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The Liberal Opposition Under Authoritarianism

By Galina Mikhalyova, Executive Secretary of YABLOKOs Political Committee
Special for YABLOKOs web-site

November 17, 2009

Regime Changes and Institutional Conditions for the Opposition in Russia

The logics of the development of a "fake democracy," i.e. an authoritarian state with a formal presence of democratic institutions, relates to deconsolidation of democratic institutions and their delegitimisation in public opinion. Election results become predictable in general and are, in principle, not changeable. The ruling group creates a system of shielding mechanisms and includes a propaganda machine so that to strengthen its position. This results in reprisals of the people who represent real or potential (even insignificant) danger for the ruling system. To ensure compliance of representatives of the political and business elite, the authorities organize "staged" reprisals and create external and internal enemies to justify for such actions. Such actions are authorised by a state controlled judicial authority. At the same time, blocking legitimate ways of regime change leads to intensified latent conflicts and an increased pressure on a society and stimulates emergence of still very weak forms of resistance.

Democracy as a transitional solution ceases to satisfy the dominant actor who strives to strengthen his positions. Even democratic institutions established and guaranteed by the Constitution start to fade away. Competition vanishes from election process. "Delegate," "defective," limited, monitored, fake democracy is replaced with apparent authoritarian formations. Furthermore, if we try to apply Sartori's criteria for the identification of authoritarian and totalitarian systems in our analysis of characteristics of regime at this stage, we will see that regime is getting more and more austere. There is no holistic totalitarian ideology as such. However, there have been attempts to develop such ideology and its basic ideas, for example, "an energy superpower," "a sovereign democracy". There exists potential and somehow real state control in different public areas. The number of these areas boradens: politics, business, culture, education, public organizations. If reprisals of a non-legal nature (force by terror, to use Sartoti's term) are employed relatively seldom and selectively (Chechnya, Blagoveshchensk or show arrests and trials of businessmen, governors, mayors, as well as so called "spy trials"), the threat of the use of such repressions (force by fear) is spread widely through mass media. Subordination of social subsystems to the state increases.

We can talk about:
- total subservience of the most influential mass media sources, first of all - television. At the same time, pressure on less important and local mass media increases. Attempts, partially successful, are made to control Internet publications and blogs ;
- the absence of independent jurisdiction;
- "building in" of the Orthodox Church into the State system in exchange to some privileges;
- first steps in controlling education, which include abandonment of election procedures of university rectors and the standardization of educational programs.

The next indicator is isolation or exclusion of so-called "marginal" social groups. The illustration of this is the persecution of persons of "Caucasian Nationalities" and especially the anti-Georgian campaign of the autumn 2006 and indirect fueling by the State of nationalistic feelings and a policy of exclusion of sexual minorities.
The most obvious cases of abuse of power is the anti-oligarch campaign, destruction of YUKOS, the imprisonment of Khodorkovsky, the above mentioned selective persecutions of regional elites and bans or sanctioning of street manifestations. Examples of the latter are the sanctioning of the 4th of November 2005 march of the Movement Against Illegal Immigration and other radical nationalistic groups in Moscow and the ban of an anti-fascist march of democratic parties and human rights organizations at the end of November 2005.

The growth of influence of the ruling party is obvious in spite of some disagreements on how to achieve the party's goal, that is, secure domination of the party entitled "United Russia."

The elements of the boosting of the key role of "Chieftan" are in place. This is exemplified not only in wide public support of Putin but also is conscious and unconscious construction of his "cult" (the construction of the image of a leader equal to world leaders of G8; fad among officials to wear a watch on the right hand and to hang portraits of the leader on their offices' walls, etc.).

Finally, state control of economics is increasing by means of including authority officials in the upper echelon of management of the largest firms and by State purchase of majority holding of gas and oil company shares.
By default, it is assumed that a wide consensus exists among the elites and public in regards to regime-proclaimed values. Such "consensus by default" is seen by the ruling groups of elites as state-centralized, with the elements of nationalism and neo-imperialism and thus, contradicting the spirit and letter of the current Constitution.

