OPPOSING PUTIN by ProQuest

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									Russia Today




Opposing Putin
                                                                                                              Benjamin Cunningham


N
        owhere in the former communist         there are also no major opposition poli-       lism. Unlike opposition groups that draw
        sphere does a credible progressive     tical parties to speak of at all. Press fre-   attention in the West (like the United Ci-
        left-wing political party or move-     edom and the public sphere in general          vil Front led by chess grandmaster Garry
ment exist.                                    are severely restrained. Journalists and       Kasparov), these groups are built from
    While progressives have hardly faired      human rights activists are kidnapped           the bottom-up with a record of organi-
well in much of the developed world in         and killed, including but not limited to       zing themselves and then actually achi-
recent years, the problem is all the more      activist Natalia Estemirova in the sum-        eving their common goal, small as these
acute in the former Warsaw Pact coun-          mer of 2009 and the muckraking journa-         goals may be.
tries as progressives not only do not par-     list Anna Politkovskaya whose unsolved             In February 2009, thousands of pe-
ticipate in governing but are also unin-       murder dates from October 2006.                ople took to the streets in the industrial
volved in political discourse altogether.                                                     town of Pikalevo, east of St. Petersburg,
Dialogue and debate therefore lack pro-                                                       flying black balloons to protest layoffs
gressive views, which means that entire                                                       and closures at the town’s three main fac-
subjects go unacknowledged. Human                            Not only are                     tories, one of which was owned by Krem-
rights issues related to Roma minorities                   progressive par-                   lin-allied oligarch Oleg Deripaska. These
are one such example.                                    ties not involved in                 rallies, led by the union leader Svetlana
    It is true enough that left-wing par-                                                     Antropova, were not targeting factory
                                                        mainstream politics,
ties, at least in name, exist in much of the                                                  owners, but rather the national gover-
former Eastern Bloc. Some even thrive.                  but there are also no                 nment. By May, laid-off workers were
But these parties are participants in, not                 major opposition                   storming city hall demanding back pay
reformers of, the existing political and                  political parties to                and that authorities begin re-supplying
economic power structures. In the Czech                     speak of at all.                  electricity and hot water, both which (in
Republic, the left is represented by Jiří                                                     a marvel of Soviet integration) had been
Paroubek’s Social Democrats. In Slova-                                                        generated by the now shuttered factories.
kia, the face of the left is Prime Minister                                                   In June, workers blocked the nearby fe-
Robert Fico. Neither man is progressive,           Civil society in Russia was stamped        deral highway for seven hours. Within
and in fact both are decidedly retrogate,      out by a party-state monolith nearly 30        two days, Putin came to town and orde-
cobbling together loyalists from semi-         years before any other Central or Eas-         red the factories be reopened. (He then
reformed former communist powerbro-            tern European country, and in actuality        promptly spun the affair as a personal
kers, forging alliances of convenience         a functioning civil society was stillborn      triumph).
with existing business elites, and using       as the country jumped quickly from an              In St. Petersburg, Russia’s second lar-
guarantees of entitlements or generous,        agrarian peasant society to a totalitarian     gest city, the working group Chto Delat’
but unsustainable, pension schemes to          state in the years following 1917. Vla-        (“What is to be done?” and named after
buy votes.                                     dimir Putin’s United Russia party pulls        a nineteenth century novel by Nikolai
    That left-wing political views have        the political strings from the halls of the    Chernyshevsky that was later used as
a bad name following 40 or more years of       Kremlin to the Sakhalin oblast on the Pa-      the title of a pamphlet written by Le-
totalitarianism is not surprising. This do-    cific coast and regulates, in colloboration     nin) formed in 2003 and has since built
esn’t change the fact that the absence of      with powerful business interests, what         a membership of “cultural workers” from
such views in the public discourse con-        are and are not acceptable topics for di-      elsewher
								
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