European Forum conference in Moscow

Thu 14 Jun 2012

European Forum conference in Moscow

From 9 to 12 June 2012, a delegation of the European Forum visited Moscow to receive information on the current developments in Russia. The delegation included, among others, the Vice-President of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament - Libor Roucek; the UK shadow Minister for Europe (Labour Party) - Emma Reynolds; and Secretary General of the Olof Palme International Center - Jens Orback. Meetings were held with the ‘A Just Russia’ party at their headquarters in the State Duma and representatives of the broader opposition at a conference organised by the European Forum the next day.

Meeting with ‘A Just Russia’

On Saturday 9 June, ‘A Just Russia’ party leader Sergey Mironov and chairman Nikolai Levichev welcomed the delegation, expressing their gratitude on the European outlook for more information about Russian politics. The leaders made clear that their political party is the only one which is represented in the State Duma at the same time maintaining ties with the extra-parliamentary protest movement. Moreover, an extended meeting took place with different representatives of ‘A Just Russia’, including members of parliament and regional departments. Different societal departments of the party, such as the trade union Justice, and the Social Democratic Union of Women of Russia were represented. Difficulties for social democracy in Russia were discussed.

Conference on the political developments of Russia

Sunday 10 June was marked by a meeting of representatives of different societal groups, including Yevgenia Chirikova (leader of the ecologic movement Ecologic Defence of Moscow and prominent protester); Boris Nemtsov (unregistered Party of National Freedom) and Ilya Ponomarev (MP for Just Russia), as alternative forces in politics; Andrey Ryabov, Vladimir Shveitser and Alexander Buzgalin, as scholars; and Boris Guseletov and Anatoli Golov, representing their respective parties (Just Russia and Yabloko). The mixed composition led to fruitful and sometimes also heated discussions, leaving the task up to the European Delegates to settle on their views.

The elections and streets protests

In the morning a discussion took place on how to interpret the phenomenon of the massive street protests, which is something new for contemporary Russia. Although a majority of Russians can be said to be afraid of change, the demonstrations against President Putin do leave room for a scenario of violent revolution. According to some panellists the situation is even more tense considering the unwillingness of Vladimir Putin to hold a dialogue with the protest movement and the absence of a shared political agenda of protesters. Furthermore it seems that protesters feel a poor resonation of their strive in existing political opposition parties. Concerning the options for European politicians, it was agreed that the least they can do is to work against Western companies that cooperate with corrupt Russian state companies and put pressure on President Putin for more freedom in Russia.

Current political situation and outlook

During the second panel, discussions surrounded the topic of conventional opposition in the parliament. Considering the new law, which lowers the threshold for registering a new political party, one would expect a better perspective for the opposition, which has long struggled to register new parties. However, the Russian speakers assured the European delegates that this law only serves United Russia and President Putin, as it will fragmentise the opposition (there is no right to form electoral blocs) and only allow for ‘piranha’ parties (funded and/or founded by the authorities to attack the real opposition) to flourish. The perception of the ways to cope with this differed, as some of the panellist saw a more important task for street opposition than for the parliament.

The future of the political left in Russia

In the end a round table discussion took place. Once more, this discussion showed the discord on a shared political agenda. It revealed diverse understanding of the meaning of left politics in Russia, and in general. A representative from North Caucasus accordingly asked whether blogger Alexey Navalny as a leader of the street protests can be legitimately lauded, while he is also seen as sympathising the nationalist movements. Nevertheless opposing opposition parties did manage to agree on a manifesto calling for a resignation of Putin, which was signed for the planned mass rally on 12 June. The most challenging task right now will be to mobilise the people and parties, that are more and more restrained by laws, in favour of change in a societal environment which for a long time has not believed in solidarity.

As some Delegation members could witness, the March of Millions, held on Russia Day 12 June 2012, showed that the society is still in turmoil, without a clear perspective of where the developments will lead.