| Over the past few days, all the talk in political and
observer circles has focused on the defeat of the left wing and the right
wing. There isn't much sympathy for the Communist Party (CPRF) - at least
they made it into the Duma, even if they lost seats; but as for YABLOKO
and the Union of Right-Wing Forces (SPS), it's just like Blinderbor the
man-eater said: "See me crying? It's because I'll have to eat you!"
The victorious centrists, who (for ideological considerations, of course)
cannot move a single step away from the Kremlin, suddenly threw up their
hands and cried out in grief: Oh dear, however did we end up with this
imbalance?! And they immediately set about planning to rebuild the right-wing
liberal movement in Russia.
Needless to say, there is no room in these plans for any of the old
right-wingers. No room for Grigori
Yavlinsky; the theory goes that if he stays, YABLOKO will never achieve
anything, and if he goes, YABLOKO will break up entirely. No room for
Anatoly Chubais; he is supposed to keep quiet at Russian United Energy
Systems, meekly awaiting dismissal, whereupon Boris Nemtsov and Irina
Khakamada will have no recourse but to tour Russia with the repertoire
of Kisa Vorobianikov.
Rapid political oblivion is predicted for the old right-wing leaders.
Claimants for their places have already come forward. One of them is Vladimir
Ryzhkov (to give him his due, he is a capable and promising politician),
who has already called for liberal voters to rally behind his standard.
If everything goes according to his plans, Russia will once again have
a mongrel democratic movement similar to the one that arose in the late
1980s, uniting everyone who had any reason at all for dissatisfaction
with the CPSU's monopoly on political power and who was brave enough to
make even a few phrases about nomenclatura privileges. The principle of
"there ought to be a right wing," now being advocated by the
very same regime which has "devoured" the right wing, is bound
to lead to a political salad that won't keep for long - made out of anything
and everything that can possibly be grown on the field of anti-communism.
To be sure, the picture on the left is very similar. Nobody in the Kremlin
or beneath its walls is shedding any tears over the CPRF, of course, but
they are still noting with some alarm that
something or other is bound to arise on the ruins of Gennadi Zyuganov's
party (if it does fall apart completely). Hence the mid-range objective:
the party that arises to fill the gap left by the CPRF should be fully
consistent with the letter and spirit of managed democracy. What will
it be? If the CPRF, like the right- wing parties, had failed to get into
the Duma, the regime's response would have been the same: it would have
busied itself with reviving the leftist movement. And the result would
have been the same: a political salad made out of anything and everything
that can possibly be grown on the field of anti-liberalism.
Naturally, the right-wing parties are attributing their defeat to the
cunning use of administrative resources. It's a fair comment, to some
extent. It may even be confirmed by some figures.
Shortly before election day, all political parties and blocs had to
give the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) details of their campaign
spending. These reveal who was sponsored by whom, and how. What is the
picture? It transpires that the ruling party (presumably, we may now give
United Russia this title) didn't have much more money than the SPS and
YABLOKO; even though its advertising campaign was more extensive, and
its leaders' tours of the country were more costly.
Of course, the figures submitted to the CEC should not be taken too literally;
if only because they never include "undeclared spending," not
reported to the CEC, and generally unknown. But there is no doubt that
shadow spending did happen, and it did play a role. What's more, if we
believe what our colleagues are reporting from the regions (where the
authorities tend to act more unceremoniously), the use of administrative
resources hasn't been this extensive since the Gorbachev era. No election
since the Gorbachev era has witnessed anything like it. Until United Russia,
no party got unanimous support from all state officials and bureaucrats.
There was never such complete control over the media, especially the electronic
media. There was never this kind of interference by the special services,
which gave Russia's rich a fright at just the right moment, to ensure
maximum loyalty in the provision of campaign donations. This is the apotheosis.
And this is probably why United Russia's campaign spending was so low,
while its results were so overwhelming: it ended up spending 4.7 million
roubles per Duma seat won - nine times less than the SPS, and six-and-a-half
times less than YABLOKO. Indeed, it's hard to believe that spending can
be so efficient.
The Communists were crushed by the regime's "black PR," of
course - Zyuganov simply couldn't respond to it fast enough. Yet this
is not the most important point. In these elections, the CPRF gave every
impression of having been dragged out of a store-room where it had spent
the past ten to 15 years, gathering dust and fraying away. Its images,
ideas, and slogans looked old and moth-eaten. Basically, Zyuganov was
still talking to the CPRF voters of the early 1990s - but natural attrition
has reduced their numbers.
