Russian Protests Don’t Threaten Kremlin Because There’s No Opposition in the Duma, Portnikov Says

Russian State Duma Building file photo

(Paul Goble – Window on Eurasia – Staunton, June 12, 2017)

Both the Kremlin and the Russian people are afraid of a Maidan, but they needn’t be because for a Maidan to take place in Russia there would have to be something that does not now exist, a genuine opposition in the Duma ready and willing to serve as a bridge between the streets and the powers, according to Vitaly Portnikov.

The fear of the Russian authorities in the actions of their own citizens, a fear, the Ukrainian commentator says, that shows that those powers “relate to [them] as if they were terrorists” whenever the latter show any sign of raising their voices and going into the street, is especially misplaced (ru.krymr.com/a/28542320.html).

For Russians in power and out, a Maidan represents “chaos and destruction,” and thus there is a certain reason for Russians to fear those things. But that is because they have a false idea of what a Maidan is and thus do not see that Russian lacks a key institutional ingredient that made the Maidan in Ukraine possible.

Both Maidans in Ukraine were possible, Portnikov says, because “the protesters had a base of representation in the Ukrainian parliament. Viktor Yushchenko’s part won the parliamentary elections of 2004, and in 2013, those who went into the square knew they had the support “not of several deputies but of almost half of the Verkhovna Rada.

Ukrainian citizens “knew that there was someone to represent them during negotiations with the powers, and these were not some adventurers or orators who stood out at meetings but those for whom they had voted for before and relatively recently,” the Ukrainian commentator continues.

Consequently, “immediately after the start of both Maidans, a mechanism arose of consultations and round tables” because there were legitimate parliamentarians who could play a major role. “There is and cannot be anything similar in Russia” because Russia has long pursued a policy designed only to “imitate” real parliamentary government.

The Bolsheviks disbanded the Constituent Assembly. Boris Yeltsin disbanded the congress of deputies elected by the people and replaced it with the Duma.” And “after Crimea,” Putin arranged things so that the Russian parliament would be like the government chamber of East Germany, with an “imitation party of power, a non-existence opposition,” and so on.

This Russian parliament “doesn’t represent anyone,” Portnikov says. “The people who go out into the streets of Moscow and other cities of Russia cannot count on a negotiation process with those in power” because there is no one who can negotiate with the powers on their behalf.

“Ukrainians frequently are surprised that Russians simply go to meetings and then go home,” he says. They don’t recognize that demonstrations of that can “make sense only in a classical democracy when real parties are afraid of defeat in real elections,” a set of conditions that simply don’t exist in Russia today.

And that also underscores the differences between Ukrainians and Russians, between Ukrainian political life and its Russian counterpart. “Ukrainains in parliament or in the streets can really say of themselves ‘we are the power here.’ But Russians cannot say this about themselves, even when there are a great number of them taking part in meetings.”