Spring flourishing of United Russia
April began with anomalous phenomena. Western Europe was suffering from snowstorms and in Russia centigrate thermometer showed the highest spring temperature within decades. What was divided by environment was brought together by political life that also seemed to break records. First so-called “international community” was discussing the 1st April joke about possible NATO membership of the Ukraine and Georgia, later it was engaged by a mysterious trick -- how to lead Great United Russia without being a President and without any violation of Constitution. However it is a well known fact that in spring everything might happen if there is a strong desire. Strong desires were shown in Bucharest and in Moscow.
On the 14th of April Gostiny Dvor -- famous luxury building at the center of Moscow --was full of VIPs since it hosted the IXth Congress of the United Russia (the UR), the most powerful political party in the state. The Congress consisted of two parts -- of Forum that took place from morning till afternoon on the 14th of April and of the Congress that was held during 2 days -- on 14th and 15th of April.
The Congress brought spring renewal to the UR: fresh ideas, new leader and innovative structure.
Apart from 600 delegates from the United Russia and about 800 representatives of mass-media, more than 1500 special guests visited this event in order to participate in large discussion about Russian future named Forum “Strategy 2020”. Indeed prominent experts and scientists, successful businessmen and politicians, famous actors and producers decided to promote an idea about dialog between power and society.
As Boris Gryzlov, a chairman of the UR High Council put it: “The “United Russia” has reached a new stage. Now our target is to participate actively in creation and adoption the Strategy of social and economic development through to 2020. I consider the elaboration of mechanism, that allows us to get a wide discussion within society on solution methods for all crucial issues as a priority”.
The Forum united party activists and non-party celebrities within 8 sections devoted to various topics: “Law vs corruption”, “Our democracy”, “Global world: ambitions of sovereign Russia”, “Economy, technology, leadership”, “What is innovation”, “Searching the middle class”, “New elite of Russia”, “Modern art: new times -- new prospects”. What was alike turned out to be an idea of development.
It is obvious that no progress can ever be achieved in a corrupted state. Moreover corruption in Russia might shatter young democracy and trigger a crisis in relationship between society and government for corruption is an illegal way for society to influence power. Some individuals and groups of people can pursue their interest when piece of legislation is being implemented in practice. On the contrary in democratic societies group interests can be considered while draft bills are being adopted.
Therefore round table on corruption seemed to be a key one. Corruption elimination is an utopia dream, but to minimize corruption is a more realistic idea worth discussing.
The proposals on combating this “old disease” reflected a traditional Russian approach. It was recommended to severe the law towards corrupted officials, to make legal regulation for governmental institutions more strict, to strengthen political parties and parliamentary values. However Anatoly Kucherena, a barrister, a member of the Public Chamber and a co-moderator for the round table, expressed some fresh ideas like legal education of citizens. «A person should trust the state -- the legislative, executive and juridical branches of power. In other words a law should become a part of our life. To obey the law must be fashionable, just like in 90’s it was fashionable to violate it» -- he said giving an interview to Russian newspaper “Izvestia”.
Heated debates over round table on Russian democracy resulted in a consensus that the State and Democracy do not confront each other, but are complementary. Democracy can be effective only in a State which is able to carry out its functions -- security, order, safe financial system, human rights guarantees. Delegates also agreed to consider “The United Russia” as the most important democratic institution in the country. Nevertheless there is something that might be improved. Thus the Party should become an institute for democratic mobilization and should make democracy work for strategic development of Russia. To reach such an ambitious goal four conditions were formulated: to complicate the internal party structure; to strengthen ties between party and lower social movements, making citizen initiative be heard by party members; to support regional mass-media that are weak enough and are usually pressed by bureaucracy; to wide the participation of business representatives in politics and in decision - making process.
The topic “Global world: ambitions of sovereign Russia” was oriented mostly towards external policy. Views on Globalization reflected classic questions addressed to Russia: to be a part of Global World or not to be? Who is to blame that Russia is not a Western country and the West forbids Russia to be an equal partner? What should be done to establish warmer relations with international structures? The answer was based on the unique Russian civilization, geopolitical location and her political experience during past 50 years. Russia has to be a powerful nation able to defend her interests and willing to cooperate with states and civilizations, willing to discuss problem of democracy, freedom, world order with others.
