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Democracy in Russia
July 12-13, 1995

There is nothing tragic about the split of the democrats

Recently Yabloko and I have been accused of dividing the democratic forces and even betraying democracy, whose ideals we have foresaken for personal ambitions. In response to the comments on our "ambitions" I would merely say that if the accusations were just, I would not act in the way that I do, but would instead adhere to the proposals made by my critics. I was proposed as head of a united list of democrats at the parliamentary elections - what else could a politician cherishing personal ambitions desire? However, I rejected this offer, as it did not comply with my idea of the interests of the democratic movement in Russia. I shall focus on these interests in the following article entitled "The Sources of the Crisis"

The democratic movement in Russia in the period between the creation of the Group of Inter-regional Deputies (1989) and the dissolution of the Congress of People's Deputies was more or less united and represented an influential political force. However, the democratic movement has undergone a serious crisis ever since the break-up of the USSR until the present day: it is dispersed and does not wield significant influence. Some analysts attribute this development to "individual" traits of the leaders of the democratic movement - over-riding ambition, incompetence and political infantilism. There are certain grounds for making such statements, although clearly this provides an insufficient base for understanding the main reasons behind the crisis.

The democratic movement emerged on a wave of spontaneous anti-communism and rejection of the regime built by the Communist Party in our country. The democratic nature of this movement was determined by the majority's support for this movement rather than spontaneous anti-communism, as democracy implies policies supported by majority, with due respect of the interests of the minority. (A policy which is rooted in majority opinion, but disregards the views of the minority cannot be called a liberal democracy. Furthermore, a policy based on minority interests cannot be called democracy at all.)

The crisis in our democratic movement began, when its future was staked on a minority. The stage of "the radical economic reforms" began after the democrats came to power at the end of 1991. Due to both subjective (the type of reforms and the methods of their implementation) and objective reasons (the specifics of Russia's economy), the reforms almost immediately addressed the concerns of a minority (subsequently referred to as "the business elite"), which began collecting dividends from the reforms. Most of the population were cut off from property and resources.

Here we should definitely differentiate between the reforms and forced action. The price liberalization programme implemented by Yegor Gaidar was to a large extent determined and planned as early as 1990-1991. Demonstrating outstanding determination, Yegor Gaidar initially really tried to lead Russia out of an economic coma and undertook a significant part of the "dirty work". Consequently, it was only to be expected that he became unpopular, as anybody else would have in such a situation, although he turned out to be a historic figure in the most difficult period of Russia's reforms.

Unfortunately, the government refused to listen to our proposals that economic ties with former Soviet republics should not be destroyed: that prices should be freed rapidly, but gradually instead of in one day; that this process should be initiated first with raw materials, rather than processing; that the inflationary "hang-over" should be eliminated through absolutely clear-cut monetary privatization, rather than "voucher" privatization, etc. The goal of my criticism was not to belittle Yegor Gaidar's achievements, but merely to state the obvious fact that his reforms should have gone further than just the first steps. As the reforms were restricted to only initial steps, they were inevitably transformed into reforms for a minority.

The pace of the reforms slackened abruptly after May 1992. However, none of the reformers were courageous enough to admit as much to the general population. People strained themselves to the limit, as they tried to accept all the problems they faced, owing to a belief that they had to endure all these difficulties for the sake of the reforms. Although the reforms were in fact being curtailed, they were now being imitated on a large scale in the country. Unfortunately, Yegor Gaidar was only prepared to admit this fact in 1994.

In this way the economic reforms and interests of most Russian citizens diverged. The realization of this fact led the "democratic" government to lie and be cruel Consequently people who had fully backed the democrats became deeply disillusioned. They even began to think that democratic values could not be established in today's Russia. This is the fundamental reason behind the crisis of the democratic movement in Russia.

