Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
Excerpts from the JRL E-Mail Community :: Founded and Edited by David Johnson

#4 - JRL 7264
History of Russian "Parties of Power" Viewed, With Reference to United Russia
Vremya MN
19 July 2003
Report by Semen Shatskoy:
"Transient Banner of `Party of Power' -- Evolution of Political Types"

There have already been four "parties of power" under two presidents in Russia. The fifth is preparing to confirm its name.

Democratic Russia was originally from the Inter-Regional Group of Deputies (MDG): what grew, grew.

When Boris Yeltsin refused to stand against Mikhail Gorbachev as chairman of the USSR Supreme Soviet in 1989, it was obvious that the establishment democrats did not have much faith in their own strength and the informal leadership in the parliamentary opposition passed to the academic and human rights activist Andrey Sakharov. Having become the standard-bearer for all those who did not agree with the "aggressively obedient majority" in the congress, the Inter-Regional Group of Deputies, despite the plans of Yeltsin and his comrades-in-arms, elected not one chairman (him) but a total of five co-chairmen (moreover, in terms of weight and influence Boris Nikolayevich was not even "first among equals" there).

The actual main body of the opposition did not gain a single leading post in parliament apart from symbolic ones. And instead of propping up the CPSU's reforming general secretary, as expected - by, say, the intelligentsia - the decision that was tragic for the country as a whole was taken to seize the republican stage of power in the union from Gorbachev. Democratic Russia left the MDG brandishing weapons, like Pallas Athena from the head of Zeus, against the first USSR president who, to a large extent thanks to it, was the last leader of a single union state.

Having become first chairman of the Supreme Soviet and then president of Russia, Yeltsin demonstratively left Gorbachev's CPSU at its last congress but did not join Democratic Russia. Instead, he left his first "party of power" without ruling political "protection". And left completely without any administrative resources, the first Yeltsin party did not survive and died soon afterwards.

Russia's Choice Lose to the Party of Russia Unity and Accord

The Russian president needed a new party of power in 1993. The draft constitution, pushed through at the Constitutional Assembly in the Kremlin, prescribed for the country a presidential republic copied from France but it also envisaged a parliament half filled from party lists. Yegor Gaydar (then the first deputy in Viktor Chernomyrdin's government) who had been selected as a candidate for prime minister by Yeltsin in the autumn of that year should, according to the head of state, receive the majority of votes during approval in the State Duma and for this reason he headed the president's bloc Russia's Choice in the elections on 12 December that year. Triumph did not result.

There were at least two "parties of power": alongside Yegor Timurovich's list, two other deputy prime ministers - Sergey Shakhray and Aleksandr Shokhin, who constantly opposed Gaydar's "Chicago boys" inside the cabinet - organized their own Party of Russian Unity and Accord (PRES). Moreover, Sergey Mikhailovich demanded that Russia's Choice withdraw its list in favor of PRES for the sake of unity between all the reformers in the elections. No-one wanted to give in, so the "single" party appointed from above did not survive 1993 and died soon afterwards, although it did leave numerous descendants.

The result of those elections is well known: two columns of ruling democrats and two of opposition democrats got into parliament, Grigoriy Yavlinskiy's Yabloko and Nikolay Travkin and Sergey Glazyev's Democratic Party of Russia. The democrats on the whole had leaders but no unity among them was observed. They decided not to create the expected "government of the parliamentary majority".

Our Home is Russia Men Become Medvedi Men

Without the post of prime minister and without a "controlling share" in the votes in the Duma, Yegor Gaydar left the government on Okhotnyy Ryad and in so doing more or less foreordained Democratic Russia's split into a democratic and an establishment component. PRES's influence on Viktor Chernomyrdin's cabinet of ministers was noticeably predominant with the beginning of the first Chechen war and before Russia's Choice officially spit into Democratic Choice of Russia (Gaydar-Chubays's party), which opposed the Kremlin, and Duma-96 ,which was completely loyal to the authorities, and which was headed by a young deputy from Altay, Vladimir Ryzhkov, who, it turned out, was the second most popular deputy in the faction..

It was Ryzhkov, it is said, to whom the slogan Our Home is Russia belongs. This became the name of the third Russian "party of power" headed no longer by a future prime minister but by a current one. However, the result obtained by the Our Home men (that is what Our Home is Russia staff activists were called in political slang) was more than modest.

This party did not survive either and it died soon afterwards when "its" head of government and the head of its apparatus, Vladimir Babichev, who also headed the Our Home is Russia executive committee retired from the White House in 1998. The only consolation for the Our Home is Russia men was the invitation for ordinary members of the Our Home is Russia Political Council - Vladimir Putin and Sergey Shoygu - to head the third version of the "party of power", the Inter-Regional Unity Movement (Medvedi).

Having become the favorites of the Kremlin itself, both called for Our Home is Russia members to join the new bloc but Chernomyrdin and Ryzhkov refused to be reclassed as Medvedi in autumn 1999. Then, of course, they joined the Unity faction, but it was too late.

Fatherland as Main Body for All Russia

If you think that Fatherland-All Russia and the Unity party survived and then flourished after defeating everyone in the elections, then you are mistaken. Vladimir Surkov, the Kremlin's curator in the current Duma, of course relied on the Medvedi, which forced Fatherland-All Russia and the pro-governor Regions of Russia to cohabit with the main Putin faction and its satellite, People's Deputy, but the center of gravity in forming the "big four" nevertheless changed in favor of Fatherland's public politicans. Boris Gryzlov who left for government could not be replaced by another Medvedi phrase-monger and the function of the presidential majority's "talking head" went to Vyacheslav Volodin from Our Home is Russia.

So the Kremlin will promote a new "party of power" in the current elections to parliament - it is called United Russia. But it is also just the main body of a future center-left coalition of pro-Putin forces in the new Duma. The evolution is, incidentally, instructive: from election to election the "party of power" in Russia drifts along the political spectrum from right to left... But if the CPRF (Communist Party of the Russian Federation), say, headed by Sergey Glazyev, has still not been invited to join the ruling majority, then in the 2007 elections it will probably be communist reformers who are at the heart of the pro-Kremlin coalition.

You will not notice United Russia.

Top   Next