| The drubbing taken by the Communist Party, the Union of
Right Forces and
Yabloko in December's State Duma elections obviously resulted from the
Kremlin's decision to bring all the power of the state to bear in its
battle with disobedient political parties. But there was a second, less
obvious but fundamental cause: a sea change in the mood of the Russian
Polls conducted both before and after the election revealed that voters
grown tired of big talk and bigger upheavals, and that they were prepared
to partially sacrifice the right to choose their leaders to whomever held
out the promise of stability. United Russia's one-point campaign platform
-- we stand with our young, energetic president, who knows everything
will do everything for you -- tapped directly into this sentiment.
This mood explains the general satisfaction with the way the election
run and with the result. A post-election poll conducted by VTsIOM-A showed
that 38 percent of voters who cast their ballot for United Russia did
because the party had Putin's endorsement; another 20 percent chose United
Russia simply because it was the front-runner. The desire among voters
free themselves of responsibility for the political situation in the
country and to pass the buck to somebody else is underlined by response
another question: When asked how they would have voted if the election
result had been known beforehand, 46 percent said they would have voted
United Russia -- nine percent more than actually backed the party on Dec.
At the same time, a VTsIOM-A poll showed that freedom of speech and
press, the freedom to travel abroad, free enterprise, rapprochement with
the West and even the right to strike enjoyed no less (and sometimes more)
support among United Russia voters than among the "liberals"
who voted for
Yabloko and or SPS. Of the major achievements of the last decade, only
multi-party elections failed to arouse the sympathy of United Russia
supporters. This suggests that the people will go along with the
restriction of their rights and freedoms only to a point: If the regime
curtails freedoms that people enjoy in their everyday lives, a backlash
Russians' political ideals haven't changed much in essence since the
era, when they were analyzed as part of the Harvard Project on the Soviet
Social System, based on interviews with immigrants from the Soviet Union.
American researchers then concluded that Soviet citizens did not value
state control as an end in itself. They rather saw it as the only way
promote both public and private interests. Russians did not share the
American tendency to see state interference as negative in all cases.
wanted to live in "a paternalistic state with extremely wide powers
it would vigorously exercise to control the nation's destiny, but which
served the interests of the citizen benignly, which respected his personal
dignity and left him with ... a feeling of freedom from arbitrary
interference and punishment."
Current polls reveal a similar attitude toward the state, meaning that
so-called liberal reforms of the last 10 years were carried out against
wishes of most Russians, who wanted nothing more than to curtail the
excesses of Soviet socialism. They certainly didn't support Yegor Gaidar's
vision of a "minimal" state, which cast ordinary people to the
fate. Sooner or later a leader had to come along who opted to ride the
of popular sentiment. Recent polls only confirm the prescience of Alexander
Solzhenitsyn and others before him who maintained that Russia could not
move directly from Communism to democracy. The people, no longer accustomed
to independence, would not accept rapid change. After a decade of crazy
experiments and the loss of huge swathes of territory, authoritarianism
got the upper hand once again.
This does not, of course, mean that we have to sit back and take it.
one thing to propose authoritarian rule as a phase in the transition from
totalitarianism to democracy intended to reduce the sacrifices made by
majority. Restoring authoritarian rule after all the sacrifices have been
made is another thing entirely. In this situation, it would be far better
to build on the positive achievements of transition while correcting the
excesses of "liberal" anarchy in the 1990s.
The parliamentary election revealed the full extent of the opposition's
failure to realize that things had changed and to present the electorate
with new ideas. None of the "opposition" parties, including
reached out to voters at the grassroots level. They gave us politics as
usual, seemingly unaware that an authoritarian regime was on the rise
Russia and that voters were fed up with empty rhetoric. Opposition leaders,
through their refusal to offer real opposition, looked more like advisers
to the regime than its critics. The Kremlin has made it clear that it
doesn't need their advice.
However, it is not enough simply to be in opposition, you also have
fight for voters' support. Russian opposition leaders have rallied popular
support for the ideal of freedom only by uniting it with a call for social
justice. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, hundreds of thousands turned
out for demonstrations, fueled by widespread anger at the privileges
enjoyed by the Communist bureaucracy. The leaders of the democratic
movement won support for Westernizing reforms and democratization by
explaining that they were necessary to bring down the old system. As the
current authoritarian and bureaucratic regime consolidates its control
the country, acting in the interests of corrupt officials and their friends
in big business, the demand for social justice will only grow.
The challenge for all who oppose this regime is to harness the rising
of discontent and to direct its power toward freedom, democracy and
cooperation with the outside world.
Independent trade unions could prove invaluable allies in this cause,
though it's no secret that current labor laws are not followed in the
private sector and that anyone who tries to form a union shop is summarily
fired and subjected to persecution. Consumers' rights groups, especially
the housing sector, could play an important role, along with the
environmental movement and organizations protecting the rights of small
Opposition parties should consider providing free legal consultations
the general public. The point is that people will support the opposition
when it provides them with practical assistance, not abstract arguments
about freedom and democracy.
Popular support for a broad movement opposed to authoritarianism and
corruption -- call it social-democratic if you like -- is growing. The
Communist Party could tap into this support if, like its European
counterparts, the party moves to the right, rejecting Stalinism and racism.
Yabloko might have a chance if it moves to the left, closer to average
Russians. Someone will step in to fill the void; if the opposition does
seize the day, an organization like Rodina will move in and establish
21st-century "zubatovshchina," the police-state trade unionism
the tsarist government. Setting this new course will require the sort
systematic, grassroots work that most traditional party leaders simply
not prepared to undertake.
In the end, the emerging authoritarian regime will fall. When people
forbidden to vent their discontent, they take to the streets. It's hard
say when this will happen, in five years or 10. But recent history has
shown that authoritarian regimes bent on economic development inevitably
collapse. Russia differs little from the other CIS countries in terms
its political life, and most of those countries are run by authoritarian
regimes (some have already managed to collapse more than once). Change
occurs more slowly in Russia, but the end will be the same. Only three
questions remain to be answered: How do we survive the next 10 years?
form will the regime's collapse take -- the "velvet" version
of a Georgia
or the bloodier version of a Serbia or Romania? And will this collapse
give rise to democratization or a new round of authoritarianism?
the original at
Demography, Public Opinion Polls