Full Translation: Oleg Kashin’s “A Translation from Prussian”

Oleg Kashin reports from Kaliningrad

Two days ago this week, the Kremlin announced that Dmitri Medvedev will be appointing Nikolai Tsukanov to fill the soon-to-be-vacant governor’s seat in Kaliningrad. I wrote about the ousting of Georgy Boos last week, but I thought it worthwhile to translate an analysis by Oleg Kashin, a seasoned Kaliningrad politics expert and native of the region. His article was also published this Monday, though before it became public that Tsukanov had been tapped as the next governor.

Kashin’s piece states unequivocally that “no one in Kaliningrad or in Moscow disputes that the [opposition] protests were the reason for [Boos’] non-reappointment.” This is rather different from the point I argued in my own post about Boos’ departure (which emphasized the intra-elite scandals that have plagued the governor in recent weeks), but Kashin’s interviews alone — primarily with members of the local opposition — make this an excellent read.

I’m not entirely convinced that the Kremlin was in such a panic when it decided not to reappoint Boos (after all, the protests have largely died down, and key organizers like Doroshok have been successfully co-opted), but Kashin does an excellent job making the case for this interpretation, all the same. Read on for my full translation of his article:

A Translation from Prussian
(“Перевод с прусского”)
By Oleg Kashin
Kommersant, Vlast’
August 23, 2010

United Russia did not nominate Georgy Boos for a second term as Kaliningrad governor due to an “inadequate level of support.” Protest organizers who demanded his resignation have achieved their aim: the governor is leaving. To say goodbye, “Vlast”‘s correspondent, Oleg Kashin, traveled to Kaliningrad.

“An anxious and depressive mood”

On the 13th of August, three days before it would become known that Georgy Boos will no longer be governor, the state procurement office of the Kaliningad oblast’ posted an advertisement on its website for the auctioning off of reproductions of a gubernatorial standard and amber bust for a total price of 700 thousand rubles. The conditions of that auction can now be used to make a few political forecasts: the standard and bust are supposed to be made by September 21st, which means that Georgy Boos has another month as a “lame duck” governor.

I went to Boos to conduct his last interview as governor. Five years ago, when he was appointed, I first interviewed him in an article titled “Greetings, Boos!” This last winter, when we met again right after a mass anti-Boos protest, I interviewed him again, and he asked if I wasn’t preparing to title the next article “Goodbye, Boos!” Back then, I believed, it was too early to say goodbye. Now it’s clear that it is too late: Boos decided not to grant another interview.

The governor’s staffers can only guess what’s next for him.

“Nobody knows, but many are hoping to remain on his team. The versions you hear are different — from envoy in one of the federal districts to Mayor of Moscow. So the mood is anxious and depressive,” describes Aleksandr Boboshin, oblast’ head of Internal Affairs. Modeled on a similar unit at the presidential level, Kaliningrad’s Internal Affairs office was created created after anti-Boos protests attracted thousands of people in January.

It’s purpose, as Boboshin puts it, was to “halt the escalation of the protesting spirit, regardless of the personalities [at the top of the local government]. The goal was to maintain stability — it wasn’t important who was left in charge of the region.” Boboshin thinks that in the spring — when Kaliningrad was living from protest to protest, and when United Russia came out far less successful than expected in regional elections across the country — an alarm was sounded that brought the Kremlin to adopt exclusive measures for Kaliningrad.

These exclusive measures entailed lengthy negotiations between the authorities and the Kaliningrad opposition, ending with anti-Boos protest organizers abandoning further struggle, effectively stopping the protest movement. Kaliningrad ceased to be the capital of Russian dissidents, and Boos — according to his colleagues — was sure until the last moment that United Russia would reappoint him to another term. But on August 16th, the party’s general council unveiled a list of three people recommended to the president for appointment to the Kaliningrad governorship. Georgy Boos was not among them.

A Heavy Weight, but Not Heavy Enough

“Unfortunately, the level of support for our friend and colleague Boos was very strong, but ultimately not strong enough to continue his work,” said Viacheslav Volodin, secretary of the party’s general council presidium, commenting on Boos’ failure to be renominated. And though Volodin calls Kaliningrad a “special case” (apparently, in any other region, Boos’ “support levels” would be sufficient), these words probably describe the specifics not of the region but the governor himself. Georgy Boos is the only regional leader in the country to have tens of thousands of citizens protest against him. No one in Kaliningrad or in Moscow disputes that these protests were the reason for his non-reappointment. Konstantin Doroshok, leader of the Kaliningrad movement “Justice,” says, “There’s no need to play with terminology: this is a dismissal, though it was formatted like a non-reappointment.”

“I consider Boos’ dismissal to be our victory — the victory of our protests,” Doroshok says. He indeed has the right to think so much: at the beginning of the year, “Justice,” which organized the protests, was perhaps the most popular political force in the region, and Doroshok himself, by profession a foreign car dealer and technician, was being compared by many to Lech Wałęsa. But now the commentary surrounding Doroshok is more ambiguous. In March, he refused to organize a third rally against Boos and instead entered into a specially created consultative council under the governor. Doroshok unexpectedly became one of his most loyal Kaliningrad politicans. In all his speeches before the day he heard about Boos’ non-reappointment, Doroshok said that the region didn’t need a new governor, that Boos had changed under the influence of popular protests, and that change wasn’t necessary.

Even just before the candidates list went public — when just a few weeks prior Defense Minister Anatoly Serdiukov, on the recommendation of the Head Military Prosecutor, had stripped Boos of his colonel rank, demoting him to captain for violations against promotion protocol — the Kaliningrad “systemic opposition” headed by Doroshok did not criticize the governor.

