, ‘Our Motherland – Sakhalin and the Kuriles’ received 20 percent of the vote in elections to the oblast Duma when United Russia received only 17.7 percent, and the bloc ‘We are for the development of Amur Oblast’ received in 2005 17.7 percent of the vote, while the local United Russia organization got only 16.6 percent.”

            In most cases, he continues, “these were parties of the local nomenklatura fighting with the federal bureaucracy for the right to distribute local resources.” They weren’t terribly “democratic” in the usual sense.  Instead, they were “political machines of the local bureaucracy and the local entrepreneurial bosses.”

            But they nonetheless were playing a progressive role just as the barons at Runnymede were 1215i when they forced King John to sign the Magna Carta. They would have been “very surprised,” Yakovenko says, “if they had been told that they were laying down one of the foundations of European democracy.”

                It is difficult to say what might have happened in Russia if regional parties had been allowed to develop, but the regime “destroyed them,” forcing some of their members into United Russia and others into the political wilderness.  The question now is whether there is any chance that they might be reborn.

            There can be a positive answer only if “some party of the democratic direction finds in itself the strength, wisdom and political will to reject Moscow-centrism in party construction and shift the center of gravity to the regions” and become a trainer for politics there rather than the arbiter of all things.

            As of now, he says, “no one is ready to do so or even is considering the possibility. And that will condemn the opposition to an existence as ‘a talk shop,’ which it will be very easy [for those in power] to destroy with one blow to the head.”

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