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
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.