Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Russian Opposition Must Be Ready to Take Charge When Current Regime Collapses, OGF Leader Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, December 16 – Opposition parties in Russia are unlikely to be able to win a victory at the polls given official control of the media and the political process, but instead of falling into despair, the leader of the Unified Civic Front says, they should prepare to take charge once the current regime collapses, something she says is likely to happen sooner rather than later.
In an essay on the site, Lolita Tsariya notes that members of the opposition across the spectrum “are divided into optimists and pessimists,” with the former saying that the end of the current regime is “near” and the pessimists countering that the regime may survive “for decades” (
This division is found “among liberals, among the left, and among the patriots,” because the attitudes and judgments it reflects is “extra-ideological.” But it is profoundly important because optimism and pessimism dictate not only assessments of the situation but also the actions those in the two camps are prepared to take.
The “optimists,” Tsariya continues, whatever their preferences as to tactics, “as a whole are united in their expectation of inevitable and radical changes.” Among those having a pessimistic view, there is a deep split between those who are prepared to work as dissidents “for long years” and those who seek confrontation with the regime.
One should not conclude, however, that “the pessimistic attitudes predominate,” but it is a mistake to ignore them, all the more so because such inclinations “in many cases are the result of a lack of faith in the strength of the opposition” and the view that the opposition does not have “support from the population. That is, from the side of the majority.”
It is of course “no secret,” she says, “that the Russian extra-systemic opposition has a large number of problems both external and internal. These include the repressive apparatus of the regime, the total information blockade in the federal mass media, and the complete lack in practice of an opportunity to defend our legal rights in court.”
But its problems also include some of its own making: “the fruitless discussions on ideological and organizational questions,” arguments that all too often take precedence over a careful consideration of what is taking place in society and what those opposed to the powers that be can actually do.
Those in the opposition need “to distinguish real problems from imaginary ones,” Tsariya argues. And they need to recognize that the idea that “the opposition is small because it is not capable of getting support” is one pushed by Kremlin ideologists as part of their “ideological war” to undermine the confidence of the opposition “in its own strength.”
“At first glance,” the idea that the opposition must focus on “the struggle for a majority” would appear to be beyond question. Obviously, she says, “the opposition must seek to find as many supporters from the most varied social groups as it can.” But “that does not mean that winning a majority should become an idée fixe of the opposition.”
Under current conditions, she continues, “such a goal is not achievable and what is more not realistic. In Russia there are no free elections … there are no free mass media outlets. In a word, the opposition is deprived of the means of communication with society” and thus it cannot expect to win over the majority by its own actions.
Opening a few websites, agitating at factories, or shouting slogans are all very well, but they will not “change the situation in any fundamental way.” The opposition needs to recognize that “we live in an information society in which ‘the controlling shares’ belong to our immediate and pitiless opponents.”
“As long as that is the case,” Tsariya suggests, “the majority will not be on the site of the opposition. People can be as angry at the powers that be, but they will remain prisoners of the idea that there is no alternative” to those who hold now hold sway, unless and until something causes the incumbent regime to begin to shake.
But that should not be the basis for despair: “the status quo will not be maintained forever. More than that, there is every reason to be confident that the regime will not be able to cope with the problems it has given birth to.” They are growing before our eyes, and “what we are observing is not a new stagnation but the rapid degradation of all spheres of social life.”
“Despite all the efforts of the cosmetologists,” she argues, “the existing regime will never appear healthy. The principle of self-destruction was built in from the start.” And its coming failure should be setting the agenda for the opposition, forcing it be prepare to “take control” and thus “save the country from catastrophe after the inevitable collapse of the current regime.”
“If at the moment of the collapse of the regime,” she concludes, “people will see that we are a united and decisive movement capable of taking upon itself responsibility for the fate of the country, then the masses themselves will pass over to our side.” But if the people see something else, then “our place will turn out to be in the trash heap of history.”

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