“What unites us is much more substantial than our differences”

June 2, 2016

Mikhail Khodorkovsky

Open Russia is supporting candidates to the upcoming elections to the State Duma and St Petersburg Legislative Assembly.

The Open Russia candidates standing inside the State Duma, Moscow

The beginning of the political season 2016 started as predicted … unprofessionally. The Russian authorities blackened the name of the opposition in their time-honoured masterful way, and then advertised their own readiness for honest elections  by rigging their own United Russia primaries.

The past

The organisation, promoted as a spoiler (I am talking about Titov’s  “Growth party” aptly christened “Prostatitis”), started off energetically, then fell into a peaceful sleep before waking up again (perhaps with the help of a Kremlin-administered electric shock) to contribute to a series of stupid scandals, including the removal of the ex-mayor of Volgograd from the party for “losing touch” with something that does not exist.

The top ranks of the Communist Party and the Liberal Democratic Party are not engaging just yet. They are preparing to sell to the authorities for as much as they can get the bonus that they have inherited – mounting protests by people who are getting poorer. 

In the “democratic wing” everything is just fine too:

The “democratic coalition,” which had its participants almost falling over themselves trying to be  the first to announce it, has bitten the dust. Incidentally, as everyone saw from the outset, only a blind man could have failed to see that it was made up, on the one hand of people who wanted change because it would give them an opportunity to lead, and on the other of experienced bureaucratic wolves who were determined to hang on to their positions.

As a result,  one side was explaining why they “were not that bothered” about the elections, and the other  ­– why they failed to hold on to their allies.

Open Russia was publicly and furiously disowned  by (luckily only the leadership of) “Yabloko,” still the most “pro-regime” of the non-parliamentary parties, citing “ideological disagreements” (which are still a closed book, at least for me). “Yabloko” is trying to negotiate with the head of an organisation, who has, publicly and with much the same set of words, been kicked out of its ranks and, as far as I know, has not changed his views. (I am talking about the “Progress Party,” in case anyone is still mystified). I hope it works out.

The reasons for such eccentricities are, I believe, obvious.

Everyone realises that the government forces are not preparing for a normal election. It’s more of an audition for a  “place at  court,” where there is only one voter, and “getting his ear” is as bizarre as it was for hundreds of years under the Byzantine emperors.

They are using one of these groups of courtiers to try and convince this “voter” of their devotion, and ability to calm things down where necessary, when real standards of living are declining and everyone is fed up with an ageing ruler and his cronies (I still remember that it was he who put me in prison, where I was for ten years until he released me, with no obligations).

New faces

In these circumstances, the sensible way forward for the real opposition is to make use of all possible opportunities to demonstrate to society that there is an alternative ­– both human and ideological.

And, of course, to prepare this alternative using the young political activists whose age means that they will be ready to do battle for power when the regime falls, which it will – inevitably. They are not saddled with a trail of corruption scandals and dirty laundry leading back to their  “Kremlin Daddies.”

From this point of view, we at Open Russia support all the democratic forces, which are putting their money on new faces, and their candidates. After all, the key question at the present stage is not who “will get through” (or rather, who will be allowed through, if anyone is), but how many new supporters we can gain.

These are our tactics and we are sure there is no reason to fear that our participation in the regime’s”event” will further increase its legitimacy.

Firstly, they will almost certainly screw up running their event, so there will be plenty of chances to show that there is a difference between the way they act against the fake opposition, and the real alternative, (actually, police methods are already being applied at full tilt).

Secondly, our revolution of 1991 and what is currently happening in Ukraine are proof that the opposition must have professionals who are able to offer political support for reforms.

Training alternative personnel is now more important than anything else. This is true both from the point of view of professionalism and ideological robustness on key issues (including a willingness to compromise) and of being familiar to the voters.  

I see my personal role less as a fight for the presidency and more as the need to help a new generation of Russian democratic activists to enter the political limelight.

The future

Yes, we have a tough time ahead. The transitional period following on the annexation of Crimea is not just about military gambles and economic stagnation, because they are only consequences of having a government that cannot be voted out, and its inability to deal with real challenges.

An authoritarian government reacts badly to “feedback” so it as slow and unwieldy as a dinosaur to realise that “its time is up.” But a hysterical government choking on its own dirt can wreak havoc. It will certainly try to cover society with dirt, and we should be ready for this.

From what we know of other such regimes, we can be sure that many fighters and supporters, and random people too, will end up in prison. 

Is there another way?

Leave the country? A remedy for some if they’re prepared to lose their social status.

Take the fight underground? Difficult in the modern information society, but if the government tightens the screws still further, perhaps inevitable.

However, there is still a “window,” which is just open and remains legal, so it would be madness to abandon it. There is, after all, just a chance that the current regime will not completely lose its faculties and choose an easier way to leave, which they will have to do.

At Open Russia we are embarking on this political season as a group of people who think alike. We know the risks and are under no illusion that we have any chance of gaining power after these non-elections for a non-Duma.

We are people whose views, age groups and biographies are very different, each bringing something of our own to the movement – reputation, hard work or resources. We are doing this because we realise that what unites us is much more substantial than our differences.

In any case, whether we win or lose, we will find new supporters and will help our fellow citizens in solving at least a tiny part of their pressing problems. People are already listening to us, to our team and our voters – and they are justifiably afraid.

We are not for turning. We are no longer afraid of threats.

The Russian government of tomorrow is being created by us and among us.

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