The crisis caused a split. Different divisions, collisions and scandals emerged. At first a considerably narrower grouping, "Russia's Choice" emerged from "Democratic Russia". Then we witnessed the departure of such well-known democratic figures as Yegor Gaidar, Gennady Burbulis, Alexandr Shokhin, Ponomaryov, Boris Fyodorov and Ella Pamphilova. A third grouping, "The Democratic Choice of Russia", emerged. Developments in Chechnya further aggravated the crisis - Andrey Kozyryev and Oleg Boyko left the democrats. The differences in the faction, which had already lost many members, even those who had come through federal lists, intensified. (The scandal with Vladimir Bauer had passed well beyond the bounds of decency). Finally, Anatoli Chubais suspended his membership of "Democratic Choice of Russia" so that noone could question his loyalty to Viktor Chernomyrdin.

These departures and splits took place, as a rule, inside the "whole" - within the common "democratic home". Its inhabitants had been united in their backing for reforms that helped a minority; nothing had been said about any alternative. In such a situation a basic division of democrats in terms of their attitude towards the policies carried out by the country's leadership represents the only way to preserve the prospects of democratic development for Russia.

Two democracies

Unfortunately, the democratic alternative to the government's policy in 1992-1993 was weak due to our mentality, traditions, specifics and the difficulties of the economic transformation. Consequently, defence of democratic values (in name only) was assumed by forces alien to these values in their very nature. The democrats left their political opponents to display all the compassion to the pain and difficulties of the reforms. People began to think of Boris Yeltsin and Yegor Gaidar as unsuccessful architects of shock therapy treatment, whereas they regarded Alexander Rutskoi, Vladimir Zhirinovsky and Gennady Zyuganov were regarded as the "resuscitators" and consolers of the poor.

In such a situation it was essential that the democratic forces criticise the government's policies. It was also necessary to work out an alternative that would allow the democracy to return to its fundamental values - the interests of the majority. The transfer of YABloko to the democratic opposition, which occurred in October 1993, was caused by a desire to find a way out of the crisis in the democratic movement(caused by an erroneous identification of democracy with President Yeltsin's policies and Yegor Gaidar's economic course), rather than a desire to deepen the crisis of the democratic movement. However, a democratic opposition couldn't be created without revising some basic ideological postulates of the democrats backing Boris Yeltsin.

Until recently the title "democrat" was assumed exclusively by advocates of successive concentration of power in the hands of Boris Yeltsin and supporters of financial stabilization in the spirit of orthodox monetarism. If you criticised Boris Nikolaevich and perceived other aims and goals in the economy other than the need to combat the budget deficit, you forfeited the title of democrat. Only the fortunate few escaped being labelled communo-fascists. In this way the social and political fabric of democracy was artificially narrowed. Society was forced to choose between the following primitive dilemma: either Gaidar's reforms or the restoration of communism. This skilfully propagandised simplicity obliged society to choose between the two extremes. So the majority, unsatisfied with the reforms, turned their back on the democrats and rushed to support the forces which disowned the democrats for their anti-national policies, in other words the communists and nationalists. It was only possible to stop the drift of society in that direction by persuading people that the democratic reforms could be different. And that the alternative to the current policies is not necessarily a return to the past, but rather another movement forwards to the future and different reforms.

It is the absence of such an alternative that drives us to a paradox Frequently noted by sociologists: the advocates of democracy in Russia exceed in number those willing to vote for democrats at the coming elections. That is the crux of the problem that may be solved only by asserting the democratic alternative to Yeltsin's policy and Gaidar-Chernomyrdin's reforms.

The ability of political forces to elaborate alternative forms of development demonstrates the strength of these forces rather than their weakness. This was well demonstrated by the opponents of the democrats: after defeat in October 1993 the national-patriots already managed to gain seats in parliament in December 1993, though through other national-patriotic and communist political forces. The possibility of choosing an alternative way today provides the left with wide-ranging opportunities to attract different population strata.

The democrats face a diametrically opposing situation. They are trying to persuade us that the democratic ranks should be homogeneous as a monolith. Even if there any differences, they should never be developed structurally, leading to the evolution of different parties, factions and electoral blocs. This is paradoxical. The communists and groupings close to them (notwithstanding Lenin's teaching) successfully practice political pluralism, whereas the democrats who always advocated such pluralism, have suddenly become the ardent adherents of the Resolution of the 10th Congress of the Russian Communist Party (Bolshevisks) "On the Unity of the Party".