It was also pointed out that system of international security seems to be in a crisis since small group of countries has misappropriated the right to act for the name of the Humanity and is implementing double standard principles in the foreign policy. On the Forum, therefore rather interesting opinion was expressed that Russia is able to head a new Nonaligned Movement for Global World of sovereign democracies. Other formulated ambitions -- to make Russia one of the most attractive countries for people to develop their creativeness or to make a breakthrough in new technology -- are more simple to be carried out. But the success depends on economy, an issue deliberated over another round table.
Russia is to become the fifth world economy by the year 2020 and her economic growth will be qualitative, based on innovations, creativity and human capital -- that was the main idea of proceedings. Businessmen expressed commitment to boost investment, to foster labour capacity and competitiveness. Measures on modernization the economic structure presuppose tax preferences for remanufacturing industries, reduction the value added tax and introduction of profit tax privilege as far as expenses on research and advanced development are concerned.
New economic conditions mean new technology achievement. State has already created infrastructure, established funds, research and technology parks, outlined new projects like nanotechnology, biotechnology, hydrogen and nuclear energy. Now business institutions are ready to commerce the results of scientific researches, to provide demand for innovations. To create the innovation Russia needs educated people. That means improvement of basic education as well as implementation of the national qualification system.
The longest debate was about new Russian elite. Most part of experts reiterated the importance to invest into children education and to transfer the experience.
The conclusion of the Great public discourse sounded tremendously optimistic: ?lose cooperation of the state, business and education will provide prosperity for Russian nation.
After the Forum had been finished the IXth Congress of the United Russia started. Round table moderators took the floor and reported the results to the party delegates. Taking into consideration the expressed opinions, Boris Gryzlov pronounced a speech “The role of the United Russia in creation and implementation of the development strategy for Russia through to 2020”. Nevertheless the most remarkable news was caused by Mr. Putin’s decision to head the Party.
The invitation addressed to Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin to join the Party was expected as well as Mr. Medvedev’s refusal. “United Russia is for me a party of kindred spirits; ideologically it is a party which I most identify. But at this point I think it would be premature to involve myself directly in its work. I am convinced that now that I have been elected head of state it would be best to avoid any direct affiliation with a political party”-- announced new elected Russian President. Simultaneously he underlined that Vladimir Putin’s consent will consolidate a really powerful political force, give the opportunity to form a Government based on a parliamentary majority, improve cooperation between legislative and executive authorities. As a result these great advantages will strengthen democratic institutions of the society and raise standard of living.
And Vladmir Putin agreed. He agreed to lead the United Russia, a party which foundation actually was initiated by him in 2001; a party which made a successful attempt to gather constructive forces in order to counter degradation of state, economy and social sphere; a party which wants Russia to be a free nation respected by international community. Moreover Mr. Putin is considered to become a Prime-Minister therefore the party leadership is indeed likely to make democratic contribution to Russian political system, being a traditional practice. As Mr. Putin put it: “Harmonious work between the cabinet and the parliamentary majority offers an opportunity to successfully meet the challenges of economic development, improve the quality of health care and education, increase the incomes of our citizens and strengthen the defense capabilities of our nation”.
Benefits of the event are evident.
Mr. Putin has formally established the relations with the party he was supporting all this years. Once he created a party and now he is to create less bureaucratic decision making process. First, Mr. Putin’ trustworthy and his future Prime-Minister seat brings stability and openness to the extremely powerful party force. New Russian Cabinet of Ministers is going to be an authority, supported by parliamentary majority. It is a well known fact that most bills in Russia are drafted by the Cabinet and seek approval in State Duma. Bearing in mind the overwhelming UR majority of 315 voices in State Duma many bills can be adopted. The UR becomes an institute for modernization of Russia. It takes more responsibility for the decisions not simple for the disputes on the subject. And Vladimir Putin gets a chance to promote legislation he considers necessary for the “Strategy 2020” to be implemented.
