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Russian Opposition Promises to Be Active by Autumn

Russian Opposition Promises to Be Active by Autumn by Victor Andreyev [Editor’s note: we pleased to offer this exclusive eyewitness report from the Other Russia summit held last week in Moscow. Special thanks to Victor Andreyev, a journalist colleague of Grigory Pasko.] The second conference of «The Other Russia» coalition took place on 7-8 July in Moscow at the Holiday Inn Lesnaya hotel. Participants in the event met in order to sum up their activities for the year that has passed since the first conference, and to determine the strategy of the opposition in relation to the upcoming elections.

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Garry Kasparov speaks with human rights leader Sergei Kovalev at the Other Russia conference. Photo: Reuters.

However, a loud scandal broke out literally a few days before the conference: one of the founders and leaders of «The Other Russia», Mikhail Kasyanov, announced that the coalition “has fulfilled its mission” and in such a manner essentially refused to participate in it. Following on the heels of Kasyanov and his Russian People’s-Democratic Union (RNDS), the co-chairs of the All-Russian Civic Congress – Ludmilla Alexeeva, Georgi Satarov, and Alexander Auzan – also refused to participate in the opposition forum. The reason for Kasyanov’s exit from the process is unofficially being called the collapse of his negotiations with Garry Kasparov. These consultations, in which Eduard Limonov with his comrades-in-arms also took part, concerned the procedure for advancing a single candidate for the presidency from the opposition. As is asserted by sources close to the participants in the negotiations, Mikhail Kasyanov’s position boils down to this procedure being “predictable”. To put it in simple terms, so that the ex-premier would have guarantees that he and no one else would become the single candidate. Representatives of the RNDS justified this position by pointing out that Kasyanov is the best-known and “electable” of all the possible candidates from the opposition (besides Kasyanov, desire to participate in the elections has been expressed by ex-head of the Central Bank Viktor Gerashchenko, former St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly deputy Sergey Gulyayev, and dissident Vladimir Bukovsky). The National Bolsheviks supported the position of the RNDS, but the United Civic Front (OGF) considered it unacceptable and did not make any concessions. According to some data, the stumbling block became also the fact that Garry Kasparov was supposedly insisting on heading the campaign staff of the single candidate. This the Kasyanovites, in their turn, found unacceptable. However, despite the absence of representatives of the RNDS and the All-Russian Civic Forum (VGK), the conference was nevertheless sufficiently representative. Appearing at it was practically the entire domestic radical opposition, well-known political scientists and human rights advocates: Sergey Gulyayev, Oleg Kozlovsky («Oborona»), Sergey Udaltsov (AKM), Mikhail Delyagin, Stanislav Belkovsky, Viktor Shenderovich, Andrei Illarionov, Sergey Kovalev («Memorial»), Lev Ponomarev (the movement «For human rights»), and video appeals by Vladimir Bukovsky and Vladimir Abel (NBP) were shown. Around 300 people gathered for the conference, approximately half of whom had come from other regions of the country. This is fewer than a year ago, but the very format of the forum was abbreviated in comparison with the first «The Other Russia». Even the atmosphere around the conference was much lighter: if a year ago the participants in the forum were taken off trains, grabbed at home and even directly the hotel before the eyes of dozens of supporters, then the second conference looked much more tranquil. The conference began with a demonstration of fragments of the speech by Anna Politkovskaya at the first «The Other Russia» forum. “The forgiveness of the Most High for this lawlessness [going on in Chechnya] can be noted only with the departure of Putin and his team. That is, not to permit «Operation Successor». This is completely obvious, completely obvious. And only then is a change of regime for a democratic one possible”, she said three months before her death. Practically all the speakers spoke of the marches of those who disagree, which had become the main and most scandalous domestic-policy topic of this spring. The head of the St. Petersburg National Bolsheviks, Andrey Dmitriev, noted that more than 50% of Russians already know about the marches, and that the majority of these support the slogans of “those who disagree”. Oleg Kozlovsky, coordinator of «Oborona», considers that the main advantage of the marches of those who disagree is “in their many colors and many voices”; the lead role is played by the rank-and-file participants, while the task of the organizers is merely technical preparation. Many speakers could not restrain themselves from criticizing the old opposition parties. Garry Kasparov declared that for the Union of Right Forces (SPS), «Yabloko», and