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A Russian Deja-Vu
The Political Development and the Objectives of the YABLOKO party

Sergei Mitorkhin's lecture in the British Parliment

London, November 12, 2012

A Russian Deja-Vu
The Political Development and the Objectives of the YABLOKO party

Sergei Mitorkhin's lecture in the British Parliment

London, November 12, 2012


Ladies and gentlemen,
Dear friends and colleagues,

First of all let me thank you for your invitation to deliver a speech on Russia in one of the oldest parliaments of the world.

Soon it will turn a year since the beginning of mass protest rallies in Russia. For many people these rallies meant hopes for rapid democratic changes. Frankly speaking, I have never shared such an optimistic point of view.

For me, it was clear that Vladimir Putin would consider the awakening of the society as disorders and side-affects of the "liberalization" carried out by ex President Dmitry Medvedev. And this meant that Putins only possible response to the mass protests could be "tightening the screws" or, in other words, increase of reprisals.

This is how Vladimir Putins regime tries to avoid the fate of his Middle Eastern counterparts. Obviously, Putin has been very concerned of the fates of his colleagues from the Arab world, and this makes him take up preventive measures against the Arab Spring scenario in Russia.

Instead of starting a dialogue so much demanded by the society, the Russian government began looking for a more or less convincing excuse for suppressing rising public activity.

And the government found such an excuse on the 6th of May, when the police and security services managed to use the adventurous moods of some leaders of the protest movement for mass provocations at Bolotnaya Square in Moscow.

The beatings and fightings of the 6th of May were a turning point after which the government began implementing a previously developed programme targeted at curbing of civil rights and liberties.

Political Reprisals

Today we observe a new wave of reprisals in Russia against opposition activists and the civil society.

The government launched the acts of intimidation against the participants of the protest actions. Thirteen people were arrested and were charged with public disorders of the 6th of May. Four people have been still under threat of arrest. They are made confess in crimes that they did not commit. The authorities deliberately imprisoned ordinary participants rather than protest leaders so that to frighten all those who may participate in further actions.

Reprisals against the opposition are manifest not only in numerous arrests, searches and charges against participants of mass actions. They also take extralegal forms of persecution: kidnappings, threats, printouts of bugged conversations and forged 'opposition' chronicles broadcast on TV, as well as tortures for forcing false self-confessions, as was the case of Leonid Razvozzhayev.

Prosecutions also affected our party colleagues accused and convicted on false evidence. Maxim Petlin, City Council deputy in Yekaterinburg (in the Urals), was persecuted by the FSB on the order of commercial structures severely criticized by Petlin for corruption. In Southern Russia our activists and candidates to the regional parliament Suren Ghazaryan and Yugeny Vitishko were persecuted for accusing Governor of the Krasnodar region Alexander Tkachyov of unlawful grabbing public lands on the Black Sea coast.

The situation with Gazaryan is very dangerous. He is facing several years of imprisonment. We have called on the ALDE groups to raise the issue in the European Parliament and the Council of Europe and draw the attention of the Russian government to the inadmissibility of persecutions for criticism.

Toughening reprisals against the opposition the government demonstrates its impressive care of the police and secret services engaged in the suppression of the protests. Policemen are awarded bonuses and even gratuitous apartments for breaking peaceful rallies.

Toughening of the Laws

Simultaneously with intensification of selective reprisals against civil society activists the government has launched a broad programme of legislative changes targeted at suppression of civil rights.

Since June the Russian goverment has been pouring onto the civil society numerous amendments increasing the powers of secret services and the police and restricting political and civil activities. Journalists have even started calling the State Duma a "crazy printer", because the parliament have been adopting repressive amendments at a record high speed - sometimes within a few days only.

The key such amendments are as follows:

First, penalties for violation of the law on rallies have been considerably increased. The new amendments envisage huge fines for violations, and the list of such violations has been broadened and brought to the point of absurdity. For example, there are huge fines now for trampling the grass or interference with the pedestrians movement. These fines amount to several thousand US dollars.

Besides, the police always reports some violations that are not actually made. And the judges always take such reports as reliable evidence. All this has reduced to zero the constitutional right to peaceful assembly.

Second, amendments to the law on non-governmental organisations envisage that those receiving international grants must from now on register as "foreign agents".

Third, the concept of "treason against the State" was broadened: any citizen cooperating with foreigners or even international organizations may be accused of this crime if the goverment and secret services wish to do so.

Fourth, the control over the Internet has been enhanced under the guise of combatting child pornography.

Fifth, new restrictions for mass media are underway: some have been already adopted and some restrictions are under preparation.

Clericalisation of the State

The reaction of Vladimir Putins regime to mass protests is not simply intensification of reprisals. Putin responded to the challenge made by the society with a new state ideology based on aggressive clericalism.

Orthodoxy has been exploited by the regime in a very specific interpretation focusing on its contraposition to the European values and the Western way of life. This "sacred resource" provides the authorities an ideological basis for criticism of the human rights concept, as well as political systems based on respect to civil liberties.

In other words, the specific interpretation of Orthodoxy has begun playing the same role for Vladimir Putin's regime as the interpretation of Marxism by Soviet communists, or racial theories by Adolph Hitler or Catholicism by General Franco.

The stance of the "true Orthodoxy" makes it much easier to blame any oppositional movement in "undermining the foundations" of the state or accuse representatives of the civil society in servicing the interests of hostile outside forces.