Prospects of the formation of new parties are being blocked and, as a consequence, articulations and representations of the interests of newly emerging groups in society are too.
Privileges to administrative parties and increasing restrictions for opposition parties are "cementing" the party system and stimulate the emergence of the radical non-systemic opposition which acts outside institutional frames. On the other hand, eviction of all civil opposition parties to the periphery of the political process pushes them into collaborated actions of protest in election supervision and even in forming coalitions in legislative bodies .

Finally, renunciation of the competitive election process and measures directed to strengthening positions of the ruling coalition mean final renunciation of parties as democratic institutions which tie up authorities and society. Parties gradually turn exclusively into an instrument of self-organization of the ruling elite group. The realization of interests of the ruling party minimally depends on the will of the citizens.

The level of autonomy of systemic parties is minimal. At the same time, administrative parties and projects are connected with various, sometimes competing, factions of the ruling group. Beside one center of power, substructures emerge. These substructures are subordinate to the center and administrative parties depend on them. This results in competition among substructures. Such competition does not relate to programmatic positions and political trends. Systemic public parties find themselves in a complicated situation of contradictions between programmatic positions and suggested alternative trends. At the same time, they are subdued by the ruling group. The autonomy of non-systemic opposition forces is also illusionary. It shows in their regular activities - registration, appearance in media, getting permission from the ruling group to conduct various actions.

The idiosyncratic feature of the political process now is its imitational character which leads to virtualization and theatrical character of public politics . Creative potential of the politicians and parties become a more important resource than the program, ideological positions or alternative political courses. It is not by chance that the popularity of Zhirinovsky is not decreasing. Deputies, according to journalists' opinion, "compete" in a level of absurdity of proposed bills (from requirement to obtain permission from the husband to do an abortion to going back to the Julian calendar). The sole goal of these is to appeal to the mass media.

Changes in electoral legislation and norms regulating the activities of the parties, as well as in information politics of mass media under state control, are directed at securing guarantee of the victory of the dominant party in elections on all levels, and at minimization of the role of other parties and, first and foremost, of the opposition parties .

Consistent and purposeful lessening of the zones of freedom and creation of imitations of democratic institutions are accompanied by state rhetoric and, as it seems, contribute to the strengthening of the positions of the ruling party. The growth of prices on energy supply resources created exceptionally favorable conditions for any moves inside the country as well as abroad.

However, disparity of positions on the one hand and certain self-restraints of the authorities on the other, do not allow the regime to be consistent and to begin the ultimate liquidation of the actors which are potential or realistic threat to the monopoly position of the dominating actor. These competing forces include representatives of business groups, regional elites, opposition parties and movements, even though in their weakened state.

Contained within the realities of a consistent strengthening of authoritarian-bureaucratic regime in Russia, there are several factors which conditioned the trajectory of development of the party system and the strategy and tactics of the opposition forces.

Rules of the game changed and this has affected both formal and informal institutions. A body of new legislative acts - changes in the law on parties and in electoral legislation completely altered electoral formula and set up new conditions for the parties. Kremlin administration and a parliament majority with guaranteed voting consistently acted in accordance with the goal of "cleansing of political field." They created most favorable conditions for the party designated to become "dominant" in the political system and most unfavorable conditions for all other parties. In other words, a party system under total control was created.
In December 2006, a Duma majority passed amendments on the law on parties. These amendments made difficult conditions of parties' existence even more difficult and made it practically impossible to create any new parties which would not be subordinate to the Kremlin .

Requirements to the membership quota increased (Article 1): at the moment, a party should have no less than 50 thousand members. Some party organizations should have no less than 500 and others - no less than 250 members. Article 2 indicated deadlines to sort out compulsory numbers and branching in accordance with the requirements of the law of the 1st of January 2006, i.e. parties had to meet the new requirements long time before the beginning of the election campaign. Parties who did not satisfy the requirements of the law on parties were ordered to self liquidate and to transform into public organizations. Otherwise, they would be liquidated by the court order. Passing of this legislation meant an "X-hour" for small parties which practically lost any right to exist as political subjects.

