Chto delaet Boris Kagarlitsky?

Chris Doss itschris13 at
Wed Mar 22 07:58:21 PST 2000

#How I Became an Enemy of the State #By Boris Kagarlitsky #MOSCOW - A few months ago I was simply a political analyst. Since early in March, however, I have stepped back into a role I had almost forgotten - that of coordinator of an informal political movement, in this case one established to organise an electoral boycott. This return to public activity is not because I am incapable of shutting up, but because the current elections for the Russian presidency are simply revolting.

# The only response a self-respecting person can make to these elections is to refuse to play along with them. The only thing I can do as a citizen is to declare my position to all and sundry. Democracy without freedom is impossible, and freedom stops where manipulation begins. An indestructible bloc of oligarchs and political fixers merits only contempt, and a boycott. In such a case, the only way of winning is to refuse to play the game. To ignore the propaganda. To make pointless the manipulations by the political puppeteers, and in the process, to turn their intrigues back upon them.

#If the politicians connive behind the backs of the citizens, why shouldn't the citizens also unite and tell the politicians what the public thinks of them? So it was that the Union 2000 movement arose, putting the slogan: <I>Don't Vote - It 'd be Shameful.<D> The principle behind the movement was that its members saw the legitimising of Putin's rule as a political farce. Our campaign began with a demonstration on Theatre Square on March 11, when activists smashed television sets at the monument to Karl Marx. After this a rock group performed, and young anarchists sang and danced in a ring. More respectable members of other left tendencies stood and watched. It was a sacrificial offering, a Russian journalist remarked. Just like in New York, a <I>Boston Globe<D> correspondent agreed cheerfully.

#The militia, the Russian police, took their own view of the proceedings. Movement activist Vladimir Malkin and I were detained as instigators of the act of vengeance against defenceless television sets. As we were shoved into a militia Lada, young anarchists with threatening expressions gathered about. We explained that as law-abiding citizens, we would not put up any resistance. Peace was then restored. A third instigator, journalist Ivan Zasursky, was left alone by the militia; someone had to ensure order on the square. Through a megaphone, Zasursky declared the demonstration a success, since the organisers had been arrested.

#As it happened, we were not charged. On the contrary, the militia themselves were intrigued by what was going on. After studying the leaflets of Union 2000, they asked whether the smashing of the television sets had damaged the monument to Karl Marx. They were assured that no damage had been done, and that fhe organisers of the action held both Marx and his monument in the utmost respect.

#A pause followed. Then a militia colonel asked: "What brand were the sets?" Temp and Rubin, made in Russia and considered of dubious quality. "We've got a Sony here," said a representative of the authorities. After discussing whether to smash the Sony as well, the militia officers decided that for a start it would be enough simply to turn it off. After 20 minutes the organisers of the demonstration were set loose.

#The campaign for a boycott did not always pass off so peacefully. On March 14 people calling for a vote against all the candidates decided to mount their own action, but unlike the organisers of the earlier boycott demonstration, they had not obtained the required permission from the authorities. The result was 14 arrests, including four of casual passers-by. In the city of Kirov, an activist of the radical left Movement for a Workers Party was arrested while pasting up posters denouncing Putin and the elections. When a fellow member of the movement, a deputy to the provincial assembly, tried to intervene on his behalf, the deputy was threatened with loss of his legislator's immunity from prosecution. On March 17 activists of Union 2000 who had been pasting up posters in Moscow were also stopped by militia, who confiscated the posters and let the activists go.

#Meanwhile, wreaking vengeance on television sets proved such a popular idea that Zasursky's phone ran hot as friends got in touch and offered their sets to be smashed. True, the offerings were mostly of ancient black and white Rekords and Rubins, rather than state-of-the-art imported models. Meanwhile, the television sets were not altogether defenceless. As early as the evening of March 11, they began to strike back. All the channels featured reports in which the organisers of the demonstration were accused of extremism, and of trying to undermine the Russian state system. The people trying to sabotage the elections were enemies of democracy, declared the head of the Central Electoral Commission, Mr Veshnyakov, who went on to threaten that the authorities would not stay on the sidelines. Supporters of the boycott, Veshnyakov suggested, might be charged under Article 41 of the Criminal Code, on hindering the exercise of electoral rights. Poor Veshnyakov evidently did not realise that this article relates primarily to his fellow officials of the electoral apparatus. If, for example, we bolt the doors of the polling stations, burn the ballot boxes, and send the ballot papers off to be pulped, that will be precisely Article 41. But practical jokes such as these are permitted only to officials. Activists exercising their freedom of speech and conducting lawful agitation on the streets, filling out all the required forms and obtaining permission for their actions, clearly belong to another category of people. Especially since the right not to vote is just as sacred as the right to vote and to stand for election.

