The Other Russia?
This weekend's edition of the Wall Street Journal features an interesting profile of Gary Kasparov, former world chess champion and nemesis of Vladimir Putin's Kremlin. I recommend reading it. The article, by the paper's deputy editorial page editor Melanie Kirkpatrick, provides a useful reminder that it is time to really start getting to grips with the Putin succession, if indeed there is going to be one after the presidential elections in March 2008. Kasparov, it will be recalled, helped set up an umbrella grouping last year called"The Other Russia". To quote from the article:"It [The Other Russia] is composed of groups that would normally be at political odds -- democrats like Mr. Kasparov, nationalists, socialists, even Bolsheviks. Mr. Kasparov predicts that the Communist Party will join up before the end of the year."There's still a lot of distrust," he says, with more than a modicum of understatement."It's a problem, but I don't think it's insurmountable. The big advantage of the Other Russia, and I think it's our biggest accomplishment, is that we've established the principle of compromise, which was not yet seen in Russian politics. It was always confrontation. It was a mentality of a civil war. We eliminated it." The author continues:"A declaration at the time of the Other Russia's organizing conference last summer reads,"We are gathering together because we are united in our disagreement with the current political course of the Kremlin and united in our alarm for the present and future of our country." The group's sole objective is to find a candidate to run -- and win -- in the March 2008 presidential elections. Or as Mr. Kasparov puts it with characteristic bluntness:"When a liberal democracy is re-established, everybody goes his or her way." Their chances are obviously slim. But we need to be careful about falling into the trap of missing some of the democratic undercurrents that still exist in Russian society. Vladimir Putin's Russia is certainly becoming highly authoritarian but it is not totalitarian. While we should clearly be watching for Putin's anointed successor (if, I repeat, there is going to be one) we should also be aware that the battle for democracy is not entirely over in modern Russia. No cause here for naive optimism. But plenty to look out for all the same.
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