Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Russian Opposition’s Lack of Detailed Program a Strength Not a Weakness, Shelin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 22 – Sociologists Sergey Belanovsky and Anastasiya Nikolskaya attracted a great deal of attention when they argued earlier this month that the Russian opposition must work out common and detailed programs ( and

            Moreover, the two said, the extra-systemic opposition must view many officials and experts now working with the regime as potential partners rather than enemies because these people will change sides when given the right kind of leadership. Failure to follow these two principles, they wrote, will lead to chaos and demands for a new “firm hand” to rule Russia.

            Belanovsky and Nikolskaya have a good track record in their predictions about demonstrations and so many have been willing to accept their latest arguments without question. But two prominent commentators, Moscow political analyst Vladimir Gelman and Rosbalt observer Sergey Shelin suggest that Belanovskaya and Nikolskaya in this case are wrong.

            Gelman says that the implicit argument of the two sociologists is that the opposition should talk about specific policy outcomes rather than constantly promoting democratization. But that is like criticizing dolphins for swimming and eating fish.”

            The opposition in Russia must seek democracy because only if the country is moving in that direction will people be able to express their various points of view, work together, and coming up with a common program. Proclaiming a common program first not only gets in the way: it opens the door to a Putin 2.0 (

            Shelin is if anything even more critical of what Belanovsky and Nikolskaya argue. On the one hand, putting out programs is a quick way to turn Russians off given their experience with Putin’s constant production of programs that for some reason never seem to come off. Doing what Putin does is not in the opposition’s interest (    And on the other, the Russian “system is crazy.” Those who work for it have been corrupted by it. Even if they would like to change, they won’t be able to unless and until significant numbers of new people enter the political fray. Turning to the incumbents now is the path to the kind of compromise that will undercut the hard work needed to promote democracy.

            Promoting democracy is what the opposition needs to be about. Russians must view that system as the normal to which they want to return. That is an idea that is easy to grasp even if implementing it will be hard. Agreeing and issuing common programs won’t achieve the opposition’s most important goal.


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