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NATIONALISM GIVES WAY TO SOCIAL PROMISES IN RUSSIA
12.03.07
MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Dmitry Shusharin)


The March 11 elections held in 14 Russian regions have provoked different reactions, which makes sense because there are different criteria for evaluating results.
Officially, United Russia won everywhere, with the exception of the southern Stavropol Territory, where it came in second. That unfortunate failure signifies that the pro-Kremlin party has ceased to be the only party of power, and that the political landscape has changed with the appearance of a potential rival.
Opinions on this score also differ. The left-wing party A Just Russia, led by Sergei Mironov, speaker of the upper house of Russia's parliament, based its campaign in the regions on sharp criticism of the local authorities, which are led by United Russia. Mironov criticized that party in all of his public speeches.
A Just Russia is neither an opposition party nor a party of power. Like United Russia, A Just Russia was established within President Vladimir Putin’s system of government. The merger of two parties, Unity and Fatherland-All Russia, in 2001 was a major stage in the development of that system.
Those two parties represented different power clans, and therefore their merger signified a transition to a single political authority.
The establishment of A Just Russia has not undermined that principle, as Mironov, the third-ranking man in the Russian government, will do nothing without the approval of the top leader. But the struggle between the two rivals is reaching unexpected heights. The executive branch probably wanted to drive a wedge into the elite, but this division could easily become too real.
The Western press has concluded that Russians are indifferent to the outcome of elections. But the average turnout at the regional elections was nearly 40% (although it was 30% and even 21% in some regions), or 2% higher than the year before. Moreover, passions ran high in the election period, and they were not limited to an exchange of words.
This time, election campaigns in the regions were accompanied by acts of violence, mainly against the campaign staffs of United Russia and A Just Russia. For example, the deputy head of the campaign headquarters of United Russia was beaten up in St. Petersburg, and several days later the chief of the campaign headquarters of A Just Russia was stabbed there.
Those two facts alone show that the organized and controlled bipartisan system is not the complete farce it may seem at first glance. Such passions are proof of irreconcilable ideological differences, or of a high-stakes battle for power. Both elements seem to be present in the current confrontation between United Russia and A Just Russia, although the battle for power is more important.
Before the regional elections, Mironov firmly positioned himself as the leader of a left-wing socialist party that was against capitalism in Russia. Such firmness was never a policy of United Russia, which tried to combine left-wing and right-wing ideologies while remaining the party of power, or rather the party of those power groups that have found their niches in Putin’s political and economic system.
This system is a combination of liberal principles, “dirigisme” (the practice or inclination to direct activities from a central authority), recognition of private property, and state raiding at all levels of power. The only thing this system lacks is attention to social problems, a substantiated social safety net, and paternalism for all Russians, not just the country’s richest people.
This super-oligarchy replaced the oligarchy of the 1990s, just as the super-presidential republic of Vladimir Putin replaced the presidential republic of Boris Yeltsin.
Mironov’s only supporters are oligarchs. The upper house of Russia’s parliament, which is part of his party’s foundation, includes six dollar-billionaires and a dozen dollar-millionaires. A Just Russia raised the required campaign funds very quickly, and it was said to have more money than United Russia. Therefore, the populist slogans used by Mironov may signify a desire to establish not simply another political charade, a controlled left-wing party; the political and economic groups standing behind the speaker are probably using populist slogans to create conditions for a new re-division of power and property.
In this case, A Just Russia is a formidable threat not only to the monopoly of United Russia and Putin’s system of government, but also to society as a whole. Is it not strange that a new political force that is connected to the authorities, and is actually part of them, appears and starts to spread its anti-capitalist propaganda exactly when property stratification and social tensions have begun to grow?
What if it disrupts the political balance? A Just Russia could have been set up to lure away potential supporters of extremist organizations, but would these new members make the party an extremist organization?
There are many questions, all of them alarming. But the relative success of United Russia has prompted one positive conclusion about public sentiments in different regions of Russia.
A Just Russia was formed through a merger of the Party of Life, the Party of Pensioners and the nationalist party Rodina (Homeland). Rodina was expected to add nationalist spice to the pot, but it did not. A Just Russia scored its first achievements without resorting to nationalist demagoguery.
United Russia and its youth wing are working on the so-called Russian Project, trying to adapt nationalist slogans to Russia and win over a share of politically active people.
The Russian people, however, can do without this, because social slogans and promises of social protection have proved to be more effective than nationalism and promises of ethnic purges.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti. -0-