Strict norms of the law On parties which inured were complemented by changes in electoral legislation. The following became the key norms, which practically altered electoral formula:
1) Introduction of 7% blocking-off barrier on a federal level and, following this, the 2006 change of regional electoral legislation which increased barriers in regions (most often 5% but in some region, for example, Maritime Territory - 3%) up to 7%.
2) Introduction of proportional electoral system on the federal level. The federal list should not include more than 3 names and the list itself should be split into 100-150 regional lists.
4) Ban on public organizations' participation in electoral units.
5) "Tacit" option for the parties presented in Duma to nominate candidates for elections on all levels. Complexities for other, non-Parliament, parties to nominate their candidates.
6) Raising of the election tax from 37.5 to 60 million rubles and subsequent corresponding changes in regional electoral legislations.
7) Lowering the allowed level of "defects" in collecting signatures from 25% to 10% and constraints for people who organize activities to collect signatures to nominate a party make such activities virtually impossible. Bar on simultaneous collection of signatures and making a deposit, which makes "guarantee" mechanism impossible ("guarantee" mechanism meant that parties could make a deposit in case of a high level of "defects").
9) Introduction of an imperative mandate and the loss of deputy status when leaving the faction.
10) Bar on blocks and then a bar on participation of members of one party in the lists of another party.
11) Preservation of the so-called locomotives, i.e. a governor heading federal and regional lists can pass his mandate to a candidate following him in the list (de-personification)
13) The right of the party which wins in regional elections to nominate the candidate for the position of a governor
14) Amendments to the law "On Counteracting Extremist Activities" which expand definitions of extremism and, practically, allow officials to label any opposition to the ruling power and criticism of it as extremist activity.
15) Lifting restrictions from pre-term voting.
19) Cancellation of the attendance bar.
19) Ban on criticism of other parties, competitors in election process.

Amendment, which looked as separate measures, when taken on their own, in sum have led to constriction of the range of activities of the parties who do not relate to the ruling power . Change of the ruling power at the elections is very unlikely.

Another consequence of these norms which made elections campaigns easy for administration parties and difficult for opposition parties is a practical loss of enormous numbers of citizens of both active and passive electoral legislation. This is not Constitutional . It is noteworthy that an institutional choice allowing to minimize political competition appeared to be insufficient. The logic of development of authoritarian regime forces power groups to guarantee through legislation its dominant position. Potential competitors have less zones of freedoms and less options. Combination of the President's popularity among citizens and his acceptance by international community, high oil prices and termidorian feelings among elite (to make order, to strengthen the chain of commands, to restrain those who got too high in the previous decade) could not last forever. This is why, any "struggle of sections" or a "section" which were too autonomous from the whole was perceived as a threat to "Putin's consensus of elites."

Elections, which have already lost any feature of competitiveness, are gradually losing the option of alternative. Parties are presented with some kind of "property qualification" or "administrative qualification."
By the end of 2004 - beginning of 2005, registration service of the Ministry of Justice began full audits of parties in regions. These audits did not only check the numbers of members through documents and through selective telephone calls and visits of the enlisted members, but also checked meeting minutes, including local meetings, and their conformity to the legislation and the party charter. The demands placed on the parties could only be satisfied by state institutions with permanent active bureaucratic apparatus.

The inevitable consequence for the parties: beside United Russia and the parties who were consigned with a special function (for example, spoiler) by authorities, only those parties which managed to provide the necessary documentation and firm membership base survived. That was true in those cases when there was no command "attack" because any public organization was not able to meet 100% requirements. Members of the opposition parties must have courage and firm convictions not to give up party membership under current circumstances.

Meanwhile, those who did not have any chances to survive as an independent player fell into worsening position. For those who stayed in the field, chances increased, and any incentives to join in with weaker players disappeared.

Furthermore, the new electoral formula allows existence without complex amalgamation of two or three parties into one with the inevitable program compromises and mutual concessions and lowering the status of the management. Those who were left "outside the game" and lost the status of a party and, consequently, could not participate in elections, had to agree to conditions dictated by those who remained in the political field or to "sell short" and proclaim regime and election non legitimate.

