Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Russia’s Existing Political Parties are Dying But Their Successors have Not Yet Been Born

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 23 -- Experts of the Rosbalt Political Club say that the current presidential elections in Russia are the last hurrah of aging political leaders and parties that are not real parties and that the future will almost certainly see the appearance of new parties and the realignment of their support.

            But because the current political system does not need parties at least of the usual kind, because Moscow bans parties based on regional, religious, or ethnic grounds, and because the Russian population has not yet had the experience of organizing from below, the exact shape of the future system is far from clear, they say (rosbalt.ru/russia/2018/01/23/1676404.html).

            Nikolay Petrov of the Higher School of Economics says that “the systemic parties of Russia are in a crisis, and ‘the presidential elections are the last political review of old leaders and of this entire party system because the replacement of leaders, many of which are over 70, may affect the entire system.”

            The LDPR will disappear with its leader; and while the KPRF is less a leader party that Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s, it too is a party based on a leader, even though its candidate for president this time around is not a member of the KPRF, Petrov continues.  Just Russia has run out of energy, and the future of United Russia depends on one man and is unclear.

            “But the main problem,” he says, “’is connected not so much with the crisis of the parties as will the crisis of the entire political system of the Russian Federation.” There are no projects that can currently organize large numbers of people and “party structures aren’t allocated any role in the political system.”

            Until that changes, Petrov concludes, “it is difficult to imagine” how the existing parties could be “transformed into some serious political constructions.”

            Stanislav Radkevich, a political analyst at PR-3000, points out that “we live in a very strange country in which formally there are 80 parties but in fact there isn’t a single one.”  One might use the term for United Russia but even for that institution, it isn’t entirely appropriate.

            Pavel Kudyukin, a political scientist is the Council of the Labor Confederation,” agrees that is hard to talk about parties “in a political system where they aren’t needed.” They simply don’t have any chance to play “their normal political function.”  The parliamentary opposition doesn’t even play the role minor parties did in Soviet bloc countries.

            Vitaly Kamyshev, a Moscow political analysis, says that the powers that be in Russia do not see any crisis in the party system but that doesn’t mean that they will be able to avoid “the politicization of social movements” given that 20 million people are hungry.  And that will be true even if the authorities resist because people will ultimately act out of despair.

            And Nikolay Mironov of the Moscow Center of Economic and Political Reforms says that “the potential of the social movement was, is and always will be because in the population there are many active people concerned with social problems and life in the country as a whole.”

            “When representatives of social movements say that they don’t want to be politicized, this means that they don’t want to support the current political players. But this doesn’t mean that they in general won’t advance any political demands. They are ready to unite,” but in the current system, nothing like becoming parties is yet possible.

            In an article for Kavkazr.com, analyst Valery Dzutsati describes how the amount of support the existing parties have varies widely among the federal subjects of the North Caucasus in order to pose the question “Who will be able to replace ‘United Russia’” in that region? (kavkazr.com/a/partiynyi-rasklad/28983108.html).

            “It is well known,” he continues, that in Russia both parties organized on an ethnic or a religious basis are prohibited as are structures formed according to religion.”  Until those bans are lifted, when people leave one of the parties, they will nonetheless have to find a place in another all-Russian party, something that will limit popular support.

            “Were United Russia suddenly to disappear from the political arena, along with Jus Russia, then its place would be occupied by functionaries from the KPRF, the LDPR and possibly some new organizations. But if regional parties were permitted, then the political palette undoubtedly would become significantly more diverse.”

            In commenting on Dzutsati’s observation, the After Empire portal says that legalizilng regional parties would not simply make the political spectrum more diverse. “It would change in a significant way the ENTIRE Russian policy” because then “local social forces would not need to fit themselves under this or that imperial party” (afterempire.info/2018/01/23/regional-parties/).

            “They would establish their own parties which undoubtedly would win in free elections in regional parliaments,” After Empire says. “But this would mean the end of the empire and the establishment of a regional federation. And that is what the Kremlin fears most of all.”

Tatars Raise the Stakes on Language Issue

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 23 – An initiative group in Tatarstan has announced plans to form an alliance with one or another candidate in the Russian presidential race and to seek the inclusion on the ballot of a referendum on Vladimir Putin’s drive to make instruction in all languages except Russian voluntary.

            Radik Gatin, a former advisor to the Duma’s security committee, tells the Idel Ural portal that he and several others are in the process of putting the group together because the republic elite has been unable to stand up to Moscow on this issue and will be exploring various possibilities to defend the rights of Tatars (idelreal.org/a/28989789.html).

