Sunday, December 14, 2008

Politics in Russia: Solidarity vs. Miss Constitution

Former chess champion Garry Kasparov helped to launch a new political movement in Moscow on Saturday called “Solidarity” that hopes for nothing less than the end of the Putin regime in Russia.

If the name sounds familiar, it should, Kasparov and his fellow dissidents chose the name of the famous Eighties-era Polish movement that brought about the end of Communism in that country. "One of the tasks of the Solidarity movement is to rehabilitate those basic principles that, unfortunately, for a significant or even overwhelming portion of our fellow citizens, have become associated with failure, misery or reduction of freedom," Kasparov said.

He’s referring to the demise of Russia’s two main Democratic parties – Yabloko and the Union of Right Forces (abbreviated as SPS in Russian). The two parties were closely involved with Russia’s early transition from Communism in the 90’s, unfortunately because of their high-profile roles, the public blamed them for the economic collapse in 1998, and started to fall out of favor. Fighting within the two parties during the early days of the Putin administration did away with much of the support they had left.

So by that measure, Kasparov is right, Russia does need a more active political sphere. Opposition in the Duma (the parliament) is split between some small parties that love Putin, some who merely like him, and the Communists who seem to still hope that one day Lenin will magically rise from his Tomb to rule Russia again. At the same time, it’s getting hard not to see Kasparov as a political gadfly, a Russian Ralph Nader, someone perpetually starting political movements that ultimately go nowhere. Kasparov has never held elected office; his big draw is the fame he has from being a former Grand Champion in a chess-mad country. At least Solidarity seems to have a platform; they announced a manifesto, “300 Steps to Freedom” that outlines their plans for a post-Putin Russia.

Meanwhile another group in Moscow was trying to put a prettier face on politics.

On Friday, the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi (“Ours” in Russian) held the first annual “Miss Constitution” pageant that included a quiz on the role of the State in society and a swimsuit competition, outside, in Moscow, in December (and to provide you, dear reader with the fullest amount of information possible, I am including a link to the LA Times photo gallery of the event). This was a typical exchange from the Q-and-A portion of the event:
"Who is the only source of authority in the Russian Federation?"

"The multiethnic people of the Russian Federation!"

Miss Constitution was the first large-scale event staged by the group Nashi in a little while, so it is likely an indication that they intend to have a more visible public profile in the coming year. In the past Nashi has held summer education camps, designed to produce a new generation of politically-engaged (and pro-Putin) youth, that have drawn tens of thousands of young Russians, though since Dmitry Medvedev took over as president, they have been less-active publicly.

For her knowledge of the Russian constitution, and willingness to appear outside in a swimsuit during the Moscow winter, the eventual Miss Constitution Masha Fyodorova won a brand-new, pink-and-orange Mini Cooper, though I’d have thought Nashi would give away something domestic like a Volga Siber (formerly the Chrysler Sebring – Volga bought the entire production line lock, stock and barrel a couple of years ago).
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