At the end of 2006, the Central Information Office officially announced that 19 parties underwent audit and 16 parties were found not to satisfy requirements of the legislature . All parties who were refused registration insisted that the audit procedure violated federal legislation and were very critical of the process. "This was not an audit but an attempt to fulfill the state order to liquidate unwanted parties," said Viktor Cherepkov, the leader of the "Freedom and Democracy Party" .

Those who did not pass the state registration service audit, chose several different strategies. Independent Deputy of the State Duma Vladimir Ryzhkov who had hopes on resurrection of the Republican Party and planned to head democratic opposition, contested the audit results through the court. After he lost his case in the Supreme Court, Ryzhkov appealed to Strasburg Court of Human Rights.

Parties and Public Organizations in the Liberal Section of Political Specter

Parties YABLOKO and The Union of Right Forces, who lost the Parliament status in December 2003, became targets of immense criticism of journalists and politicians who were in opposition to them. Political scientists and political technologists evaluated their chances for future as minimal.

SPS (the Union of Right-Wing Forces) announced a change of management. Leaders of the party resigned and I. Khamakada left the party. SPS, still possessing huge resources, did not have a leader for a year and a half until the party discovered a promising backwoodsman from Perm, Nikita Belykh. The party gained a few victories during first regional elections, however, the number of successes was going down. The main problem of SPS, which supported the President till the State Duma electoral campaign of 2007, was its political identity. Domination by the "United Russia" which still has a liberal wing, put into question the necessity of having another player on the same field. Attempts of Nikita Belykh and his supporters to express opposition views placed them in close quarters with YABLOKO and prejudiced their chances to continuous funding. Anatoly Chubais, who was directly subordinate to the Kremlin, could not finance the party from his business projects. SPS leaders openly stated that they did not have any chances to get over 7% barrier in 2007. After Moscow elections, a few representatives of SPS conducted separate negotiations with YABLOKO leaders and were ready to leave their party in exchange to obtaining significant positions in YABLOKO.

During informal agreements of leadership representatives in 2006, the parties tried to "separate" regions. Until change of legislation and the introduction of the ban on participation in the lists of other parties, SPS members participated in some regional elections on YABLOKO's ticket. SPS was on the verge of the split in its ranks. However, after SPS list received 16.5% votes during elections in Perm Region in December, SPS Congress of 16.12.2006 announced that the party was going to stop negotiations with YABLOKO and was planning to participate on its own in all regional elections. A. Chubais and, following him, SPS leadership dependent on financial and administrative support, chose to keep political structure which would be loyal to the Kremlin and to dissociate themselves from the opposition. The subsequent regional elections were conducted and the agitators were paid commission for gained results. The major theme of elections was increase of retirement pensions. SPS began to work on an alien ideological field and that angered communists and "Fair Russia."
YABLOKO, in spite of vigorous internal party discussions, preserved its position and its leadership. The party managed to survive practically without financial resources up until the end of 2005 due to the change of algorithm of interaction between party leadership and regional organizations, changes in programmatic statements, activisation of relations with civil organizations and protest actions. The absence of resources, however, did not allow the party to gain significant victories in regional elections. By the middle of 2006, the party managed to acquire legal status and run a unification congress.

During Vladimir Putin's second presidential term, the time of curtailing of democratic institutions and changing of the vector of transformation, a situation emerges which is similar to the period of liberalization, that is mobilization and politicization of Civil organizations. The difference is in the correlation with the vector of political development: during the period of democratization, non formal organizations were fighting for their freedoms and regime change; now, legal public organizations are forced to defend freedoms and rights obtained earlier and defend their autonomy from the state which they gradually lose. Ruling powers, who were retreating then, even though not without resistance, have in their possession at the moment different institutions, selective repressions and imitation (fake) institutions.

Public organizations remained on the periphery of the ruling powers' attention during the entire period that followed regime change and election of democratic institutions as transitional solution. Public organizations were used as a supplementary resource or an instrument for attraction of western donors .

