From outside of Russia, demonizing Putin may seem like a viable alternative for anyone wishing to initiate change in Russia as he is the face the status quo, but his personal popularity makes targeting inanimate ideas a more attractive option for the time being. Since the power structure has no overarching theoretical underpinnings, progressives will need to take further steps in developing concrete alternatives to individual problems in Russian society.
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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