The ability to offer alternatives is not only a tactical, but also a Strategic goal of the democrats in Russia. In politics, as in nature, survivalist instincts dictate that each species is divided into sub-species, populations and families, etc. and that they become involved into inter-species competition. Pluralism in the democratic movement should not be looked upon as a tragedy; it is the only correct direction that offers Russian democracy any opportunity for further development and growth.

What would have happened if the democrats had acted as a single bloc during the 1993 elections? Clearly, this bloc would have collected less votes than "Russia's Choice", PRUA and YABloko obtained in total. This would have been a just punishment for such a retreat from their principal positions. Even if the number of the votes had been the same, the present drop in popularity of "Russia's Choice", all its splits and scandals would have become by now an apposite feature of the whole democratic camp rather than a single part of the democrats (as is the case today). This would have led to a catastrophic loss of trust in all democratic forces, and, consequently, to even greater irreversible discrediting of the notions "democracy" and "reforms" for most citizens.

The "Weimar" scenario

When they trying to persuade the electorate that a union of all the democratic forces under a single roof is necessary, our opponents have devised another, seemingly impeccable argument. They speak about the fascist threat, adding that it can only be opposed by a united democratic bloc, and draw parallels with the Weimar Republic and the situation in Germany in the 1920-30s.

The parallel with the Weimar Republic is really remarkable, but in a Quite another sense. Admittedly, the weak democracy of Germany then Sometimes resembles our unstable situation (although the parallel is quite incongruous, as the authorities in Russia, unlike those in the Weimar Republic, tend to apply authoritarian and illegitimate methods). It is true that the collapsing Weimar democracy was replaced by Hitler's regime. But this did not happen because the democrats failed to unite with someone. They failed to develop a democratic alternative to the social-economic policy of the democrats in power at that time. This policy led to a rejection of democracy by a significant part of German society: they decide to embrace either the communists that saw their goal in Stalin's USSR or the national socialists. There was no third way. And if we want to try and find productive historic parallels, instead of focusing on Germany, it would be more beneficial to look at the experience of the USA in the 1930s where Franklin Roosevelt managed to offer a new economic course and extricate the country from the crisis, while preserving democratic values.

The idea of a "single front" against the "dark forces" also raises other concerns. The developments in 1991 and 1993 in Russia demonstrated that the country did not want a restoration of totalitarism: the communists, the agrarians and advocates of Vladimir Zhirinovsky altogether failed to muster even 25% of the total number of votes during the last elections.

The majority don't support the communists and the fascists, and, most importantly, they don't believe that they will come to power. Therefore, the people won't be led by people who call on them to join the ranks against the "red and brown". But this does not imply that we should not engage in a political and ideological struggle with these forces. The democrats agree on this point. But you can hardly unite the electorate on this basis. Differentiation in society did not take place along the lines of "fascism versus freedom". Most citizens worry about the late payment of wages, low living standards, uncertainty about the future, crime and corruption and the war in Chechnya, rather than hypothetical "communo-fascism". But instead of resolving these problems, they are proposing that we fight our enemies. We are being told to "look for our lost wallet, not where we dropped it, but rather where there is light".

Victor Chernomyrdin and his "bloc of bosses" are posited as another argument to support a union of democrats. In actual fact the authorities today adopt methods characteristic of non-democratic regimes. This demonstrates a readiness to be transformed into an aggressive regime. They say that we should unite against the bad methods used by the authorities and support all their good endeavours. In other words, the reforms are good and the war in Chechnya is bad.