During Putin's first presidential term, the attempt (Civil Forum) to regularize public organizations and to use them as supplementary resource to legitimize regime failed. Civil, especially human rights organisations, were financially independent from ruling powers; they used western donors and were not eager to line up in the institutional chain of command. On the other hand, ruling powers did not have time for these organizations then. More important problems had to be solved in order to consolidate power: re-centralisation, building of manageable parliament and party system, subordination of business groups, etc. During Putin's second term, these tasks were already fulfilled. The "colour" revolutions in the post-Soviet states demonstrated that non-profit organisations can become nucleus of the organized public protests which might lead to the loss of power by ruling elites. This is why, the politics of "segregation" toward non-profit organisations came into being. It should be noted here that the elements of the following type of interaction - creation of common chambers under governors, creating obstacles for activities of human rights organizations, show trials - also took place earlier. At the moment, a "broad-scale attack" has begun.

First of all, the law on public organizations was ratified. This law considerably complicated conditions of organizations' existence and put restrictions on receiving funds from western donors, practically their sole source of funds. Critics of this law, inside the country and abroad likewise, noted that the ratified law contradicts current Constitution of Russia as well as international standards of people's rights to create public organizations and express opinion. The law considerably limits autonomy of non-profit organisations and puts them under state control.

Second, Public Chamber was created, which received exclusive right to act on behalf of civil society. Public Chamber is designed to play the role of a "proper" civil society and, beside its "multifunctional" utilisation, it can be used as a well-controlled stage for public politics and a supplementary mechanism for putting pressure on officials.

Third, the threat to lose their positions forces western sponsors to act with caution or to give up their work in Russia altogether (like George Soros).

Fourth, a campaign to discredit most influential human rights organisations has been launched. In this campaign, familiar Soviet tricks are used - accusation of human rights organizations of Western support and espionage activities.

The nature of activities of human rights and ecological organizations is such that they are supposed to influence government on behalf of public. These organizations find themselves in difficult position. Their activities which were not considered political before are now treated as political, and the organizations themselves are treated by authorities as political opponents. Worsening of living conditions for human rights organizations forces them to change their attitude toward liberal parties.

Back in 2003, "Memorial", Moscow Helsinki group, "Golos" (Voice) and others rejected institutional collaboration with liberal parties because of the fear that they would be "used", and preferred only personal, even though close, contacts. On the other hand, human right activists worked together with authorities and participated in various councils on human rights under the auspices of the President, Duma, and they even participated actively in the Civil Forum, the first Kremlin's attempt to create "chain of commands of the Civil society" subordinate to regime.

Currently, the ruling authorities are practically "pushing" these organizations toward political activity. By their nature and functions, these organizations are not capable of engaging in political activities. This is why they require political partners which have vertical structure and resources of various sorts.

There existed several different directions in cooperation between public organizations and opposition parties.

1) Attempts of human rights organizations to found their own parties ("United People's Party of Soldiers' Mothers," "Green Russia," Human Right Activists (initiative of Lev Ponomaryov) failed. These attempts stopped after thickening of the legislation (see below). Most of the organizations which planned to engage in their own political activity, have chosen some existing political party as "their party."

2) Creation of a new type of broad conglomerations which would include not only human rights organizations but also parties, political organizations and prominent politicians. Civil Congress was created in December 2004 on the initiative of a non formal association "Za pravo vybora" ["For the rights of choice"] (which included a number of influential non-profit organisations, e.g. the Moscow Helsinki Group and Association "Golos"), founded as a result of joint work on claims for judicial inquiry to challenge results of 2003 elections, and with direct participation of YABLOKO. Representatives of all influential human rights organizations from various regions and prominent politicians of democratic wing took part in the work of this Congress. Permanent network in operation was established. After the second Congress and more than a year of joint work on various projects, representatives of human rights organizations regarded as rather natural their work in structures which included parties. SPS, whose representatives participated before in the Action Committee of VGK [All-Russian Civil Congress], proclaimed itself a member of the Committee after Moscow elections. A number of human rights organizations participating in the work of the Action Committee increased. But positional disagreements among leaders and organizations, which are reminiscent of the times of split of umbrella movements, led to the alteration of the VGK structure and its shift to the system of individual membership. At the same time, several politicians who do not have parties for various reasons (G. Kasparov and United Civil Front, M. Kasyanov and his National-Democractic Union, E. Limonov and his National-Bolsheviks) and representatives of human rights organizations set up "left-right" coalition "The Other Russia" in the middle of 2006. This coalition is a pretender to the status of major opposition force to the Kremlin. One year later, after a series of non sanctioned manifestations (the March of the Dissenting), the coalition starts falling apart. Kasyanov and Ryzhkov leave, so do a few human rights organizations.

