In light of the recent news about Georgy Boos’, I decided to translate an article that appeared last week in Gazeta.ru by Ol’ga Bolotova. The piece is about the electoral strategies of United Russia’s local party branches in Siberia and the Far East.
The gist of the text, as the title suggests, is that the EdRossy are shifting tactics when it comes to peripheral localities, trying to play down their ties to the political establishment in order to portray themselves as vehicles of people power and grassroots ingenuity.
A few brief remarks about the article: I wonder if Ms. Bolotova and others aren’t somewhat exaggerating the degree to which the EdRossy are pretending to be outside the Power Vertical. While there do appear to be efforts to promote ‘home grown’ projects (like remodeling cemeteries and gentrifying city centers), the foundation of even the regional party platforms remains firmly rooted in United Russia tenets: modernization, Putin/Medvedev, and anti-corruption.
There is, though, something novel about the drive to “renew cadres.” Turnover has been higher under Medvedev (he’s replaced 1/3 of all governors during his tenure as president), and this is surely one of the most interesting aspects of the post-Putin presidency. Dumping Georgy Boos was only the most recent installment in a process that’s been going on for two years. Is this a temporary adaptation implemented in response to the financial crisis? Or does this signal an era of greater accountability in the Russian government?
Lord knows Russia has had periods of rapid mobility within the political elite (these have typically been times of trouble and instability), and it’s not impossible that we’re witnessing another such moment today (though, I suspect, its finale). But either way, we’re still talking about a development initiated by the Kremlin. It’s for that reason and those listed above that I’m somewhat skeptical about ‘the party nearby power.’
But read and decide for yourself. See below for my full translation:
“The Party Nearby Power“
(Партия рядом с властью)
By Ol’ga Bolotova
August 13, 2010
In at least half of [Russia's] regions with upcoming elections, United Russia no longer wants to appear to be the party of power, according to electoral platforms made available to Gazeta.ru. Indeed, the party has seized on some rather exotic ideas. In Tuva, in order to care for the older generation, it is promising to remodel the city’s cemetary. In Magadan, it has suggested evicting eleven thousand invalids and pensioners as a way to ease social tensions.
In the Novosibirsk and Magdan oblasti, the governors — according to preliminary information — will not be at the top of the party lists. Sources within the party explain that this is due to their low popularity.
The EdRossy in Tuva are acting similarly. “The time has come for new solutions and new faces. The future High Khural should be replenished by young, modern, and responsible deputies, but at the same time it should preserve the wisdom and experience of the older generation.”
The names of Party Chairman Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitri Medvedev are mentioned in the documents, but instead of constant reminders about their support, party members [now] trumpet their own effectiveness.
For comparison, the program of the Kostroma branch of the party consists of statements like: “United Russia is the party of the president of Russia Dmitri Anatol’evich Medvedev. Only the United Russia party is capable of fulfilling the task of modernizing the country and putting Russia on track to an innovative economy.” In the Kostroma oblast, they consider [listing] the positions of United Russia to suffice.
But the Kostroma branch’s platform also has a regional aspect. As Vladimir Mikhailov, the Deputy Secretary of the regional branch, told Gazeta.ru, party members for example are counting on solving problems associated with overcoming the effects of the crisis and repairing the oblast’s roads.
It’s a similar situation in the Belgorod oblast’. “Today the United Russia party is the only political force that constructively works with the oblast’s government and consistently carries out its solutions, enjoying a majority in the oblast’s Duma. The choice that awaits Belgorodites in the fall is simple: the stable, planned development of our beautiful, small homeland — Russia’s little pearl — or successive shocks and a return to the hard times of change,” party members write.
Members from Chelyabinsk decided to adopt the modernization thesis. They’re headed to the elections with the idea of a new life with a new governor. Their slogan: “New solutions through continuity.” “We need a team that can work with Governor Mikhail Valer’evich Yurevich to make a real leap forward in the life of the region,” the platform urges.
According to Aleksei Chesnakov, head of the public council of the presidium of the party’s general council, differences in the party’s approaches to election posturing in some areas is tied to regional specifics. “Despite the fact that the presidium approves the pre-election platforms, they are drafted by regional branches. Therefore, Tuva has certain problems, and Kostroma has others,” he said.
According to Chesnakov, the platforms of the Kostroma, Belgorod, and Chelyabinsk oblasti were focused more on governors and the federal center not because of the positions of the governors in these regions but because of the these local branches’ perspective on regional problems. “If the problem of drought and agricultural aid exists in the Belgorod oblast’, it doesn’t mean that it’s similarly relevant for Madagan. These are very different regions,” he explained. Having said that, the party functionary stressed that all platforms were oriented on the needs and demands of the people.
“All the platforms are united by three basic points: support for Medvedev and Putin, endorsement of modernization ideology, and the call for a renewal of cadres,” Chesnakov said.
The Tuva branch of United Russia, on the other hand, plans to show off to citizens its big contribution: restoring the local cemetery.
“Honoring the heroic past of the older generation and knowing that, without the past, there is no future, the members of the Tuva branch of United Russia and their supporters have each donated a day’s wages to the fund for reconstructing the old city cemetery.”
According to Aleksandr Kynev, head of the regional programs of the Fund for the Development of Information Policy, previous elections have already demonstrated that the greatest challenges awaiting United Russia lie in Siberia and the Far East. “The most complicated situation will be in Tuva and Magadan,” the political scientist said assuredly. It is precisely for this reason that Kynev believes the United Russia pre-election platforms in these regions and in Novosibirsk were written in order to maximize dissociation from the authorities [vlast'], primarily the federal authorities. “In general, the task is to change the campaign into a local campaign — to talk about roads and housing, but mainly to avoid all those uncomfortable questions,” the expert observed. In the Belgorod and Kostroma oblasti, Kynev calculated, there are governors strong and tough enough to more than likely not allow the party any losses, and in the Chelyabink oblast’ there is the novelty effect of a changing of the guard.