Second, Mr. Putin’s leadership means more control over federal Duma as well as over regional elite. Thus he is able to influence the UR factions in regional Dumas (legislation institutes) and influence the confirmation of the appointed governor consequently -- the thing that Prime-Minister’s office alone won’t give him.
Third, Mr. Putin’s decision makes political system more democratic. In many liberal democracies the party leader is the head of the Cabinet. From now on Russia is evolving towards presidential - parliamentary republic, not to super president one. In addition unlike Western democracies, the population in Russia traditionally tend to believe more to non-party politicians than to party-members. Putin’s population support is extremely high and Putin’s charisma might overcome the pattern.
Experts however are trying to find disadvantages. Thus some researchers consider Putin’s leadership as an attempt to weaken presidential power and do not dismiss a scenario when elite groups, not satisfied with the UR policy, could strive for political split between Mr. Putin and the UR on one side and Mr. Medvedev and his Administration on the other.
In addition there is some mystery left. Mr. Putin became a leader of the United Russia, but he is not a member of it. Such intriguing combination might mean several options. Putin gets control over party at a time when party is not able to control him. So he has a formal powerful status which allows him to be the key person in the state without any dependence neither on President as Prime - Minister nor on Party as its member.
Mr. Putin is expected to run for presidency during next election campaign. In case his policy within coming 4 years succeeds it will surely provide him with unprecedented appreciation of voters. On the contrary, all possible failures might be associated with the UR party, not with non-party Mr. Putin. And he might not lose public support since Russian people, as has already been pointed out, are biased to party-members.
Yet there is one more thing. Mr. Putin is a great personality and can’t fit the standard system demands. Therefore the system is to be transformed.
The reform covers the internal party structure as well. In the Speech at the Party Congress Mr. Putin listed 3 amendments of the leadership. First, he is going to become a leader after his presidential powers have been annulled, e.g. after the 7th of May. Second, he asked Boris Gryzlov to coordinate all the current party activities. Third, Mr. Putin insisted on party to become “more open to discussions and take views of the voters into account”. He spoke about bureaucracy reduction, giving priority to “eliminate from party ranks the random people who are simply there to pursue their selfish interests”. The idea to dismiss “odd people” is a plan for future while the proposal to provide variety of opinion within Party seems to be heard a week before the Congress started.
On the 9th of April a Charter was signed by 3 party political clubs. It laid a formal basis for internal discourse.
Actually political disputes began several years ago when appeared two organizations: a liberal-conservative club of political action “The 4th of November” and a socially-oriented “Center of social and conservative policy” (“CSCP”). Main object of both structures was to contribute to the wide discussion on liberal-conservative development program (“The 4th of November”) or on social problems (“CSCP”). The tactic was fruitful -- clubs have organized great amount of round tables and conferences on federal and regional levels.
However at that time the party leadership expressed the position rather clearly -- the Party will benefit from constructive arguments but not from being divided into factions.
This spring brought the third fresh institute -- “National patriotic club”. And idea of factions revived. While the Charter was being discussed Sergey Markov, a deputy of the State Duma, reiterated that factions are the only possible way for internal party dialog. “We shouldn’t be afraid of a split. Currently there is a hidden struggle between party clans. Let’s open it”-- he said. His opponents argued that the Party is too young to have a strong internal confrontation. Otherwise all three clubs are aimed at uniting intellectual forces for the future development.
As a result the idea of separation failed. According to the Charter 3 clubs expressed the commitment to the major party values that are going to provide successful future for Russian citizens. They expressed the support to the strategic Russian development plan through to 2020, offered by Mr. Putin and Mr. Medvedev. They insisted on having “serious intellectual work that will consider opinion variety within Party” and “free internal party discourse”. Clubs agreed to obey the party leadership. The Charter says: “The club-members participate actively in hot issue discussions and express their views. After the party leading bodies have made any decision, this decision becomes obligatory to all party club - members”.
Whether all these April reforms are going to part or unite the “United Russia” will be seen later. May is to come soon, bringing Great Russian Victory, Innovative Party and New President.
Maria Botchkova is WSN Editor Russia.