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July 05, 2012


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Da Russophile

An excellent sitrep as usual, but man, we really should stop referring to Just Russia as "United Russia-lite." That's just another meme. They aren't UR, they are old school socialists in the mold of Labour (before it became New Labor), Mitterrand before 1983, or the German Social Democrats before 1959. I.e., social democrats who still take the anti-capitalism and workers solidarity thing seriously.

Alexander Mercouris

I second Anatoly's comment. It is indeed as always an excellent survey.

On the subject of Russian liberals, you have far more of a feel for the situation than me but I have to say that based on election results I am very far from sure that the liberal share of the electorate is anywhere near as high as 15%. I would guess the share is actually below 10% which is overwhelmingly concentrated in Moscow and St. Petersburg. It is precisely because the electoral strength of Russian liberals is so weak that they have throughout their history (including before the 1917 revolution) tried to make up for their lack of numbers by turning for support to the west.

Also when talking about Russian liberals it seems to me that we often lump together people of extremely different views from virtual Social Democrats (like some of the people in Yabloko) to extreme believers in a kind of turbocharged unadulterated free market capitalist vision of Russia which would have appealed to Ayn Rand. Quite apart from any personality differences between liberal leaders these major ideological differences must make cooperation between them difficult.

Lastly, one final point: we should I think resist the temptation to conflate Russian liberals with Russian democrats. Many (most?) Russians want democracy but only a minority are liberals.

Patrick Armstrong

What I meant was that JR is not exactly a bottom-up grouping of like-minded people who came together to create a political party. Instead it is a chunk sliced off from UR (kratotrops to a man) by the Centre to see whether it could fly.
In short it's another pedestal party. Will it work? I think that it might, actually.

I repeat that I find the whole process of the evolution of a small number (<5) parties (more than that and you have a political system that doesn't work very well) that cover the real spectrum rather mysterious.

And it doesn't seem to be happening in Russia by natural evolution.

So how does it happen? In Britain and the US it actually took quite a long time.

Patrick Armstrong

Ah… Russian “liberals”. What to say?
First please note that I always use quotation marks – a kind of weasel-wording because I don’t want to be forced to essay a definition (other than, snarkily, “people whom the WaPo and Economist would like to interview to show that Putinism Is In Its Last Days”. And, in this respect, now that it’s Navalniy all day, every day; whatever happened to yesterday’s favourites Kasyanov and Kasparov, or Khakamada et al? But the MSM moves on, ever wiping its memory clean).
Apart from the fact that every Russian “liberal” hates other “liberals” even more than he hates Putin; what have they got to offer? United Russia stole most of their economic program (which had been a distinguishing feature back in the 90s. Remember the 500-days Plan?) and all they have left is anti-Putinism, sucking up to Western NGOs and dissing each other.
10-15%? Who knows? Never been tried. It’s my guess, however.
But still, I believe that the Russian political scene would be strengthened (and there’s the story BTW that Putin begged Yavlinskiy a couple of election cycles ago to get his act together) by a party that believed in free enterprise and free speech and had actual principles. What do we have instead? Commies-lite (happy to be in comfortable “opposition”), a personality/clown party (ditto) and 2 pedestal parties.
Not the best possible situation.
So here we are. The Germans (or so I have heard) designed the electoral system back in the Yeltsin days so that parties would naturally evolve. Didn’t happen (umpteen ephemeral groupuscules – The Beer Lovers’ Party my personal favourite – appeared and disappeared). So Putin & Co tried to force growth by creating United Russia and Just Russia. But United Russia is an unimaginative bunch of plods (both Putin and Medvedev have complained about that) and who knows whether Just Russia will fly on its own.
So now we’re back to a whole bunch o’ parties – taxi party as the old joke went (total membership will fit in a taxi cab and spends its time driving round and round the park).
Haven’t a clue except that it took Britain and the USA some time to evolve (my own dear Canada inherited the British division of Conservatives (“Tories”) and Liberals (“Grits”). So that was our start state back in the 1830s or so.)
Haven’t a clue.

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