December 19, 2014 23:54


How to change the government in Russia: seven basic tasks for the opposition

1.03.12 14:27    By Mikhail Khodorkovsky, translated by Semyon Kvasha

«If there's a chance for success – you need to act. At least, that is my principle»   Photo: itar-tass


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Mikhail Khodorkovsky was the CEO and the major shareholder in Yukos oil company and the wealthiest man in Russia in 2004. He was sentenced to 14 years in prison camp in two controversial trials. He was accused of fraud and tax evasion. Amnesty International considers him a political prisoner.

This year is rich in presidential elections all over the world. In France as well as in USA there will be serious competition for the highest post in the state. And in Russia, from the western point of view, Vladimir Putin will gracefully swap the prime minister's chair for the presidential seat. It may seem that in the closed world of Kremlin politics it always happens like this, and Vladimir Putin remains the only constant symbol of stability.

But in the streets of my country, where the strength of the response to election fraud during Duma election changed the balance of power and destroyed the myth of "a guarantee of stability and a lack of an alternative", the opinions will be different.

The political situation in Russia changed in the last two months. We do not expect a decade of "Putin's stagnation".

It's evident for me: the unfair elections of December 4, 2011 were the most important reason, but not the cause for the mass protests. September 24, 2011 was catalyst for the explosion in the political system which was so proud of its internal stability. The active part of our society, including a significant group of political elite representatives, were offended by the proclaimed immovability of the authority for nearly the last 24 years , as well as by the form of this proclamation.

In the 21st century, when authoritarian regimes creak at the seams all over the world, we deserve more! That's what my compatriots told current authorities when they went out to Bolotnaya square, on Sakharova avenue, and marched in Yakimanka street. The more we deserve is a contemporary democracy, a European political system. People all over the world want to be treated with dignity and respect. My country is not an exception!

Vladimir Putin, spitting direct insults at the protesters, practically admits that the authorities are deeply unsure of their future. The challenge of the mass protests rebooted the Kremlin's nervous system.

To keep power until at least 2018, and to legitimize the March election results in Russia and abroad, our current leaders are ready to proclaim concessions and reforms.

But these reforms are considered by many – inside the Kremlin as well as among the opposition – as imitation, announced to create conditions to delay any real change of the political system in the country.

But it would be a mistake not to notice that the new order of parties' registration and governors' election candidate nominations. Of course, if the laws promised by president Dmitry Medvedev are adopted before May – these are the first steps that can could something in Russia and, most importantly, become a certain catalyzer for change in the current political generation.

Of course, this is only if our opposition, both parliamentary and non-systemic, can capitalize on the new changes.

These are priority tasks for Russian opposition, achieving which would allow the opposition to gain power in a reasonable historic perspective:

Task 1. We must completely exclude radical scenarios like "Take the Kremlin by storm".

The "guides" for these scenarios can likely be found among several thousand semi-professional political activists, including professional provocateurs, but no more.

If this scenario is realized, the idea if mass protest itself would be discredited, as well as the technique of beating concessions out of the authorities by gradual non-violent pressure. The violent way is a dream, dreamt by radicals in Putin's entourage.

We mustn't "scare away" the evolutionary process that has already started.

Task 2. We mustn't allow for a schism in the ranks of the opposition, the dissolution of the political protest organizers groups into several "competing firms".

That's what Kremlin is trying to achieve. That's why we see all these videos, phone call recordings and other dirt in the media.

It's important also not to allow the division of protest organizers into the factions of "politicians", "Public activists" and "Cultural figures", the danger of which I clearly see from my prison camp barracks.

Task 3. To continue peaceful protests. They are already bearing fruit and there will be more.

Task 4. To unite the effort and do everything possible so that presidential election March 4 can be counted fairly and conducted with a run-off.

For that we need to come to polls.

The fact of the run-off itself would mean the political process passed into another stage, and there's no monopoly on the power.

Anyway, I don't believe this power scheme would be long lived, and by that I mean more than 12 – 18 months, especially with the forecast new cabinet as well as the current Russian and global economic situations.

The next cabinet must be a real coalition, and not less influential than the president. Political and business structures that do not want to live in unstable Russia for next long years must think about a coalition and not run away, bowing to the next winner.

Task 5. the Opposition must limit itself to two-three new parties, which will be able to replace the outdated structures of the current parliamentary opposition.

Judging by the recent amendments to the legislation, the Kremlin will stimulate the creation of tens of dwarf parties to sow chaos in the political system and again to divert voters from the idea of real party diversity. That is a scenario we would happily avoid.%%

There are large niches in the political field. One for nationalists (I mean, moderate European nationalism that is doomed to play a significant part in Russian politics in the future), another for real left social-democrats, and one more for the liberals. It's important not to get caught on the hook of "false diversity".

Task 6: get into the regions.

New laws (of course if the current president fulfills his promises and the upcoming one won't disavow them) will allow the most powerful and bright figures in the opposition to participate in governors' elections.

If before the end of 2013, 5-7 significant opposition activists head important regions of Russia, we could talk about the revival of our federalism and about a real change in political elites and also about a new collective body ready to talk with the Kremlin seriously on any important topics.

Both parliamentary as well as newly created parties can nominate candidates.

Task 7. To use the potential of those formal and informal members of Putin's team who see the necessity for the change and understand that the main candidate for the post of Russian president is not always right.

Of course, such characters as Mikhail Prokhorov or Alexei Kudrin are seen skeptically by many. But the objective change of the situation will push them to lengthening of the Kremlin's leash. CPSU power monopoly started to crumble when influential communists started to work on the change of USSR's political model.

Personally, I don't have a reason to love Alexei Kudrin: he played an important part in the destruction of Yukos. However, if he is ready to join the coalition government, if dozens of such people, current and semi-former representatives of governing corporations would and could help Russia's fast and painless transition to European democracy, we need to accept them.

Then we need to insist on the registration of new large parties, the opposition's' active participation in governors' elections in 2012 – 2013, the pre-term election in State Duma in 2013, and call for a Constitutional Assembly in 2014 to adapt a new Constitution, transforming Russia from a super-presidential republic into a parliamentary-presidential state with a new free presidential election (according to the transitional law of the new Constitution) in 2015.
You can consider me far too optimistic, maybe none of the above will happen. That's true. But it could, especially if we consider how fast our country is changing now, especially on a psychological level.

If there's a chance for success – you need to act.

At least, that is my principle.

The author is a convict in Penal Colony-7, Segezha, Karelia.

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