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The Moscow Times, December 17, 2003

The Tortuous Tale of the Genesis of Rodina

By Valery Stroyev

As expected, Sergei Glazyev's Rodina bloc was the big story of the 2003 State Duma elections. Some analysts, citing "reliable sources," had predicted before the elections that Rodina would easily clear the 5 percent barrier. Others, citing the same sources, maintained that the new bloc would just squeak by. Still others, citing sources in the presidential administration, declared that Rodina would fall short of 5 percent. Strange as it may seem, they were all correct in their assumptions.

The plan to bring down the Communist Party was conceived long before the election. Everyone understood the necessity of such a plan. The prospect of an uncertain competition between United Russia and the Communists for first place in the polls didn't suit Vladislav Surkov, deputy presidential chief of staff or the Kremlin as a whole. The KPRF had to be weakened by creating a rival party capable of siphoning off some of the Communists' core supporters. Three separate groups within the administration set to work on the project.

The driving force behind the plan was the team of Surkov and then-chief of staff Alexander Voloshin. They believed that the new party should take 5.1 percent of the vote -- enough to secure representation in the Duma and rattle the Communists without acquiring unnecessary clout. After all, the Kremlin had been honing its relationship with the KPRF for years. The intention was to make the Communists a little more agreeable, not to unleash a powerful and unpredictable new faction in the Duma.

When the project was already under way a second group, which the press dubbed the "Orthodox chekists," got involved. The Orthodox chekists rightly noted that the Communist electorate was more right-wing and patriotic than left-wing, and sought to build up the new party in order to take as many votes as possible from the right wing of the KPRF, while playing the nationalism card at the same time. They also intended for the new party to carry on the campaign against the oligarchs, who had been actively increasing their representation in parliament. Under this scenario, the new popular patriotic bloc -- as opposed to the left-wing patriotic bloc envisioned by Surkov and Voloshin -- would claim 8 to 9 percent of the vote.

A third, less active group was also involved in the creation of the anti-Communist coalition -- the liberal wing of the presidential administration. This group contended that the new bloc should be limited to 4.9 percent of the vote, short of the minimum required for a spot in parliament. Their plan was to divide the KPRF, entice one of its strongest leaders to lead the new bloc, divert a significant number of votes away from the Communists and then scuttle the new bloc after the election. Under this scenario, the Duma's liberal parties, the Union of Right Forces and Yabloko, would both make it into the new Duma. The Surkov-Voloshin plan also foresaw at least one of these parties clearing the 5 percent barrier. Only the Orthodox chekists had no use at all for liberals in the fourth Duma.

Surkov decided that the leader of the new bloc would be Glazyev, a member of the KRPF faction in the Duma and a promising young politician whose strong showing in the recent Krasnoyarsk gubernatorial race had attracted much attention. Postmodernist political strategist Marat Gelman was to run the campaign, with the group of Kremlin liberals also included. At the outset, then, the new bloc was conceived as left-wing and patriotic, and a fitting name was chosen: Tovarishch, or Comrade.

The strategy was simple. Glazyev would insist that he be given one of the top three spots on the KPRF party list in order to increase support for the party at the polls. He would have a few conditions, such as forming his own faction in the Duma. Gennady Zyuganov, of course, would refuse. Then Glazyev would propose a two-pronged campaign, with Zyuganov on the left flank and Glazyev on the patriotic right. Zyuganov would like this suggestion even less because it would create the impression that while Glazyev was doing everything in his power to strengthen the KPRF's position in the Duma, Zyuganov was undermining him.

As this political process got under way, the groundwork for the coming campaign would be laid. This involved the creation of a nationalist organization called Tovarishch, with an extensive network of regional offices that would be converted into campaign offices later on. The bloc's ideology would be hammered out by a group of left-leaning political experts at the Tovarishch discussion club. And finally, the Tovarishch cafe would entice younger voters with concerts by properly vetted artists, with the aim of turning them into left-leaning, nationalist voters. Thus by the time Zyuganov finally ruled out the possibility of cooperating with Glazyev, the infrastructure of the new bloc would already be in place.

Then along came Dmitry Rogozin. The arrival of Rogozin, who was associated more with United Russia than with the KPRF, came as a complete surprise to everyone. Nevertheless he took over the campaign, undoing in one stroke all that had been accomplished up to that point. The bloc was rechristened Rodina, or Homeland, to reflect its new popular, patriotic orientation.

In these new circumstances, the original authors of the plan decided to disband the stillborn organization. The Kremlin liberals in particular insisted on this. They had split the KPRF and taken Glazyev, and that was enough. By now Voloshin was on the way out, however: He clearly had no time for Rodina, and everything remained as it was. The bloc's ideological volte-face left no doubt that it was nothing but the Kremlin's puppet. Realizing this, a number of respected organizations that prize their ideological independence opted to distance themselves from the new bloc even at the price of exclusion from the Duma. These organizations included Alexander Dugin's Eurasia and Vyacheslav Igrunov's SLON. A little later, banker Alexander Lebedev also jumped ship.

You can berate Rodina all you like for being the brainchild of the presidential administration, but first you ought to take a second look at the makeup of the fourth Duma. When you do, you will realize that the entire lower house is the brainchild of the presidential administration. Anticipating a complete loss of popular support, the KPRF decided to become a manageable, predictable party that the Kremlin could rely on. Then you have United Russia, the "party of power," and Vladimir Zhirinovsky's one-man band, the Liberal Democratic Party. That's it. All of the remotely legitimate parties in the Duma have either been shown the door or whittled down to nothing. The only question in this election was which Kremlin clan would come out on top.

Parliament appeared at the dawn of the era of reform by the will of one president. The current state of the parliament is the result of the will of another. Russia always was and remains an authoritarian state. And authoritarian regimes have no need for political parties. The best choice for Russia is no choice at all.

Valery Stroyev is a political scientist and former member of the Tovarishch campaign staff. This comment first appeared in Vedomosti.


See also:

the original at

Understanding Russia

The Moscow Times, December 17, 2003

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