3) Attempts of representatives from non-profit organisations to act as mediators at the "unification of democratic opposition" under "Committee 2008" and subsequently, "Civil Congress."

4) Parties' search for allies among non-profit organisations and utilization of their networks to organise large scale public events (marches in defense of freedom of speech, anti-fascist marches, meetings, piquet) in Moscow and regions. The CPRF and YABLOKO declare that such actions are their strategic goal. The SPS (the Union of Right-Wing Forces) begins activities of this sort only in 2006 and sponsors anti-fascist and human rights marches. Since restrictions are imposed on public manifestations, all political forces resort more and more often to non sanctioned actions. Response of ruling authorities is to resort to force and to employ pro Kremlin youth associations in public street activities.

Inconsistency and non transparency of these processes remind of public movements of the period of liberalization. Like in those days, the nature of interaction of organizations now is defined by the positions of leaders and by non formal character of relations. Like in those days, conflicts and splits are inevitable and are caused by differing interests of individuals and the absence of institutional regulations. Sequence of events at the Civil Congress and around it in 2006-2007 is very illustrative of the above. This organization does not have well defined structure or mechanism for passing resolutions and following them up. This is why many parties, politicians and pseudo-politicians, especially those who failed to create their own political parties, envisioned Congress as a stage for establishing their political platform. Co-chairs of VGK (All-Russia Civil Congress), G. Kasparov and G. Satarov, as well as M. Kasyanov (the latter did not participate in VGK's work per se) looked at VGK precisely from these positions. "The Other Russia", which was organised by the "non-systemic" politicians, from liberals to radical left, was meant to become a political constituent of VGK. Such developments did not appeal to the systemic parties participating in the Congress - YABLOKO and the SPS. Serious conflict, which put on the agenda the issue of loss of confidence in co-chairs, resulted in the decision of the Congress (after its third annual gathering) to accept the principle of individual membership. The task which these parties pursued, depolitisation of VGK and delegitimation of political ambitions of the above mentioned politicians, was fulfilled. Both mentioned parties established their position in relation to "Other Russia" in 2007. The position is institutional non participation in the Congress. Individual members, however, would not be banned from participation in "marches of dissidents" or making speeches at the Congress. This position became the reason for the accusations against both parties by "The Other Russia" of their "concert with the Kremlin."
There were several positions in regards to the future of democratic forces among democratically oriented politicians and organizations. The positions changed alongside changes in legislation and failure of new political projects.

1) There is urgent need to create new Democratic Party because "old democrats" lost their influence (V. Ryzhkov, I. Khamakada, V. Lysenko and others). However, attempts to create new parties or "blow life" into the old ones failed. Proposed projects "Our Choice" of I. Khamakada, "Green Russia" of A. Yablokov and even revival of the parties of first generation - Republican Party of V. Ryzhkov and V. Lysenko and Democratic Party of M. Kasyanov - were not realized.

It appeared so that the number of democratically oriented citizens in the regions is very small and those who are willing to participate in political activities are already members of parties or human rights organizations. The only way to create a new party was to recruit members of YABLOKO or SPS, who did not see any good reasons to leave their parties and create personal resource to second-rank politicians. Audits by registration bodies reduced to nil efforts to increase numbers of party members. I. Khamakada rejected her project in its initial stage and joined Kasyanov. V. Ryzhkov managed to attract V. Melnikova and her supporters from the "Committee of Soldiers' Mothers", however, it was very difficult to build a party fast under new strict regulations. Registration Committee brought a case of the RPR (the Republican party) liquidation before the Supreme Court.

