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#13 - JRL 7210
Corporate Sponsorship of Russian Parties Could Produce 'Normal' Multiparty System
Vremya MN
30 May 2003
Commentary by Andrey Ryabov, columnist:
"The Secrets Will Be Revealed"

The idea of the unconcealed sponsorship of political parties is gaining popularity in oligarchic groups. In any case, after the Gazprom executives' recent meeting with Communist Party leader Gennadiy Zyuganov, many observers felt that the gas monopoly and other large companies were ready to follow in the footsteps of YuKOS, the pioneer in this process, and join the increasingly popular movement for the financial support of political parties of every ideological hue.

Do these facts really deserve so much attention, however? After all, leading Russian corporations gave various parties money for their election campaigns even before. Although this was not discussed openly, it was never a secret to "people in the know" with any connection to politics. What will change if big business starts making public announcements of its sponsorship of parties?

This actually is a symptom of serious political changes, but they are not easily quantified. At a time when public support is being channeled precisely in the direction of one political party of the "newest type"--United Russia, the "nonpartisan" behavior of large corporations, regardless of their exact motives, suggests that today's masters of the Russian economy do not need a new "overseeing and guiding party." It would be too expensive and too cumbersome. Furthermore, it would be ineffective: This kind of political entity does not envisage direct influence by the oligarchs on the decisions made with this political entity's help. Besides, the need for a party of the "newest type" at a time of continuing democratic and market reforms is unclear in general. This kind of organization usually is established either to force the rich to share their assets with the poor--or even to give them everything they have--or for the opposite reason, to protect the rich from the resentment and encroachment of the lower social strata. United Russia is not prepared--whatever its campaign PR might suggest--to risk a serious conflict with the upper classes for the sake of the humiliated and oppressed. The rich, however, are proving that they do not need it at all.

Now that the biggest corporations are openly financing the opposition, we can draw at least three conclusions from this. The most obvious one is that the Russian grand bourgeoisie no longer fears the opposition, secure in the knowledge that nothing in the country will change even if the opposition wins the election. The economic order will stay the same, and the rest is of little consequence. This means that there is no longer any reason to be shy and secretive. All of the talk about the possible restoration of Communism is just propaganda. We have passed this historic fork in the road and we will never go back. No one believes in this restoration.

The move to openness in the sponsorship of parties could also mean that business gradually will start making its own decisions with regard to political investment, without considering the government's recommendations or reactions. This is an indication of serious changes in the nature of state-bureaucratic capitalism in our country. After all, up to now, all decisions regarding national politics were made by government agencies and officials.

Even if we were to assume that this financing actually is approved and directed by these agencies, which have no real faith in the success and the future of the entity known as United Russia, this would not change anything. The important thing is not the motive, but the result.

After a corporation, which has never displayed any particular interest in politics, starts investing in a potential political asset at someone else's request or command, it soon will realize that this activity "outside its specialty" is producing tangible benefits primarily for the corporation, and not for the original requester.

The result, oddly enough, could be the required natural momentum for the development of a normal and competitive multiparty system. If the creation of lobbies in all parties is deemed expedient, to guarantee the satisfaction of the "selfish" interests of capital, and if the parties are then left on their own to compete for votes, this will create the necessary conditions for the equalization of parties--and not only with regard to the possibility of receiving unconcealed financial support.

In essence, all of the parties, which will no longer be divided into "good" and "bad" or "right" and "wrong," will start working openly toward the consolidation of the existing political system, but only on the basis of open competition, without any of the inherited preferences and privileges that seem so anachronistic today.

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