Unfortunately the war in Chechnya constitutes a direct consequence of current political and economic policies, rather than a deviation or an anomaly. Consequently we oppose all these policies, rather than some individual elements. We oppose the authorities in principle, as we think that they have been implementing undemocratic policies. Meanwhile our opponents say that the authorities have been implementing the right policies in almost every area, except for Chechnya. They term the capitalism that has been created in our country "bureaucratic and disgusting", saying that they don't like it, but at the same time completely support the government's economic policy and a version of the budget, which will merely seek to consolidate this form of capitalism. How can we build a viable coalition withthem? We may hate the same things, but this is not enough for a union. Consolidation is only possible on the basis of a similar understanding of the reasons lying behind such undemocratic policies, rather than simply a protest against its consequences.

The war in Chechnya was to some extent programmed by the Constitution, which was idly and unaccountably supported by the pro-government democrats in 1993. You cannot create a coalition against a totalitarian regime, if you avoid analysing the problem at the core of the policy, which carries such a threat. The current regime in itself is unlikely to turn fascist, but it can open the door in that direction, as the door was opened by the authorities of the Weimar Republic. And we perceive only one way of opposing this threat: the creation of a democratic alternative to the economic and political policies of the authorities.

Our alternative

YABloko entered the political scene when the major threat for the Democrats was posed by their unattractive image as some irresponsible force, which was ready, for the sake of some vague macro-economic goal, to reduce pensioners to extreme poverty, exhaust people by late payment of wages and make Russia's economy dependent on abstract principles developed for other countries and situations. We are trying to show that democratic ideas are not a sectarian property of one political trend and are instead one of a great number of economic schools.

We are trying to persuade Russian society that there is a democratic alternative to the current regime. The elections in 1993 proved that there is public demand for such an alternative, but it transpired that the democrats were unable to more or less fully satisfy this demand. However, those elections gave us the hope that democracy in Russia won't collapse together with another failure of the economic reforms (provided there is an alternative), and the defeat of Boris Yeltsin at the next elections won't represent the end of the democratic movement.

We consider ourselves to be democrats. And our goal is to create an effective market economy and strengthen democratic values, including the observation of human rights as well as law and order. We will brook no deviations from these basic positions. But we think that the present regime is unable to implement these goals. This regime has constantly broken the law, failed to develop democratic institutions and create the basis for a market economy. The authorities have reverted to a form of rule endemic in our country - the monopolistic oligarchy - and have been allying with the criminal world. They discredit the ideas of democracy and a market economy in Russia and create a feeding groudn for the fascists and the orthodox communists. That is why we are a democratic opposition to the authorities. We are an irreconcilable opposition to supporters of Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the national-patriots and the orthodox communists.

People have accused us of adopting the position of irresponsible and disinterested criticism. This is not true. We have constantly offered alternatives and improvements to the key issues of economic policy. After the "500 Days Programme" and the "Window of Opportunity", we drafted a treaty on economic union with the former Soviet republics and all the agreements to this treaty. We proposed a detailed plan of regional reforms "The Nizhni Novgorod Prologue", alternative draft budgets for 1994 and 1995, a post-voucher privatization programme for large-scale industry and a three-year anti-inflation plan.

We consider a regional loan programme that we developed and implemented together with Boris Nemtsov as early as 1992 as a sign of our success. It allowed the people living in the Nizhni Novrogod region to apply protective safeguards against high inflation and also - and this is extremely important - to believe in local administration. We also managed to simplify as much as possible the registration of private businesses. We managed to create a system of direct assistance for pensioners and the poor. A vast amount of work was done in Nizhni Novgorod on land reform, making amendments to the taxation system and seeking effective decisions for military enterprises. We tried to link the reforms with the interests of the majority. If at least half of Russia's regions had managed to implement what was done by Boris Nemtsov, the situation in the country would have been markedly different. No one from Zhirinovsky or the communists succeeded at local elections in Nizhni Novgorod - surely this proves that we were right?

And, finally, something else has transpired. Chernomyrdin's government has declared that it is the ruling party. It has transformed itself from an economic appendage of a presidential Structure into a political organisation, claiming full responsibility for developments in the country. Therefore a vote of no confidence has stopped being a mere gesture, as was the case in autumn, and has been transformed into an independent political issue. Even though the influence of the government on the country's domestic and foreign policy is still limited and depends on the President, in the new circumstances we should oppose not only the President, but also the government.