In practice such ideological evolution resulted in a demonstratively cruel sentence to the participants of the Pussy Riot punk band, inspired anti-liberal "Orthodox leanings" or aggressive patrols by the Orthodox Banner Bearers and establishment of theology faculties in technological universities.

The Orthodox Church gets the function of a political truncheon against the dissenting, who are mobbed by chauvinists from the Black Hundreders as the alien and people of a different confession are labeled as "infidels".

Paradoxically, but the Stalinist methods of suppressing the opposition are very organically combined with the Orthodox propaganda. For example, Sergei Rybko, a well-known Orthodox preacher, has recently labeled all citizens who participated in the rally in Bolotnaya Square the "enemies of the people", despite the fact that there were many believers among the protestors. Thus, clerical activists consider support for Vladimir Putin be a far more important sign of "true Orthodoxy" than faith in God.

Simultaneously the legislative basis for a clerical police state has been rapidly formed.

An initiative introducing into the Criminal Code a punishment for injury of religious beliefs and feelings of up to five years of imprisonment has been submitted to the State Duma. Obviously, opponents of clericalisation of the state will be the first victims of this vague norm based on subjective estimates. This Kremlins initiative was supported by all the factions of the State Duma, which demonstrates broad support of totalitarian trends in the transformation of the regime.

An obvious stake at an anti-Western and anti-European policy has changed the political situation in Russia before our eyes. A conflict with the West has become more apparent and moreover demonstrative. Cultivation of xenophobia and hostility to the outside world allows the regime to feel more confident when rejecting accusations of election fraud, destruction of an independent judiciary, and so on. All these liberties, rights and institutions that the awakening civil society has been demanding from the government are alien to the political order based on traditions of the "true Orthodoxy". Aherence to the "true Orthodoxy" is a good protection from any anticorruption initiatives that are regarded as being rooted in the 'alien' Western values.

Problems of the Opposition

Russian opposition looks quite chaotic against the background of a clear evolution of the ruling regime.

And here I would like to say first of all about the strategy of my party. YABLOKO offers a coherent alternative to Vladimir Putins regime. We stand for the European way of development for Russia and have a definite program of actions here. We believe that such an alternative can be implemented only in a peaceful and lawful way, by means of winning positions in the parliaments of different levels and, thus, gradually taking away the power from the current elite.

The results demonstrated by our party in the local elections last month showed that this strategy has good prospects: we have good results in a number of small cities which was not typical for us in the past as we were considered a party of big cities only. So we managed to expand our electoral base.

YABLOKO does not accept any alliances with nationalists and left-wing radicals.
The desire of these political forces to shove Vladimir Putins regime does not justify in any way these initially antihuman ideologies. YABLOKO has been fighting against Vladimir Putins regime so that it were not replaced by the new Bolsheviks or slightly disguised fascists.

However, such views are not shared by all the liberals in Russia. Some of them find it possible to create common political bodies with left and right-wing radicals justifying such "latitude of views" by the need to overthrow Vladimir Putins regime. In the beginning of the 20th century the leader of the Russian coup-detat Vladimir Lenin called such liberals "useful bourgeois idiots".

A new political structure the Coordinating Council of the Opposition supported by such liberals represents a kind of a lift to the big politics for left radicals and nationalists.

Realizing the deadly danger of radical ideologies for Russia YABLOKO has to resolutely dissociate itself from the so-called "united opposition" dominated by left-wing radicals and nationalists. Their views by and large are not an alternative to the ideology and practices of the ruling regime.

Zakhar Prilepin, a writer and a representative of the left opposition, expressed all this best of all addressing s liberals,

Comrades liberals,

Our requests and demands to the government are different and even opposing. You are infuriated by their military rhetoric, the Soviet anthem and Orthodox obscurantism. And we do not like that the government does not really mean it when declaring all this. Sometimes their rhetoric is almost correct, however, unfortunately they lack the experience.

If we were in power, we would tell the same things, only even in a worse variant, and after that we would implement all this with grim and austere faces. And certainly we would not restrict ourselves to returning the Soviet anthem only.

And you are still wishing to get a normal country , but there are plenty of normal countries in the world, why do we need a normal country? We would like to have an abnormal country.

Now you realise why it is absolutely impossible to vest hopes for positive changes in Russia in the so called "united opposition".

We can say that today the main confrontation line in Russia runs between the anti-liberal reactionary government and non-liberal revolutionary opposition. This opposition consists mainly of radical socialists, nationalists and a small number of liberals tolerating them.

We had a similar situation exactly 100 years ago, when mostly radical left opposition opposed anti-liberal autocracy. However, right-wing radical nationalists fully supported the Tzar then, while today they have been in opposition to the government. And this is generally speaking the only difference. This means a complete deja-vu of the developments we had 100 years ago.

In such circumstances, I believe that the mission of the YABLOKO party should be as follows: strictly marking the liberal and the European vector in the Russian politics to work for a peaceful change of the regime without any revolutionary upheavals that may lead either to destruction of the country, or to another period of totalitarian rule by the left-wing or the right-wing.

The deja-vu situation implies that there should be at least one party which remembers the lessons of the history and therefore has a chance to avert repeating of the tragedy.

See also:

Human Rights

Freedom of Assembly

YABLOKO Sister Parties

Understanding Russia


November 12, 2012

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