Russian Elections: True alternative
Intro by Israel Shamir
Mike Whitney is an inspired writer we usually agree with and share his admiration of Russia ’s progress. Recently he enthused over election victory of Putin’s party in Russia ’s parliamentary elections. (His article is at the bottom). He is right up to a point. Indeed Council of Foreign Relations, the leading think-tank of American establishment, hates Putin because he does not submit to Washington ’s will. Indeed, Putin is popular, and he did many good things for the Russian people. Indeed, the liberal opposition led by Kasparov, Kasyanov et al is tiny and much disliked.
Still, our readers deserve a better assessment, not a Disney-style Tom and Jerry comics. Propaganda is useful to mobilise soldiers, but it interferes with generals’ judgment. Let us begin with something simple. Mike writes: “Putin … removed the corporate gangsters who had stolen Russia 's national assets … the oligarchs are now all either in jail or have fled the country.”
It would be a great achievement, if it were happening. While two oligarchs, Berezovsky and Gusinsky, indeed fled Russia in very early days of Putin’s rule, and one, Khodorkovsky, who tried to unseat Putin by using his wealth, is in jail and his acolytes are in running, the oligarchs’ demise is rather overstated. From Norilsk Nickel to oil and gas resources, these very wealthy individuals – Roman Abramovich, Oleg Deribaska, Michael Friedman still own the bulk of Russian assets and wealth. Their writ does not run far beyond business matters, they can’t interfere with the state politics. However, Putin had a mandate to get rid of them all; but he never did it.
More important, Edinaya Rossia (ER, the ruling party) has no coherent ideology or attitude. A loose federation of regional blocks, its members want to be in power, they allegedly paid millions of dollars for a safe place on the party list; and they can betray Putin as fast as anybody. Yes, Putin led them to victory – over 60% of vote, but what now? Does it imply they will continue to follow Putin’s course? We learned that Putin decided not to take a seat in the Parliament. He is adamant in his refusal to run for presidency third term. And the Duma (Russian Parliament) is anyway quite powerless according to the 1994 constitution. So the immediate future is far from clear.
Even more important: reading Mike (or reading Western media), you get an impression that ER competes for power with the liberals, that Putin is the alternative to pro-American and pro-Zionist SPS. ER is opposed (in the Parliament) – not by Kasparov and liberals, but by Communists and Nationalists. Liberals never succeeded to win any sizeable share of vote, while the Communists won the presidential elections in 1996 – and allowed the victory to be squandered as they were afraid of civil war and repetition of 1993 bloodbath. Putin fought the Communists by means fair or foul: he blocked their access to TV, he tried to split them and organised a few parties to draw away the voters from the Communists. After the elections, the splinter party leaders expressed desire to rejoin the mother party, CPRF.
The Western media promote worthless and unpopular liberals of Kasparov etc, who would not even be heard of in Russia otherwise. Who cares what the view of Kasparov is? However, this fight against Kasparov and Yavlinsky is a troublesome sign. I was in St Petersburg at the time of their demonstration; the demo counted at best about two hundred participants of orderly behaviour, but the great city was awash with riot troops and armoured vehicles like Ramallah. A friend of mine, a University teacher, who just passed by, was arrested; and so were many other bystanders. Why was it necessary? Is it usual Russian heavy-handedness, or something more sinister: an attempt to attach importance and promote the liberal opposition at the expense of the Communists?
In conditions of perfect democracy, the Communists would soar to majority or plurality – they are quite patriotic, and they do approve of positive steps by president Putin. But even in the present setup, the Communists have much to do: they can support the line associated with Putin and force the government to implement its declarations.
President Putin is a very good and successful manager, and he made many valuable contributions to Russia ’s well-being. He needs some critical support from the left; not an automatic yes-saying, in order to withstand the pressure from the right.
There was much talk of irregularities in the elections. The ruling party made full use of Putin’s name and reputation in its campaign. Their huge posters linking ER and Putin were placed in every city and town of Russia . But it was not worse than in Israel before 1977, or indeed Sweden in the 60s, when the predominance of social democrats was nearly total. As for counting, it appears that it was relatively fair, with exclusion of national republics at the Southern rim of Russia , where they went as far as they could to ensure their representatives’ place in the Parliament. The Western complaints misfired, because the same bodies, who objected to irregularities, fully approved of the rigged elections of 1996 and even of shelling of the Parliament in 1993. Russians had lost their virgin beliefs in the western fairness.
It is interesting to compare successes of Putin who run a flawless election with errors of Chavez and his failed referendum on the same day - both against the US wishes. While Chavez antagonized the church, Putin had the church on his side. Chavez entered the campaigning while media was in the hands of his enemies; Putin took over media and banks first. Lenin spoke of taking over "banks, telegraph, railway stations" in case of revolution, nowadays TV has to be the first to go. Putin, as opposed to Chavez, did not antagonise the Jews either. Though he ships anti-aircraft weapons to Syria and meets with Hamas, the Rabbis still adore him and treasure a meeting with him much above that with president Bush.