Kasyanov, who appeared to the Kremlin as the most dangerous person because he expressed his willingness to run for the President, was neutralized in a different way. The DPR (the Democratic Party of Russia), which was de-facto a semi-virtual structure and was offered for sale to prospective sponsors, was simply purchased. Very pragmatic members of the party leadership, who were waiting for a sponsor but did not want to risk inevitable conflict with the ruling powers, made their choice. The same scenario as in the case of the CPRF split was used: an alternative congress. This time the plan worked out better. A. Bogdanov, who used to work in the Central Executive Committee of the United Russia in 2002-2003, was elected Chairman. The DPR became a spoiler and Bogdanov started sending letters to the leaders of regional organisations of YABLOKO and SPS where he called them to unify on the basis of the DPR and to abandon the old leaders. Leaflets of a similar content followed, however all that did not produce any results. Kasyanov announced that he was forming a new movement - People's Democratic Union - which would be able, in case of necessity, to form a basis for creation of a new party. In 2006, Kasyanov tried unsuccessfully to be nominated as a presidential candidate by the united right-left opposition. Kasyanov had played an active role in the project "The Other Russia" until his leaving the united right-left opposition in summer 2007, when it became clear that the number of prospective candidates was constantly increasing.

2) It is necessary to unite all democratic parties, first and foremost YABLOKO and the SPS (G. Satarov, G. Kasparov, a few members of the leadership of the SPS including B. Nadezhdin and N. Belykh).
The main goal for most observers and participants of the political process was "unification of democrats" and renunciation of mutual demands. The leadership of YABLOKO put programmatic principles and economic development of the country to the forefront, while agreeing with the necessity of creation of a United Democratic Party. Nadezhdin's suggestion to select a party which would serve as a matrix for the unification of democrats has been pronounced many times and best represents position of the SPS. G. Kasparov established "Committee 2008" in 2004 with the purpose of realization of such suggestion. The committee included well-known journalists, public figures, human right activists. Representatives of the SPS (Nemtsov, Nadezhdin) and YABLOKO (Ivanenko, Mitrokhin), as well as I. Khamakada, V. Ryzhkov, G. Satarov, also participated in the work of this committee. The work of the committee did not yield any satisfactory results due to different visions of tasks and claims of second-rank politicians to absolute leadership.

The second attempt of this nature was the initiative of G. Satarov and G. Kasparov, the co-chairs of All-Russian Civil Congress (VGK). At the second Congress, they presented an "ultimatum" of urgent unification of YABLOKO and the SPS with everybody else. However, neither YABLOKO nor the SPS needed such middlemen after elections to the Moscow Duma.

Conference "The Other Russia", which took place on the eve of G8 meeting in summer 2006, divided politicians into two groups on the basis of their adherence to certain democratic values: non systemic opposition - those who could not meet normative requirements for participation in elections and systemic opposition - those who had such chances or hoped to get them after their registration with the Ministry of Justice. YABLOKO and the SPS distanced themselves from this enterprise. Kasyanov, Khamakada and Ryzhkov announced at the conference the creation of a "permanent committee". Participation of left radicals Anpilov and Limonov in this conference marginalized this side of political specter and diminished chances for unification.

The above mentioned third All-Russian Civil Congress weakened the project even more. Kasyanov and Kasparov practically remained in isolation and were shunned by political forces with large resources and some public organizations, especially human rights organization, who considered collaboration with National Bolsheviks and RKRP (Russian Communist Workers Party) impermissible.

3) It is necessary to strengthen party's organizational structure and to attract active politicians and organizations to the party.

YABLOKO declared and consistently implemented this position at the 12th Congress in 2004. The majority of the party's leadership and regional organisations, unlike journalists and public figures, did not consider a merger with the SPS the only possibility. They even thought that such a merger might bring more harm than dividends. The "matrix" strategy was not acceptable to the party with more than a decade-long history. YABLOKO consciously and consistently worked on the establishment of a unified party on its own basis. Interaction with network organisations within the framework of the Civil Congress, in which the party played key role, and structure of the YABLOKO-United Democrats list laid out firm foundations for talks with the "Green Russia", the Moscow Organisation of Soldiers' Mothers and human rights organisations. Internal split and uncertainty of the SPS prospects led to the situation when the SPS refused to participate in the Moscow elections and SPS members were included into YABLOKOs list. 11.1% votes given for the SPS candidates allowed them to create their own faction (alongside with United Russia and communists) in the Moscow City Duma and even though this victory did not give them political power in the Duma which was dependent on Luzhkov, it did have symbolic character.