#Hard-headed analysts and political specialists immediately began trying to work out who was behind the boycotters. It did not enter their heads that people might act on their own initiative, because they wanted to defend their ideas. For the political fixers to accept that a demonstration shown on almost all the television stations could be mounted without spending money was quite impossible; that would be to undermine the market for their own services. Such a demonstration must certainly have cost several thousand dollars. The cost of reproducing the labor power of the election specialists, including holidays by the Black Sea and dinners in expensive restaurants, would have needed to be met. But this time, nothing came of the specialists' search. Their methods, meant for an imitation of political activity, are powerless once a real political struggle begins.

#On Monday March 13, representatives of the left organizations opposing the elections decided to hold a press conference. The time proved ill-chosen. An hour and a half before the press conference was due to begin, the National Press Institute, which was providing the hall, called the meeting off; the reason, it seemed, was the views of the institute's sponsors. Since press releases had already gone out, and editors had assigned reporters to cover the event, a group of journalists gathered at the doors of the institute. The radical left parliamentarian Oleg Shein also arrived. Something like an impromptu meeting with journalists then took place.

#Our press conference was finally held on March 17 in the House of Journalists. Here, there was a new surprise. Before the meeting with the press, Ivan Zasursky received a phone call which he could not help but relate to his colleagues. ``The authorities are creating not only angels such as Putin,'' Zasursky observed, ``but also demons. The authorities now need to present the people campaigning against the elections as a terrible destabilising force. They need to create the next enemy. I have received a phone call from someone close to Putin's election campaign staff, offering to finance our actions.'' Everyone in the hall strained to hear the name of the person involved. It turned out that the person who had phoned Zasursky was the famous Marat Gelman. ``I told him I'd think about it,'' Zasursky related, ``but now I realise that this is something we don't need. We're putting our ideas, and we're not doing it for money. I don't want to take part in Gelman's intellectual provocations.''

#It seems that Union 2000 is by no means the only group that has received offers of money. The group Proryv (``Breakthrough'') has held a whole series of demonstrations under the slogan ``Vote against all of them!'' Proryv leader Roman Tkach maintains that he has had no contact with Gelman for an extended period. Journalists, however, think differently. According to the internet source, money was most likely offered to Gelman and Tkach, and since Tkach, unlike Kagarlitsky and Zasursky, was not fighting for ideas but for a generous payment, it was easier to reach agreement with him.

#On March 18 Tkach appeared at a Union 2000 demonstration with a dozen of his followers, each of them with a professionally prepared placard. Accompanying them was a brass band. This would have been simply amusing if they had not had with them a truck carrying 200 kg of buckwheat, which the Proryv members planned to distribute to the population. If Electoral Commission chief Veshnyakov had needed proof that the opponents of the elections were using illegal methods, here it was. A classic case of vote-buying, and those who were answerable for it were not the people from Proryv, but the organisers of the demonstration. As noted, the ploy was totally in the spirit of Father Gapon. The provocation did not succeed, as Union 2000 called a halt to the demonstration. As soon as this was announced, the militants of Proryv loaded their placards into the truck with the buckwheat and quit the square.

#Why should political specialists close to the authorities play at these games? The anwer is simple: they need an enemy, and they also need to have people turn up at the polling stations, at any price. Even if people vote against Putin, the main thing is that they should turn out. Provided enough people do this, the vote-counting specialists will manage the rest. In the 2000 presidential elections, ``Against All'' is being cast in the role filled by Zyuganov in 1993 and 1996.

#It is another matter that the electoral ``technocrats'' around the Kremlin have clearly been carried away with the game they are playing. They have ensured that the only meaningful choice before electors is whether to vote against all the candidates, or else to boycott the elections entirely. In the process, the political fixers have unmasked the system they helped construct. Now they have nowhere left to retreat to. If things continue in this fashion, at the next elections the population will be offered a choice between a boycott and an armed insurrection. What if they choose the latter?

______________________________________________________ Get Your Private, Free Email at

More information about the lbo-talk mailing list