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Vremya Novostei
No. 239
December 28, 2001
[translation from RIA Novosti for personal use only]

2001 was a year of consolidation in Russia. The federal and regional nomenklatura, which in 1999 split into different parties and movements, joined forces in the United Fatherland under the banner of unconditional support of Vladimir Putin. By 2001, the high rating of the president turned opposition into bad political tone.

Besides, it has become very difficult to express one's opposition. The set of instruments used by Russian public politicians is limited to work in the parliament and elections. The pro-presidential majority in the State Duma is closely controlling developments and there is still a long time until the next federal elections. Unable to seriously influence decisions, political structures are weakening. The more so that the possibilities of political opposition to inform the people about their opinion have dwindled. Remembering about the problems created by information wars, the authorities are creating conditions to prevent this.

However, there is a minority that disagrees with the authorities or does not agree with everything they do, and this minority is doing its best to remind the people of its existence.

The Left had it easier. In 2001 the Communist Party of the Russian Federation rejected absolutely all presidential reforms and government innovations, which the right wing of the Duma supported. Opposition to liberal draft laws, which were the main element of the parliamentary year, helped the communists to regain the ecological niche from which Vladimir Putin largely pushed them in 2000.

The communists reached the peak of their radical form by the day when the State Duma started discussing the Land Code. The situation can be described as a demonstration - inside and outside the Duma building. Having failed to crush the Land Code with a demonstration, the communists went over to "persistent daily work" explaining the essence of the code and all these "destructive reforms." They gathered considerable speed, so that the KPRF's rating, although it has not grown, has stopped sliding either and keeps at 30%. Besides, the communists won gubernatorial elections in the Nizhni Novgorod Region and their candidate was the runner-up in Irkutsk. The KPRF also scored several other, less loud results in other regions.

The continuation of liberal reforms and their implementation is playing into the hands of the Left. The communists can offer those who are not satisfied with the authorities' liberal tilt "a nostalgia for the good old Soviet times," embellished with the Left' general acceptance of the current economic realities.

The Right minority is in a much worse fix. Two years ago the SPS and Yabloko promised to support the president whenever their policy goals coincide. And we will stand in opposition if our goals clash, warned the Right. They probably hoped that they would have to either support or oppose, but had to do both in 2001. They supported the judicial reform and protected the NTV, voted for the pension reform and protested against the import of nuclear fuel wastes, welcomed the military reform and oppose the authorities on the Chechen issue.

It is impossible to understand if the Right won or lost, for their ratings, like those of the communists, have frozen. But unlike the communists, the Right have not accumulated "propaganda materials" for the future. In the past two years, the Duma approved nearly all laws the Kremlin and the government wanted. So, in the next two years the executive power will hardly send laws to the Duma which the Right could support or oppose and in this way raise their rating.

SPS leader Boris Nemtsov said his party would tackle problems of federalism so as not to permit the creation of a unitary state. To do this, the SPS faction will submit two draft laws, one on elections to the Federation Council, and the other on the protection of local self-governments. Sergei Ivanenko, deputy head of the Yabloko faction, said Yabloko would suggest amendments to the recently adopted Labour Code, pension, tax and other laws. In this way Yabloko hopes to do what it failed to accomplish this year, when these laws were discussed in the Duma. In addition, Yabloko will continue to advocate the idea of a national referendum on the import of nuclear fuel wastes.

Anyway, the place left to the SPS and Yabloko by the Kremlin, which has moved to the right, is too small for their successful political development. The only consolation for the supporters of Boris Nemtsov and Grigory Yavlinsky is that the communists were in their place a year ago, when the authorities moved slightly left and thus robbed Gennady Zyuganov of a part of his domain. So, the SPS and Yabloko should secretly wish the authorities to turn left again. Because their marriage of convenience with the authorities can result in a complete loss of their political identity.

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