Staunton, May 21 – In the past, the Russian opposition both inside the country and abroad has been almost as Moscow-centric as the powers that be in the Russian capital, with almost all of its leaders drawn from there and most of its focus being on redirecting what Moscow does rather than having others involved in that process as independent actors.
That is beginning to change, Darya Garmonenko of Nezavisimaya gazeta says. At the upcoming meeting of the Free Russia Forum in Vilnius, there will be more delegates from the regions than from Moscow, a change in composition certain to change the direction the group will go (ng.ru/politics/2019-05-20/3_7577_forum.html).
That is part of another and perhaps even more important trend. In past meetings of this group – and the June 8-9 session will be the seventh – political exiles of one kind or another have dominated. But this year, 70 percent of the 442 people who have registered are from the Russian Federation, the journalist says, and 39 percent will be first-time attendees.
Of the 302 who have registered from 56 regions of the Russian Federation, the largest contingents remain from the capitals, 98 from Moscow and 44 from St. Petersburg, but the other regions will be sending 140, almost a third of the total and nearly 50 percent more than the Muscovites, an unprecedented situation.
Regionalists are jubilant about that and about the program which focuses now on Russia as a whole rather than Moscow (forumfreerussia.org/archives/forum-vii/programma-vii-foruma-svobodnoj-rossii). Now, some of them say, it will focus on the disintegration of the country (facebook.com/profile.php?id=100014037936721&eid=ARAstWq2z6rU6KgtnYD4QCNi5isWwPOtkUVC2icrz_jJTeyMuU0GUo53LKMjfC_9-RX4HqzWlntDwcbA).
Such predictions may not prove true; but as Garmonenko points out, there is no question that the upcoming meeting will focus more on Russia’s domestic problems rather than on its relations with the outside world and that those problems include many far beyond the ring road of the capital.
The increase in regional representation has another consequence. The role of organized political parties will be far lower this time around. Not only are representatives from the regions less likely to be members of any party than are Muscovites or emigres, those in parties will be swamped by the others given that the meeting will be twice as large as earlier sessions.
(For background on the Free Russia Forum’s sometimes problematic relationship with Russian regionalists, see windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2018/04/russian-regionalists-liberals.html