Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A political opponent in Russia? Really?

Putin's United Russia has done such a good job of monopolizing political power and sidelining opposition, that it's hard to remember a time when there was a real opposition party.

I have to think back to Yabloko, which was organized to oppose Yeltsin's government, but support democracy. Yabloko (The Russian United Democratic Party) continued to campaign against United Russia in the new century, but it hasn't elected anyone to the Duma since 2003.

The Economist has now profiled a pretty solitary opponent of Putin's government.

His goal of creating "a modern state with European characteristics" in contrast to Putin's goal of building on exclusively Russian tradition and genius, reminds me that this is another battle in the Slavophile vs. zapadniki culture war.

Lonely but not lost
Alexei Navalny
ALEXEI NAVALNY, Russia’s most conspicuous opposition politician, would not look out of place on the presidential campaign trail in America, with his strident speeches and polished manner. But in a country where politics is mostly bland bureaucracy, Mr Navalny, a 39-year-old with broad shoulders and bright blue eyes, cuts a striking figure…

The Kremlin has tried to bar Mr Navalny from politics. He is not allowed to hold office because the Kremlin gave him a criminal conviction… His own party, called Progress, was disqualified. Yet in the real world of Russian politics… Mr Navalny is a professional politician who has had a greater impact on the country’s future than any member of parliament or leader of a “licensed” political party outside government in recent times.

He first gained recognition as the main leader of a series of street protests in 2011 when he rallied parts of the urban middle class against the Kremlin. His stated aim of building a modern state with European characteristics appealed to many who had once voted for Mr Putin. In 2013 he received 27% of the vote in the Moscow mayoral election… The Kremlin contrasted his alleged pro-Westernism with its own narrative of imperial nationalism that culminated in the annexation of Crimea…

His perseverance seems almost irrational given Mr Putin’s approval rating of over 80%. But Mr Navalny argues that the constituency that came on the streets in 2011 and voted for him in Moscow in 2013 has not disappeared, even if it is demoralised. “Russia is a country of large cities where at least 30% of the population supports our views,” he says…

For Mr Navalny the main goal of participating in regional elections is to show that an opposition party can clear the 5% legal threshold necessary to win representation. He hopes such a feat will revive popular interest in politics and revitalise the democratic electorate, not least ahead of the parliamentary elections in 2016…

Next for Mr Navalny is a further evolution of his public image. He aims to assume the mantle of the eastern European protest leaders who won power in Soviet satellite states in 1989, eventually leading their people into the European Union…

“My task is to create a new type of patriotism without Russian tanks going into Czechoslovakia, Poland or Ukraine. If Russia needs an expansion, it has to be a cultural and scientific one… My main motivation is to prove that Russians are no less suited to democracy than any other people.”…

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