Friday, 26 March 2010

The problem with Russia's liberals.

Recent anti-Kremlin protests in Kaliningrad Oblast, the Russian exclave which sits between Poland and Lithuania on the Baltic Sea, have attracted attention, because of their size. Thousands of demonstrators have been involved in opposition rallies, aimed at the region’s governor Georgy Boos.

There has been some speculation, in the British media, that a coherent ’liberal’ alternative to Vladimir Putin’s United Russia is emerging. The excitement is misplaced. Genuine liberal democratic parties in Russia are tiny and the opposition most frequently championed in western newspapers is a motley crew.

The chess player, Garry Kasparov, is feted in the United States as a Russian ‘dissident’. He plays a prominent role in the ‘Another Russia’ coalition, which styles itself the country’s main anti-Putin opposition.

‘Another Russia’ is made up of an assortment of groups including Eduard Limonov’s outlawed National Bolsheviks. This charming party melds far left Bolshevism, extreme nationalism and ‘Eurasianism’. Essentially it is a national socialist amalgam of Slav supremacists intent on a single state stretching from the Pacific to the Atlantic Oceans.

If Limonov is a democrat, Gordon Brown was the last winner of Dancing on Ice.

Moscow Times’ columnist, and Ekho Moskvy presenter, Yulia Latynina provides more evidence of the type of liberalism to which Russians are frequently exposed. In the aftermath of the Ukrainian election she blasted the electorate, claming, “impoverished people are incapable of making sober decisions and voting responsibly in a popular election”.

In her latest diatribe, she characterises the Russian voter as an insensate, tractor driving drunk, Vanya, who is incapable of telling what is good for him. She doesn’t like Putin’s popularity, she blames it on the Russian people and she will spit condescending venom at them, until they mend their ways.

Vanya has been drinking for the past 30 years and uses his tractor mainly to get to the local store to buy another bottle of vodka, not to work his plot of land.

In contrast, the typical Chinese peasant is prepared to work, eat and sleep at the factory for five years straight to save up a few thousand dollars to open his own little kiosk selling fruit or other goods. Vanya the tractor driver will never vote for a liberal opposition candidate, nor will he take part in a protest or rebellion. Deep in his soul, he understands that he doesn’t deserve anything more in life than his beloved bottle of vodka.


It is easy to understand, given the economic chaos of the nineties, and opposition like this, why Russians prefer to vote for stability in the shape of United Russia. Better the devil you know than the devil that despises you.

There are more moderate opposition parties in Russia. But these groups, like Yabloko and Right Cause, get harangued for being ‘in league’ with Putin.

While the noisiest ‘liberals’ take forms like Another Russia and Yulia Latynina, the vast majority of Russians will be repelled by the ‘opposition‘.

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