A possibility to form factions and assurances of procurement of important positions in the party, alongside thickening of electoral legislation and the law on parties, played the decisive role in that some members of the "Green Russia" and Soldiers' Mothers expressed their willingness to join YABLOKO. Factions started to emerge on federal and regional levels. This initiative gave impetus to politicized human right activists to apply to YABLOKO. Youth and gender movements which did not have formal status inside the party, received formal status. Existence of five factions and some alterations of the party program, mostly, enlargement of ecology section of the program, allowed the party to announce the transformation into a united party - the Russian United Democratic Party YABLOKO. The Russian United Democratic Party YABLOKO has become the most significant and, probably, the sole, player in this section of political specter. However, party's further existence was threatened by institutional conditions under which party functions, as well as by the complex position of party's system opposition. Party's position of civil systemic opposition appears quite complicated for both voters and party members themselves. The party faced the following dilemma: to continue play according to compulsive rules, to risk loss of face and to become one of pro-Kremlin pseudo-democrats or to radicalize itself and to lose systemic status.

Growth of Opposition Moods

Results of the State Duma elections December 2007 damaged significantly positions of the democratic opposition. No one among democratic parties overcame the 7% barrier. But in spite of the growth of state revenue, consistent implementation of policies with infringe rights of the citizens, lead in this period to huge street protests which now acquire methodic character. The most burning issues are price rises on housing and communal services, prejudices to the rights of certain groups of citizens (dormitory tenants, tenant builders, tenants protesting against infill constructions or green land clearances and so on). Some public events are organized, some are spontaneous. The major organizer of these events is usually the CPRF. Liberal parties and, above all, YABLOKO, starting with 2004, consistently increase their presence in street public protests and later move from mere participation to their organization. The Union of the Right-Wing Forces (SPS) has also started to join public events, including non-sanctioned events.

The other option for democratic opposition is dealt with infighting caused transition of power from ongoing president to his successor. This infighting cracks up the unity of political regime and therefore may create additional options for oppositional activity.

Spontaneous events which are reminiscent of the protests of the end of the 80s are becoming citizens' reaction to local and national events. Infill construction in a certain house, loss of bank deposits in certain banks, ban on importing cars with the steering wheel on the right side, certain actions of regional and local authorities mobilize active part of citizens. The scale of the protests and the level of mobilization are not comparable with the end of the 1980s. However, they become noticeable. The ruling powers continue to react according to the old scheme: restrict citizens' right to protest, change legislation, resort to administrative measures and even to violence. They begin to use methods tested in Chechnya: recourse to "special events" and filtration stations. One of such cases is reaction of Bashkotorstan police to public street protests in Blagoveshchensk: 2.5% or more than 1000 people, inhabitants of the area were taken to these stations and beaten up. This forces even systemic opposition to recourse to non sanctioned events every so often.
New forms of mobilization and new forms of actions appear. Participants can get together with the help of blogs. They use short spectator events (flash-mob) which are intended to attract journalists rather than passers-by. Numbers of youth and politicized movements participating in such actions increase.
Ruling powers also use new forms of reaction to protests. They create pro-Kremlin youth movements ("Marching Together," "Nashi" ["Our People"], "The Young Guard". Regional authorities in regions where governors belong to the top echelon of United Russia create similar regional groups (for example, Mestniye - "Locals" in the Moscow region). The major function of these organisations is to participate in public events in support of ruling rowers.

Total annihilation of democratic institutions has not happened yet. There is still possibility of choice. Final renunciation of democracy as transitional solution, creation of chain of command with dominant party and subordinate parties - satellites and imitations of opposition - with no options for election results (transfer of power from the President to his successor or staying in presidency for the third term) will turn parties into an element of authoritarian regime. In such a case, the system, due to its endogenous instability, will have to go back to the starting point of transformation.


See also:

Democratic Coalition


YABLOKO and the Parties of Power

November 17, 2009