Speaking on behalf of all democratic forces, we think that the relationship with the authorities can only be based only on firm criticism of the gross political and economic failures of the present regime. In our opinion, democrats should not create comfortable political conditions for this regime. This only leads to a situation where Yeltsin and Chernomyrdin are drifting towards a nomenclatura of nationalists and communists, as the democrats (especially when facing the threat of a communist or nationalist dictatorship) have nowhere to turn to.

The Coalition

The future of political and economic reforms in Russia remains the main factor that we consider, when drafting a coalition policy for the impending parliamentary and presidential elections.

Clearly there is a close link between the parliamentary and presidential election. These are the two stages of a single process, but there are considerable differences between them. Therefore we are going to adhere different strategies at the presidential and parliamentary elections, including in terms of our coalition policy.

Parliament exists to reflect the positions of different social groups. Society should see itself mirrored in this frame to be able to take as conscientiously as possible a decisive step in June 1996. One must realise the difference between democrats and non-democrats, and also clearly understand the discrepancies of those groupings which consider themselves reformers.

Is there any reason for a union of large political movements, such as "Russia's Choice" and YABloko, at the parliamentary elections? These political forces have many differences, primarily in terms of economic policy. How can parties - where the former supports the government's policy, votes for the budget and rejects a no-confidence vote in Chernomyrdin's bloc, while the latter opposes the government, rejects the budget and supports a no-confidence vote in the government - join together in a single bloc? Why should we mislead the electorate?

In addition, recent public opinion polls (both federal and regional) Indicated that public disapproves the idea of such a union.

There is also another strong argument against the union of large political organisations:: working teams should come to the parliament. And a good team cannot be assembled by mechanically joining different factions into a single list. No simple abstract ideas can replace the long-standing experience of joint work and the unique psychological climate which is indispensable for the inner solidarity of the faction. If you ignore this fact, you create a non-viable hybrid, which will disintegrate on the very first day of parliament's work.

All the aforementioned facts refer to political parties who think that they will overcome the 5% barrier at the parliamentary elections. But a large number of newly created small parties and movements will also participate in the elections: it will be very difficult for them to overcome the 5% barrier on their own. It is necessary to create a coalition with them, so that the votes of their electorate are not lost.

Once again I would like to stress that voters face the issue of the type and methods of economic reforms in the elections to the State Duma.

In the presidential elections the country will solve a more principle problem: the type of political regime in Russia and its direction.

Presidential elections cannot be won alone. Presidential candidates Follow principally different goals than parties at parliamentary elections. The goal of a presidential candidate is to gain the support the broadest possible coalition of the population. Therefore it is important to highlight at the presidential elections proposals which could unite different political forces, rather than separate them. On the threshold of the presidential elections we will speak not only about the union of the democrats, but also about the creation of a broad coalition of anti-authoritarian forces.

Declaring our participation in the presidential elections we are ready to engage in broad interaction with those political parties and movements that advocate democratic form of rule and support the observation of basic human rights; with the supporters of a free, private and competitive market economy; with those who realise the danger of authoritarian power, as stipulated in the Constitution; with the advocates of constitutional reform targeted at establishing a democratic balance of power by reducing power proxies of the president and strengthening the legislative authority and returning supervisory functions to the latter; with advocates of a firm differentiation of power between the legislative, executive and judicial authorities and, finally, with the opponents of the present President, government and the party of power that they have created. The actual name of a political grouping that has already demonstrated its adherence to these ideas cannot be regarded as an obstacle to its participation in the coalition at presidential elections.

At these elections the party of power will have to face different forces. And if the democrats continue rushing about, truing to be "the fathers of Russia's democracy" and at the same time "close confidantes of the emperor" and fail to develop an alternative in the time that they have left, if they fail to convince diverse sections of the electorate that they offer an alternative which meets the interests of the majority, they will not only fail to become the nucleus of a broad coalition at the presidential elections: they will also end up on the back burner of big politics.

Grigory Yavlinsky

ei Stepashin on Grigory Yavlinsky's proposals