Russian Political Parties - Profiles
The rapid consolidation of parties into larger but less ideologically cohesive alliances marks less a moderation by the gaining Duma parties than an acknowledgment of defeat by the non-Duma parties. On ideological grounds, the Agrarian Party align more closely with the Communists than with United Russia, but they have more to gain from joining a party with larger Duma representation. The Greens openly acknowledged their merger as a financial, ideologically agnostic necessity, and their ultimate decision may hinge on which Duma party makes the best offer. From a practical standpoint, the absorption of these niche parties will affect regional more than federal politics since their appeal is too diluted at the national level. Meanwhile, the liberal parties' continued disunity on the merits of a party versus a coalition portend a long winter for democratic opposition in Russia.
In Russia today, there is a one-and-a-half party system. There is the main ruling party, and the public support rating of the rest is below the ruling party.
National Bolshevik Party (NBP)
The banned NBP, led by radical writer Eduard Limonov, appeals almost entirely to youth eager to participate in anarchic street protests than in political discourse. The Natsbols' modus operandi rarely varies: it advertises its protests beforehand to the media, and at the appointed time youths brandishing NBP flags and bright flares erupt into protest chants. The police carry away the protesters, while eager journalists take photographs. Limonov himself often is arrested, as he was on the January 31 Dissenters' Day protest in Moscow. Other stunts included the July 2007 takeover of a room in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the January 2008 takeover of a United Russia office in St. Petersburg.
NBP holds no political power or ambitions, and the "bolshevik" in its name refers only to its vague desire for anti-establishment revolution. Limonov's ability to attract supporters willing to be clubbed and arrested benefits the opposition little domestically, but the dramatic news photos of police brutality that appear in Western media bolster the NBP's credentials among Russia's liberal democratic opposition. For this reason, no matter how widely they disagree on policy issues, opposition leaders such as Garry Kasparov were reluctant to fully shed their working relationships with Limonov.
The party appeared in late 2008 through the merger of the Union of Right Forces, the Civil Force and the Democratic Party of Russia. This is the reason it always had three co-chairs. The new pro-business, ostensibly liberal Kremlin-friendly Right Cause party was the brainchild of President Medvedev, and it targeted educated and entrepreneurial voters, with the goal of garnering between 8-15 percent of the vote in October 2009 elections. Right Cause operated within Kremlin-defined space and had no formal relations with non-Duma opposition movements. Right Cause continued to suffer from fractured central leadership among its three co-chairs (Leonid Gozman, journalist Georgiy Bovt, and business leader Sergey Titov), and difficulties in 2009 naming a head of its Moscow City branch exposed limits to the party's Kremlin patronage.
For the regime, Right Cause's biggest success was stamping out the remains of the erstwhile SPS opposition party. Right Cause's troubles were widespread: it had no support outside Moscow and St. Petersburg; its leadership was fractured and suspicious of each other; and it was running on a pro-business platform during an economic crisis. Although fashioned by the regime as a right-leaning counterweight to Just Russia, Right Cause likely struggled to build public support among liberal democrats who saw the party as a Kremlin stooge or among business owners who were suffering from the economic crisis.
In December 2008, the Solidarity movement [described as Kasparov's Latest Doomed Project] held its inaugural congress to elect its leaders, including Garry Kasparov, Boris Nemtsov, and Vladimir Milov. Described by Milov as "Other Russia without the National Bolsheviks," Solidarity built its membership from disaffected former SPS members, human rights activists, and members of various organizations that constituted Other Russia (including Oborona Youth Movement, Smena, and Kasparov's own United Civil Front). Solidarity's leaders claimed they were capable of attracting thousands of protesters to events, but in their brief existence they mustered no more than 200 people to any single event. Solidarity's leadership structure included 13 opposition leaders in its Presidium, but Kasparov remained the movement's public face. Without a united voice, the movement floundered into obscurity as did the Kasparov-led Other Russia and National Assembly.
Opponents of the current political system staged rallies throughout Russia during the weekend of 30-31 January 2010. In Kaliningrad, thousands representing a wide range of political views gathered ostensibly to protest higher regional taxes, but also voiced their dissatisfaction with PM Putin. Solidarity leader Boris Nemtsov highlighted disparities between the rights of Kaliningrad citizens and those of the European states which border the enclave. There were no reports of violence or use of force by police, though some protest leaders, including Nemtsov, were detained and then released. Nemtsov was able to travel back to Moscow in time to attend the Dissenter's march the following day.