the CPRF, trading their non-participation in «The Other Russia» with the administration of the president has become the new meaning of existence. The same Dmitriev noted that Zyuganov and Yavlinsky have ended up being “pushed off by the wayside” of political life, from where all that’s left for them is to observe the struggle that «The Other Russia» is waging. OGF Federal Council member Marina Litvinovich called upon the opposition not to support the legitimacy of the power, obviously also having in mind the cooperation of opposition parties with the Kremlin. Other speakers, on the contrary, called upon «The Other Russia» to reconcile with “the System opposition”. Sergey Udaltsov has not lost hope that after the parliamentary elections, the “old parties” will shed their illusions and will turn out to be ready to work together with TOR. Viktor Shenderovich said that “if the leaders of the opposition hated the regime as much as they hate one another”, the situation in the country would be completely different. Shortly before the conference, representatives of «The Other Russia» shared their ideas with respect to the participation of the coalition in the elections to the State Duma scheduled for 2 December. According to the current law, only political parties have the right to advance lists of candidates, and that means that the Central Electoral Commission will refuse to register the «The Other Russia» list. This is exactly what the leaders of the coalition are hoping for. After the refusal to register, they plan to organize a loud “pre-election” campaign with a call to vote for «The Other Russia». In the opinion of the authors of the idea, this will cause the discomfiture and fury of the authorities, who will have to play by the rules imposed by the opposition. Oleg Kozlovsky also spoke out in support of Kasparov’s and Limonov’s idea, calling this path “the only way for active and absolutely honest participation in the election campaign”. Nearly everybody called the main task of «The Other Russia» participation in the presidential elections and the advancing of a single opposition candidate. Three claimants to the role of such a candidate even spoke at the forum. Vladimir Bukovsky spoke to his potential electors from London and assured them that he was with them in spirit. Viktor Gerashchenko read those gathered a poem about St. Petersburg. And Sergey Gulyayev, barely suppressing his nervousness, read out his pre-election program, which, to the displeasure of many, turned out to be sufficiently lengthy. For now it is not known who of these people (or, perhaps, not of them) will be the single candidate from the opposition. OGF bureau member Alexander Osovtsov presented his variant of such a procedure. In the absence of Mikhail Kasyanov it did not give rise to any arguments, although, perhaps, objections still will appear. Osovtsov proposed holding conferences no less than in 45 regions of the country, where claimants to the role of single candidate and delegates to an assembly of «The Other Russia» will be advanced. This assembly in its turn will choose from the proposed candidacies one, which then will be supported by «The Other Russia» at the elections. In the morning, «Young Guard» activists kept vigil at the doors of the hotel for a short time, heaping curses from afar on the conference participants found in the hall. Around 30 youthful supporters of «United Russia» accused the oppositionists of preparing an orange revolution and working at the same time for the West and for Berezovsky. A small crowd was being wound up by a girl, in a lively manner, but for some reason branding the “otherrussians” and swearing to protect the Motherland from the “orangists” with an incongruous smile on her face. At the same time, the right hand of the girl performed such movements, as if though a young “safecracker” is hitting an imagined adversary in the solar plexus. Several OMONs asked the grinning conference participants “not to provoke the little fools” and to keep moving along into the building. A few minutes after the start of the forum, the «Young Guards» gathered up their paraphernalia and quietly withdrew. Another provocation at the forum looked just as ridiculous. At the finale of the event, when discussion of the procedure for advancing a single candidate had begun, a girl sitting in the second row got up, introduced herself as a journalist from «Russkiye birzhevye vesti» [Russian Stock Market News], and scattered fake dollars with an image of Boris Berezovsky on the floor. When the girl was being led out of the hall, she declared that “there will be no other Russia; there will only be our [nasha – the same word as the Kremlin’s «Nashi» youth organization] Russia”. The dollars were soon cleaned up, while Eduard Limonov examined one of the bills with interest until the very end of the conference. The next congress or assembly of «The Other Russia» is planned for the end of September. Then, the non-System opposition intends to advance its list of candidates to the parliament. «The Other Russians» promise that is event will turn out to be more impressive and effective than the July forum.