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Nezavisimaya Gazeta
No. 88
May 2003
[translation from RIA Novosti for personal use only]

Political scientists and consultants wonder if there is a political force that can compete with the party of power during the parliamentary and presidential election campaigns. Gennady SEMIGIN, vice-speaker of the State Duma and chairman of the Executive Committee of the People's Patriotic Union of Russia, talks with Pavel SIDOROV about trends in the development of Russia's political system and the future of the left-wing patriotic opposition.

Question: The popular support for the president remains very strong and the party of power is working more energetically in the traditional zone of the left-wing opposition, trying to steal its most attractive slogans. What future can the left-wing opposition have in this situation?

Answer: I am convinced that Russia will remain a predominantly left-wing country for a long time yet and the left-wing patriotic opposition can have a brilliant future. This will not happen of itself but there are objective conditions for this.

Question: What do you mean?

Answer: It is a fact of life that the left-wing patriotic idea has deep roots and traditions in Russia. This is apparent. Moreover, the results of quite a few opinion polls show that the majority of Russians (up to two-thirds) have left and centrist left views, in one form or another. It is another matter that the current socio-economic policy does not correspond to the basic principles of the left ideology, such as social justice, genuine power by the people, and equal conditions for everyone.

At the same time, in an open political system the mood of the electorate, especially of such a considerable group of voters [as the aforementioned one] must be presented by a political force or forces. The power and political organisations that support it are hardly suited for this task. The people can trust individuals in power but they still do not trust the state as a whole. It is apparent in this connection that the left-wing patriotic forces will always have substantial support in Russia, including at elections. It is only around these forces that a strong opposition can be rallied. I mean above all the Communist Party of the Russian Federation and the People's Patriotic Union of Russia, which most adequately express the left-wing patriotic idea at the political plane. A strong and competitive right-wing opposition is hardly possible. Political practice shows that their ideology and actions are supported in Russia by a stable minority.

Question: What does "strong opposition" means? Does Russia need it today?

Answer: It does not just need it; it will not survive without it. A strong opposition is nearly the only genuine guarantee against the slide towards authoritarianism. It would be naive to expect the power to restrain its desires. And I don't mean the desires of individuals, as there are specific laws of the operation of political systems. The liquidation of political competition is the first step towards monopolism and dictatorship.

As for the definition of strong opposition, I see the following distinguishing features. To begin with, a strong opposition must be in a position to rival the authorities. And I mean rival. A strong political opposition cannot limit itself to criticism of the power; it must act constructively and responsibly, offering alternative solutions to acute problems, solutions that would produce the best possible result. For example, the opposition must not simply say that the state's budgetary policy is ineffective; it must also elaborate an alternative budget and offer it for public consideration. And lastly, a strong opposition must have a clear view of where the country must move and what goals it must pursue.

I think the first step towards the development of such opposition would be the creation of proper legal conditions. We need a law on guarantees of opposition activities, which would stipulate effective procedures for the protection of opposition political associations from all kinds of discrimination. The power itself must want this because in a normal society today's power may become tomorrow's opposition and vice versa. I don't mean political time-serving; the elaboration of such legislation is the key to the stability and balance of the political system as a whole.

Question: In other words, the opposition must be always ready to become the power.

Answer: Absolutely. A strong opposition must force the power to become effective or replace it, thus proving to the people the correctness of its policy provisions. On the other hand, we must remember that the striving for power in the name of power is movement into a dead-end. Power is above all an instrument and a visible improvement in the life of each citizen is the criterion of its effective use. But one must learn to effectively compete with the power before winning power. To attain this goal, the Russian opposition must work more energetically than the power does and advance its initiatives before the power does. For the power has much more resources than the opposition does. It is a difficult task that calls for colossal efforts. But the modern left-wing opposition will have a political future only if this strategy is accepted as the foundation for the development of the Russian left-wing movement.

Question: You said the opposition must answer the question about where Russia is moving. Do you mean the elaboration of a new development strategy for the country?

Answer: I meant the elaboration of strategy as such because there is no strategy at all now. We cannot imagine in what country we will live in three to five, let alone in 15-20 years. Because of this, the basic development directions for the next year are chosen at random and suggested priorities in the implementation of key reforms are frequently time-serving. We must streamline this process immediately.

For example, it would be suicidal to try to simultaneously reform all spheres of state operation and the economy. Instead, we must determine a substantiated sequence and focus our attention on those spheres that would act as the driving force for the rest. The goals of all reforms must be clear to the people; they should be accepted and supported by majority of them.

I also believe that the effectiveness of reforms should be evaluated from the viewpoint of goals and positive changes in the life of the people. These elements will be included in the Model for Russia's Development, which our specialists are elaborating now. We will try to look 50 and possibly even a hundred years into the future.

As for the present day, we could streamline the procedure for choosing development priorities for the next year. For example, the president could deliver his addresses to the Federal Assembly with the tasks for the next year and a report on the achievements of the past year in September. It would be expedient to instruct the government to elaborate a development plan for the next year on the basis of the presidential address and to draft the federal budget in accordance with such plan.

Question: It is widely believed that inadequate legislation hinders the solution of many Russian problems. How true is this belief?

Answer: Indeed, the Russian legislation is far from ideal and should be modernised. But I would not blame all of our problems on the absence of a good legislation, as much depends on the implementation of laws. I believe that the time has come to create a new model of legal space, beginning with legislation as the foundation of all other normative acts.

Question: Exactly what do you suggest?

Answer: First, we should inspect the legislation, above all federal laws. Next we should clear the legal space of obsolete legislative acts and other legal rubbish. We must adopt a law on laws that would stipulate an exhaustive list of basic federal laws and basic procedures for drafting, discussing and adopting them. After that all federal legislation should be codified in 100-150 basic law codes, with the provision that all other lawmaking would be limited to amending them. I think such work could take about two years, provided we properly organise it.

Question: You said the opposition must be responsible. But what about the responsibility of the power?

Answer: This is an issue of vital significance. The people do not trust the power exactly because it remains irresponsible to them, though there are rather apparent mechanisms for making the operation of power bodies more transparent for the people. Why not introduce in political practice the system of obligatory annual reports of the president, governors, heads of local administrations and deputies of all levels to the electorate? The people would see what each elected leader did within his sphere of competence.

The same is true about the accountability of the government to the parliament and above all to the State Duma, whose deputies are elected directly by the people. I think it would be expedient to introduce obligatory presentation by a candidate to the post of premier of the cabinet's action plan for the next year and cabinet members during the approval of the premier in the State Duma. It would be advisable to introduce a system of voluntary annual reports of the government to the State Duma.

Besides, members of the Federation Council should be elected by the people. The current system of forming the council suits the power but creates an unbridgeable gap between the council members and the requirements of the people. I am sure that we will resume the discussion of this issue, sooner or later.

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