The term "Rodina" [Motherland] can be confusing since it represents both the political party led by Rogozin and a broader social movement of the same name, as well as a dissident faction led by former Rogozin ally, Sergey Baburin.
Rodina was initially born in September 2003 when three political parties -- Rogozin's Party of Russian Regions, the Socialist United Party of Russia with Aleksandr Vatagin its nominal chairman and Sergey Glazyev as "unofficial" leader, and the People's Will Party under the leadership of Baburin -- joined together to compete in the parliamentary elections.
Most political observers agree that the Kremlin encouraged the formation of Rodina to draw votes away from the KPRF, a tactic that ultimately succeeded. Rodina won approximately nine percent of the national vote and put 40 deputies into the State Duma, where they formed their own faction. In the presidential contest in March 2004, Rodina supported Putin, but not before Glazyev's self-nomination as a presidential candidate in January of that year ignited a conflict between him and Rogozin. The two men eventually reconciled their differences to some extent, and Glazyev currently serves as one of several rotating leaders of the Rodina faction (Rogozin wing) in the Duma, while also maintaining a parallel leadership position in a left-patriotic organization called "For a Decent Life."
A more serious dispute within Rodina's ranks broke out in early 2005 and culminated in Baburin's departure from the faction, along with a handful of deputies, and the subsequent establishment of a second, smaller Rodina faction in the State Duma. Baburin broke away because of Rogozin's "egotistical" leadership style and unwillingness to share power or to consider a consolidated political platform that was not based exclusively on his own ideology.
Rodina was both a political organization and a social movement. Its political character was represented by the Rogozin and Baburin factions in the State Duma, as well as by the individual parties (mainly Rogozin's Rodina Party, which was renamed in February 2004 from the Party of Russian Regions, and Baburin's People's Will) that comprise the two factions. But Rodina is also a broad populist movement that includes various social and patriotic organizations. Within the Rogozin wing, there is Glazyev's "For a Decent Life" and the All-Russia Rodina Association. The Baburin side included at least one member of the Socialist United Party, as well as most, but not all, of the deputies affiliated with People's Will.
In addition, Baburin maintained a close relationship with Gennadiy Semigin, leader of the Patriots of Russia coalition, who broke away from the KPRF and formed a "shadow cabinet" in March 2005 that includes Baburin as "Minister of CIS Affairs." (Glazyev is the "Minister of Finance" in the same shadow cabinet.) While these ties seem illogical at first glance, both Rodina members and communists share a common belief in statist solutions to social and economic problems. In any case, the array of loosely organized, shifting alliances offers maximum flexibility for the various individual players, serving to mask their true motivations and political loyalties.
Rodina, particularly the Rogozin-led faction, encountered mounting pressure from the Kremlin authorities. Partly this was due to Rodina's (and Rogozin's) success in building up a significant following throughout the country that exceeded most expectations. But, having achieved its intended purpose of thwarting the communists during the 2003 elections, the Kremlin appeared to calculate that Rodina was a more potentially disruptive factor than the communists, and needed to be put under firm control or out of business.
The extent to which the party's nternal strife is the result of Kremlin manipulation or self-destructive internal dynamics remains an open question. Media reports and Rodina stalwarts suggest that Rogozin's leadership style was the cause of much of the dissension, which likely would have occurred with or without Kremlin machinations.
Rodina's difficulties also underscored the fragility of Russia's political parties, most of which are personality-driven. For many observers, Rodina and Rogozin are indistinguishable, and his departure would deal a major, if not fatal, blow to the organization.
At a Rodina party congress on 25 March 2006, Dmitriy Rogozin stepped down as the party's top leader, being replaced by Aleksandr Babakov. Rogozin explained his move as a result of Kremlin-driven intrigues, a claim that virtually no observers doubt. By most accounts, Rogozin -- although a "Kremlin project" in 2003 to drain votes away from the Communist Party in Duma elections -- had become too popular and was trying to become independent of his original Kremlin sponsors. That precipitated the Rodina's removal from the ballot in the Moscow city elections and in seven of eight regional legislative elections on March 12, seen as a clear signal that the Kremlin would paralyze Rodina unless Rogozin stepped down.
Aleksandr Babakov inherited the Rodina mantle with almost unanimous support; the vote among congress delegates was 170-3, and Rogozin himself spoke in favor of Babakov's accession. The new Rodina Party Chairman is an economist and businessman who, among other activities, is the owner of one of Russia's premier soccer teams. He is also regarded as a major financial backer of Rodina. Babakov promised that the party would remain in opposition but underscored that it should not be a "hostile opposition."
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|