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October 1, 2003 by AK

Politics as usual

Former Russian PM Chernomyrdin, now ambassador to Ukraine, is said to use profane words so intensely in private conversation that, when he must omit them in a public forum, there are not many left at all. Despite that – and, perhaps, thanks to the dearth of available vocabulary, he occasionally produces true pearls – maxims and aphorisms not to be easily forgotten. Every Russian now knows “Khoteli kak luchshe, a poluchilos’… kak vsegda”, literally, “We wanted to make it better, but it turned out… as usual,” or, as someone rhymed it, “We tried our best; you know the rest.”

The latest of his bons mots I have heard is “No matter how many parties you found in Russia, you get the same old CPSU [Communist Party of the Soviet Union].”

And he’s right, I’m afraid. As I’ve said before, there are no grassroot parties in Russia, except, ironically, the Communists (to some degree) and to a lesser degree, Yabloko. When someone sets up a new party, it means some group within the elites wants its own share of the electoral pie so that it may lobby for more preferences through the Duma – or at least get some visibility, which, apparently, helps lobbying, or so they think. Another reason might be the current government’s electoral strategy, staking out a role for each new party – to split somebody’s vote or to deflect attention from someone. Their programs may even address issues that matter to voters, if the “political scientists” or PR managers hired by a frosh party can figure out, in the comfort of their neo-suburban mansions by Moscow, what worries people a thousand miles away and hundreds of thousands of bucks poorer. But it doesn’t make more difference than dressings in a McDonald’s: the winners will forget the bothersome issues until the next election campaign.

That does not mean, of course, that there is no meaningful legislative activity in the Duma. But “write your deputy” is not much of a policy tool here, certainly not in the big cities.


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