There was another cause for this failure: the Communists lost their monopoly
on "uncovering the weeping sores of society." Many people probably
noticed that United Russia candidates were arming themselves with the
political vocabulary of the Communists. They spoke of ambitious oligarchs
who think only of their own pockets. They spoke of those who steal from
the state, and how the place for them is behind bars. They spoke of Russia's
vast natural resources, which ought to work for the good of society, not
for anyone's personal gain. They spoke of the West, which Russia ought
to put in its place. So the grandmothers and grandfathers who have followed
Zyuganov for so many years were somewhat confused: who is on our side
now? And many of them chose to vote for the party which "stood for
the president," as everyone was saying.
Then again, the shrinking electorate problem isn't confined to the
Communists. For example, what happened to YABLOKO? All this talk of voters
being tired of Grigory Yavlinsky is utter nonsense. You could say the
same about any federal politician - except the recent arrivals from St.
Petersburg, of course. The problem lies elsewhere. The YABLOKO party arose
as a product of the democratic fermentation process among the Russian
intelligentsia (in the West, they would be called intellectuals). But
when Vladimir Putin came to the Kremlin, many members of the intelligentsia
- who still remembered the taste of an overlord's hand - once again felt
a desire to be close to those in power. YABLOKO's defeat reflected a deep
crisis in Russia's intellectual elite; it seems this elite still hasn't
figured what its place is in society. Just like in the Soviet era, when
intellectuals were faced with the question of whether to serve or to be
subservient, they are choosing the latter - and once again the choice
comes with the sauce of "needing to do it for the good of all."
Once again, there is no shame in doing what was considered shameful in
the perestroika years: praising the Leader and persuading the public that
no one could possibly be better than him. Unless there are some changes
in this area (and we probably shouldn't count on seeing any within the
next few years), YABLOKO will continue to lose votes. But that
does not mean it is doomed to disappear from politics. Its electoral support
base is bound to start growing - but not before all Russian society has
had its fill of "strong hand" ideas and lost faith in the policy
of replacing the old mercenary oligarchs with some sort of new oligarchs
who are alleged to be socially responsible.
The SPS is also experiencing an electoral crisis. This party's leaders,
more than the leaders of any other party, spoke about defending Russia's
new property owners and their property. But what is the real state of
affairs? The SPS wasn't linked to any oligarchs besides Anatoly Chubais
and the energy barons close to him. What's more, none of the influential
capitalists need any such "political protection." This is because
the entire Russian business community, from the very largest companies
to the barely visible, is still linked by every nerve and sinew to state
officials great and small. They protect business, and they express its
political aspirations. No one has ever abolished this rule: "the
only people who protect capital are those with a stake in it." If
state officials had received instructions from above to join the SPS,
the business community and its wallets would also have rallied to Nemtsov
and Khakamada. Without that, business simply wasn't interested in them.
So the SPS leaders ended up having to appeal to the attitudes of excitable
young people, confusing them with nonsense like "each of you is capable
of becoming another Chubais." Or, even worse, they started saying
that it is possible to turn our absolutely unprofessional armed forces
into a professional military. The SPS is a party without an electorate.
That is the difference between it and YABLOKO.
There is a lot of talk now about Russia's multi-party system going through
some kind of crisis. In fact, this discussion makes no sense. Something
that's never really existed cannot experience
a crisis. As far back as the early 1990s, it was clear that Russia's political
parties were being formed either in the interests of someone's career
or in the interests of someone's wallet. Even the
names of many parties were thought up not on the basis of any doctrine
or idea, but simply because "Russia doesn't have one of those yet."
And what kind of system did all this produce? We have never really had
any parties oriented towards the economic and political demands of specific
societal groups; and we still don't have them. So we ended up with what
was bound to happen sooner or later: a clone of the CPSU. A party created
by the ruling nomenclatura to serve its corporate interests, while mouthing
pious slogans about the state, the people, and the individual. In the
spirit of aiming to double GDP, the Duma elections have successfully doubled
VVP (Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin): now we really have two of him. One
Putin in the Kremlin, and a collective Putin in the Duma.
Elections always mean political manipulation. But there is also a trend
which cannot be controlled by presidents or party functionaries, let alone
by political consultants, no matter how skilled. It is always linked to
the state of society. If we base our conclusions on that, rather than
on any political incidents or palace intrigues, we have to admit that
the victors have nothing to celebrate. More likely, it's time to tear
your hair - or clutch at your heart.
State Duma elections
YABLOKO and SPS