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Time to Think, and Not to Lean on Russia

The New York Times, November 8, 2011

International Herald Tribune, November 9, 2011

By Grigory Yavlinsky and Alexander Shishlov

On Oct. 25 the Views pages published an article by our colleagues in the group of European Liberal and Democrats parties (ELDR), Guy Verhofstadt and Mikhail Kasyanov, under the headline Time to lean on Russia. Their categorical assessments and their recommended actions in the run-up to parliamentary elections in Russia compel us, leaders of the electoral list of the Russian United Democratic Party Yabloko a member of the ELDR since 2006 to respond with equally categorical objections.

Verhofstadt and Kasyanov write: Whatever credibility these elections still had was erased, and Russians are being presented with a stage-managed campaign between political forces loyal to the Kremlin. This could not be further from the truth when it comes to Yabloko unfortunately, the only opposition democratic party to participate in the elections.

By the logic of Verhofstadt and Kasyanov, Polands Solidarity and the Peoples Fronts of the Baltic States were also loyal to Communist regimes, and Andrei Sakharov was loyal to the Soviet regime. In fact, they all fought, as does Yabloko, for peaceful change. And in the end they won.

Yabloko has been active in Russian politics for almost 20 years. Fully aware of our responsibility to Russian citizens, who aspire to liberty and justice, our party has managed to survive and retain its potential against continuous and severe administrative pressure. Our work has been not only difficult, it has been dangerous, and in some cases fatal. Larisa Yudina, leader of the Yabloko branch in Kalmykia and a journalist, was killed; so were Farid Babayev, leader of Yabloko in Dagestan, and Yuri Shchekochikhin, a Duma deputy and investigative journalist who was investigating corruption in the secret services.

It is true that elections in Russia today are not free and fair. But this is due not only to the fact that Kasyanovs party was denied registration and thus cannot take part in the elections. Russian elections ceased being free and fair after the presidential elections in 1996. Unfortunately, back then European liberals did not protest as loudly as they are doing now. (In fact, the electoral system was similarly defective in 2003 when Kasyanov was prime minister under President Vladimir Putin).

Today, however, this is how Russian elections are held and there are no other means for a peaceful, nonviolent change in political course and change of government. Liberals at Yabloko proceed from the premise that an outright rejection of all opportunities for peaceful change and the adoption of actions based on the principle that it has to get worse before it gets better is irresponsible and leads to a dead-end.

We believe that we should leverage all legal options for opposing Putins authoritarian regime. That is why Yabloko is participating in the elections. At the December parliamentary elections, only Yabloko will offer voters a liberal and democratic alternative to the present authoritarian-oligarchic system.

Moreover, today the public mood in Russia differs qualitatively from the mood in 2003 and 2007. Many people want to see change. And we should use every opportunity to start implementing such change. But Verhofstadt and Kasyanov propose, without even waiting until the elections have taken place, to reject them as illegitimate.

In effect, while invoking the Helsinki Final Act of 1975, they are calling for further confrontation, and propose measures that are unrealistic given the current climate in Europe, when E.U. member states are preoccupied with the resolution of domestic issues.

It would be a grave error to attempt to lean on Russia without taking into account the current mood in Russian society and arrogantly disregarding the opinion of millions of Russian voters. Russians do not like to be leaned on. For the liberal faction in the European Parliament to adopt so shallow an approach would be an admission that Europe cannot understand the real problems or offer appropriate solutions.

Only Russian citizens can make elections free and fair. This may require help, but it cannot be done through the application of external pressure.

Grigory Yavlinsky, a former vice prime minister of Russia, is the founder of the Yabloko party and member of its political council. Alexander Shishlov is a member of Yabloko Bureau and vice president of the Liberal International.


See also:

The original publication in The New York Times

The original publication in the International Herald Tribune

Elections to the State Duma 2011

Russia-EU Relations

The New York Times, November 8, 2011

International Herald Tribune, November 9, 2011

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