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By Viktor Khamrayev and Gleb Cherkasov

The School of Political Survival

Vremya Novostei, December 28, 2001

2001 was a year of consolidation. Having split into all sorts of parties and movements in 1999, this year federal and regional elites formed the United Fatherland - with the motto of unquestioned support for President Putin. The president's unprecedented approval rating made it "improper" to be in opposition in 2001.

Moreover, disagreeing with anything is very difficult nowadays. Russian public politicians are limited in their field of manoeuvre to work in parliament and participate in elections. The Duma is controlled by the pro-presidential majority and the next parliamentary election is far in the future. Stripped of the opportunity to have any impact on decision-making, political structures naturally weaken. These days, it is difficult for the political opposition to appeal to the masses. The regime remembers all the trouble media wars used to cause, and has done everything in its power to prevent any repetition of these events.

All the same, there is a dissenting minority - or a minority which doesn't agree with the regime in absolutely everything. This minority has been tried to become the focus of attention.

It was easiest for the left. In 2001, the Communist Party criticized all presidential reforms and Cabinet innovations backed by the right-wing majority of the lower house. Objecting to the liberal laws - of which there were many in 2001 - communists regained the niche Putin had assumed from them in 2000. "The masks are off," Gennady Zyuganov proclaimed, convinced that Putin's policies "are a continuation of Yeltsin's policies, and fatal for the nation." The

respectable Communist Party began using radical methods in the style of Working Russia leader Viktor Anpilov.

The Communists' radicalism peaked when the Duma got to the Land Code. Rallies took place near the Duma and developments in the Duma itself were not much better. Every protester considered himself an orator and all of them talked simultaneously. Some observers recalled the meetings of the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR.

Communists failed to kill the adoption of the Land Code with rallies and reverted to "the painstaking and daily work" of explaining the essence of the Code and all "fatal reforms". They must have really tried, because Communist Party's rating remains at a stable 30% mark.

Moreover, the communists can boast of triumph in the gubernatorial race in Nizhny Novgorod, second place in Irkutsk, and some other regional successes.

To a certain extent, continuation of the liberal reforms and their implementation is playing into the hands of the left. The communists are nostalgic about the "good old days" to anyone who has any reason for disliking the liberal reforms or feeling slighted. This nostaligia was crowned by the communists' basic agreement with existing economic realities.

It proved far more difficult for the right-wing minority.

The Union of Right-Wing Forces and Yabloko promised two years ago to support the President in everything that coincided with their programmes and ultimate objectives. The opposition would be tough otherwise, they warned. It is reasonable to expect the right was prepared for only one choice - support or oppose. This year was so intricate, however, that they were forced to do both - support the judicial reforms and defend NTV, vote for the pension reforms and object to the import of spent nuclear fuel, welcome the military reforms and protest over Chechnya.

It is impossible to understand if they won or lost their ratings remain constant. Unlike the communists, however, the right have not stockpiled "propaganda materials" for future use. The Kremlin and the government had the Duma adopt virtually all laws they wanted over the past two years. Only the reforms for housing and communal services have not been initiated. In short, over the next two years the executive power structures are very unlikely to suggest any laws that will enable the right to increase or lose some of their rating by supporting or objecting to them.

Union of Right-Wing Forces leader Boris Nemtsov says that his party intends to handle the problems of liberalism to prevent construction of a unitary state. The Union of Right-Wing Forces faction soon plans to propose two laws - on election to the Federation Council and protection of local self-rule. Yabloko Faction Deputy Chairman Sergei Ivanenko says his party intends to amend the Labour Code and legislation pertaining to pensions, taxation, etc. In this way Yabloko hopes to accomplish in 2002 what it failed to achieve in 2001. Similarly Yabloko has not abandoned the idea of a nationwide referendum on the import of spent nuclear fuel. Nothing is known at this point if these initiatives stand any chance of becoming laws. It is the Alliance of the Four that decides everything in the Duma nowadays.

In any case, the niche the Kremlin reserved for the Union of Right-Wing Forces and Yabloko (the Kremlin itself has shifted to the right) is too small for their political development. Nemtsov's and Grigory Yavlinsky's followers may find solace in the fact that communists were in their shoes only a year ago. The regime shifted to the left then and Zyuganov found himself pressed for space. The Union of Right-Wing Forces and Yabloko should probably wish for the regime to swing back to the left again - as their alliance with the regime may cost them their political identity.

See also:

Yabloko contra CPRF
Yabloko and SPS

Vremya Novostei, December 28, 2001

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