            He continues that his group is “ready to cooperate with those presidential candidates and political forces ‘that have influence on this issue and declare their willingness to cooperate.”  And he indicated that the Tatar appeal will be based on “the generally recognized international legal principle that ‘no one ever can limit someone in his ethnic membership.’”

            The exact content of the measure that his group seeks to have a referendum about will be defined later, Gatin says, with the group prepared to modify the language so that the authorities in Kazan and Moscow will be more willing to allow it to go forward.

            “We plan to submit documents about the registration of the initiative group for the referendum before the presidential elections” on March 18, and “we have conducted consultations with all the leaders of public opinion at the level of the republic and the federation,” the organizer says.

            Gatin says the group will not include radicals even though many of them have expressed an interest in being part of it. Obviously, the group will be open to conversations with such people but they will not be allowed to make its work so radical that the authorities will have an excuse to suppress it.

            Precisely because of calculations of this kind, the group represents a significant challenge to Putin, one that he will find it more difficult to counter than he may think.  As a result, an issue that many have declared closed because of Putin’s position is anything but; and the stakes involved have become far greater.

‘Do We Need Asiatic Kishlaks Where Russian Villages Used to Be?’ Some Ask in Horror

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 23 – Approximately 1,000 Russian villages are dying out each year, experts say. That is bad enough for those who believe that with their end so too ends an important part of Russian cultural life.  But still worse from their point of view, the villages which do survive are increasingly populated by Central Asian workers and their families.

            And their arrival, Aleksey Toporov says, is changing the cultural landscape in dramatic ways. Mosques are going up even as Orthodox churches are closing. Schools are dominated by Central Asian children. And worst of all, the Central Asians are often backed by local Russian officials (stockinfocus.ru/2018/01/23/nuzhny-li-nam-aziatskie-kishlaki-vmesto-russkix-dereven).

            Rais Suleymanov, a specialist on Islam at the Institute of National Strategy who is viewed by many Muslims as an opponent, says that what is occurring in many rural regions of the Russian Federation is “a kind of process of colonization” in which “the local population is beginning to be replaced by those culturally different people coming from the outside.”

            On the one hand, he says, “the government is interested in ensuring that the rural population continues to exist.” But on the other, it is not supporting the kind of infrastructure which will keep villagers from deciding they have no choice but to flee to the cities.  That forms “a vacuum” and people from the outside are filling it.

            “In Central Russia, the Volga region and the Urals,” these outsiders are “migrants from Central Asia.  In the Far East, the [replacement] population is coming from China.” As a result, in two decades of so, “we may encounter a situation when the villages which historically were Russian become Tajik and Uzbek.”

            Suleymanov says he wants “to stress that the migrants as a rule try to come on a legal basis. They purchase homes from the villagers who are moving to the cities. They settle with their families, marry and have children, and invite their relatives to join them.”  But over time, as the ethnic balance in the villages change so too do the attitudes of the new arrivals.

            They may come with the intention of integrating, but later, the difference in culture may lead to conflicts between those who have come and those who still remain.”  And in those conflicts, not only do officials typically take the side of the new arrivals but those who lose these fights, generally the indigenous Russians, then choose to leave even more rapidly.

            Officials insist on describing these conflicts as being simply day to day clashes, Suleymanov says; but in fact, “in practice” they “always have some kind of ethnic or religious component.”  And they will continue to arise, driving ever more Russians out and leaving the countryside ever less Russian, all the more because of the high birthrate of the Central Asians.

            Over the last year, Yevgeny Cherninn, a demographer at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, say that official figures suggest the number of Central Asians living in previously Russian villages went up from 120,000 to 145,000 but that the real figures and the increase are much larger than those.

            Those numbers are only a small fraction of the approximately 14 million gastarbeiters who entered Russia last year, but the numbers are enormous when one is talking about declining villages which have in many cases fewer than 100 residents each. 

            It is time, Toporov says, for Russians to start thinking “about their own and prevent the emergence of ethnic and religious “enclaves” which may become breeding grounds for “extremists of all kinds as Aleksey Grishin of the Religion and Society Center has pointed out many times.

            Russians may be pleased that they have lived “shoulder to shoulder” with Muslims for many years, Toporov concludes, but they are not going to like it if over villagers there arise not restored churches with gold-plated crosses but instead “crescent moons and “instead of the sound of bells, the calls of the muezzins.”