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Yabloko's Current, Future Standing, Potential Allies Eyed
Obshchaya Gazeta
No. 47
22 November 2001
[translation for personal use only]
Article by Larisa Bogoraz: "Yabloko's Sap Is Still Rising: Rumors of the Party's Death Have Proved To Be Greatly Exaggerated"

Many rumors about Yabloko's real and imaginary problems have been circulating recently. The high-profile departure of Igrunov and certain other activists is being gloatingly interpreted as evidence of a profound party crisis. Yabloko sympathizers are concerned that the political association has become almost unseen and unheard either on the popular television channels or in the high-circulation press. The author of this article has tried to separate the wheat from the chaff and to understand what is really going on with Grigoriy Yavlinskiy's party.

Despite all the idle talk, the association has been conducting quite active party building over the last six months. Yabloko now has around 70 regional and 230 local organizations uniting 12,000 members. Some of the organizations are quite considerable. The Krasnoyarsk Kray branch, for example, comprises around 800 people, the Rostov Oblast branch comprises around 350, and the Smolensk Oblast branch comprises over 400 people. There are weak branches too, though: Mariy-El has 12 people and Chukotka has only nine party members. But in any case Yabloko will not have any problem becoming a party in the full sense of the word by undergoing registration under the new rules.

The fact that a political party's social significance is not only determined by its numbers but also largely by the stances that the party adopts on acute domestic and foreign policy issues, by the faction's acts in the State Duma, and, of course, by how fully these acts are covered in both the central and local media, is another matter. Yabloko is so far greatly losing out to its competitors in this regard. Why? Yavlinskiy's supporters attribute it to the authorities blocking Yabloko's access to the broad public. That is true to a certain extent. But not everything can be so easily explained.

I think both the party itself and the media are to blame. The party is not concerning itself enough with clearly and unambiguously presenting and explaining its program to a broad range of citizens. Many future and past voters' sympathies for Yabloko are rather a credit of trust, traditionally connected with their relationship to the personality of the leader in Russia. But I would like my vote to rely not only on a liking for Grigoriy Alekseyevich ("my man," "he talks my language," and so on); I would like other potential voters' votes to rely not on faith in me ("Larisa Iosifovna advised it") but on a rational basis.

Yabloko really does have something to present to the voter. The party is consistently opposing forcible call-up to the Armed Forces (and has developed a series of specific steps for a transition to a contract army) and nuclear waste being imported into Russia; it is backing a predominant role for individual and civil rights in domestic politics and strengthening the role of local government. By the 1999 elections it had published around 30 titles of brochures about how Yabloko intends to act in various areas. This has all been published, disseminated, and is up on the Internet. But the media are not interested in this material. Why? The party's positions were probably not mapped out fully or clearly enough.

Not everyone seems to have liked the fact that the party's point of view has been expressed openly and honestly. This is not always tactically pragmatic. Especially if we are to judge from the columns by today's professional politicians. But I am convinced that honesty is the best policy strategically in the global outlook: Over-exploitation should be called over-exploitation and not freedom of entrepreneurship; the war in Chechnya must be called a war against the people and not the establishment of constitutional order; encroachments on openness must be linked to the nomenclature's self-seeking interests and not to blunders by individual functionaries.

How can Yabloko's positions be strengthened? I think the party's success largely depends on whether its core and local branches are ready to cooperate with other non-governmental organizations, the most mass-based and popular ones. Ones like regional branches of Memorial, Committees of Soldiers' Mothers, youth anti-fascist organizations, branches of the Consumers' Confederation, the Foundation for the Protection of Glasnost, trade unions, and others. After all it is these contacts that determine a party's popularity and effectiveness in society.

It is worth thinking once again about Yabloko's political allies. The first political association that comes to mind in this connection is the SPS [Union of Right-Wing Forces]. Who else? Not the CPRF [Communist Party of the Russian Federation], LDPR [Liberal Democratic Party of Russia], or RNYe [Russian National Unity]. Why doesn't the SPS immediately provoke such categorical objections or such decisive dislike as a possible ally? The answer would seem to be obvious -- it is customary to consider both the SPS and Yabloko to be party associations of a "rightist" bent: Both are pro-market and both call themselves supporters of democracy.

But Yabloko members are essentially not "rightists" but liberals according to the classification accepted in the world. The "rightists" in Russia at the moment are the conservatives and statists running to the "patriots," nationalists, and supporters of the oligarchy. Yabloko can and should occupy the currently vacant left flank of the political spectrum that is provisionally occupied by a CPRF that is busy with pulp fear-mongering. Not understanding that the SPS cannot be a partner to Yavlinskiy's party, observers are by force of habit accusing Yabloko members of being ambitious and of a reluctance to agree to compromises. Even though it is a question of principles, not ambitions.

The most important and substantial differences between Yabloko and the SPS are their different assessments of the relationship between the state and the citizen. The true rightists are in favor of any kind of strengthening of the state, even to the detriment of the rights of the individual; the liberals are for the unconditional priority of the interests of the citizen. Hence the president's different attitudes toward the two parties: He supports the SPS but "does not notice" Yabloko. The SPS leaders' attempt to identify the rightist flank with the democratic flank is dictated by a desire to monopolize the right to represent democracy in a similar way to how the Communists are trying to monopolize the right to patriotism.

Meanwhile Yavlinskiy's people have political soul mates, an alliance with whom would be possible and mutually useful -- they are the parties and associations with a socio-democratic orientation and organizations protecting rights, which are also oriented toward the primacy of the individual and which also believe that bureaucracy exists to serve citizens, not to rule them. I would recommend that future voters cure themselves of their allergy to the words "social democrat," that the mass media begin a discussion of this political term, and that my Yabloko friends more clearly determine their position and openly name their possible political partners.

A second meeting of the Democratic Conference will be held in Moscow on 3 December. The first session in June called on Yabloko's initiative was attended by the leaders of over 20 parties, movements, and social organizations -- Yabloko's natural allies and partners. This beginning undoubtedly strengthens the positions of Yabloko and all the other participants. But of course joint actions must not happen twice a year but become a systematic form of cooperation between democratic partners and citizens must find out about them as extensively as possible.

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