Now Aleksandr Boboshin says that he doesn’t know how Doroshok ought to behave “in order to not appear ridiculous and pathetic.” But when I asked Doroshok, the former ‘Kaliningrad Wałęsa,’ he said that he doesn’t feel at all awkward that this victory over Boos no longer has any connection to him. He answered, “Politics always becomes a two-edged sword.” “Boos,” Doroshok continued, “is a major official with lots of room to manuever federally, and all three of the other candidates [up for his job] couldn’t match him in management or political caliber. But Kaliningraders themselves wanted to choose from their own Kaliningrad politicians — we demanded this at protests, and United Russia has given us such an opportunity.”

“Snobbery Beyond Arrogance”

The three candidates advanced by United Russia indeed appear to be the best concessions possible, short of direct elections, in response to Kaliningraders’ demand to elect Kaliningraders. All three candidates are local, and all three have won local muncipal elections. Duma Deputy Yuri Savenko was mayor of Kaliningrad from 1998 to 2006, winning elections twice. His successor, the current head of the city, Aleksandr Yaroshuk, was also directly elected. The third candidate, Nikolai Tsukanov, head of the Gusevsky District of the Kaliningrad Oblast’, won an election in 2005, and — if he doesn’t become governor — he will be up for a second term this fall (which, like any real EdRoss, he’ll probably win).

“United Russia,” Doroshok says, “deprived Kaliningraders of the chance to reproach it for not hearing them. All the candidates enjoy a certain degree of popular trust, therefore the result of this compromise will likely be decreased activity in the spring elections (in March 2011, Kaliningrad has elections for the oblast’ parliament). Therefore the possibility of abuses by United Russia’s political monopoly, about which we’ve talked all year, becomes all the more unclear.

Mikhail Chesalin — another Kaliningrad oppositionistand, an oblast’ duma deputy, leader of the port dock workers’ union, and representative of “Patriots of Russia” — says that the nominations of Savenko, Yaroshuka, and Tsukanova don’t amount to a concession at all: “Yes, they won some elections, but that was long ago and with the administrative aid and resources of their party.” “The only democratic victory we can discuss today is the non-reappointment of Boos,” believes Mr. Chesalin. “And this event means a lot not just for us, but for [all of] Russia. It’s the first time the Kremlin made a cadres decision based on the opinion of the people; it’s the first time they’ve said directly that Boos isn’t being reappointed because he doesn’t have the people’s trust. Now the matter is simple: just appoint someone who enjoys popular confidence,  though there is no such person among these three nominated candidates.”

Mikhail Chesalin doesn’t name the politicians that, in his opinion, do have the people’s trust, but he says that he is counting on the president, who has the right to introduce another candidate: “Remember how it was with Nikita Belykh.” According to Chesalin, this is precisely why he and his colleagues in the opposition coalition (among whom Chesalin is the most influential politician and the only local duma deputy) never stopped holding regular demonstrations against Boos and United Russia, though recent turnout has been significantly lower than it was at the beginning of the year.

The next rally is planned for the weekend prior to this article’s publication. Konstantin Doroshok says that he won’t be going to the rally because “it’s become a pure lobbying effort for Datsyshin.”

Aleksandr Datsyshin is the president’s deputy envoy for the federal northwestern district. Throughout the region, he is considered to be Boos’ main adversary, and Doroshok says that it’s precisely Datsyshin’s appointment to the governorship that the oppositionists seek, and that is why they didn’t end their protests against Boos in the spring.

“Indeed I communicate with all the oppositionists, and it’s nonsense to think that I support them only because they can walk into my office like any other person,” says Datsyshin. He doesn’t hide his conflict with Boos, but he swears that he doesn’t want to take Boos’ place.

“I have no gubernatorial ambitions,” he says. “I’m perfectly happy with the role I play now. I represent the federal center in the region and coordinate the security agencies. I see no point in playing politics.”

Most likely, Aleksandr Datsyshin really has no reason to play around: among the three candidates named from United Russia is his close friend Aleksandr Yaroshuk, the famous Kaliningrad businessman, who owns the region’s largest network of stores that sell building and plumbing materials. In 2006, he was elected head of the city, but in four years he was unable to establish his image as an independent politician.

To be clear, when I asked Yaroshuk whether there were any consultations with him before he was nominated for the governorship, he answered that there had been no consultations whatsoever. And when I, with some surprise, asked if no one had really told him that they were preparing to nominate him, he answered, “Of course they talked about it, but would that really be called a consultation?”

“I don’t know by what criteria they produced the nominations,” Yaroshuk says, “so I don’t even want to think about whether or not I’ll be selected. Everything is in the hands of the president and of God, and for me the stakes in this matter are far from life and death.”

Speaking about Georgy Boos, his possible successor said, “The governor is a figure who must unite — not reign — and in our oblast’ these concepts were unfortunately confused.”

Other Kaliningrad politicians formally loyal to Boos have parted with the governor on slightly more respectful, but equally ambiguous, terms.

“He did everything possible within the scope of his abilities and his vision,” Konstantin Poliakov, oblast’ duma United Russia leader, says of Boos. In his opinion, “the only thing worth regretting is that, whoever becomes the next governor will begin by halting the realization of at least some of the projects left unfinished by Georgy Valentinovich.”

“Georgy Boos led the oblast’ as a man set in his ways. He wasn’t one to change under the influence of conditions,” Aleksandr Boboshin thinks. “He is too great a romantic and fails to take into account all the little things that have meaning here, and a good amount of voluntarism played its role, as well.” Probably having realized that this was no way to talk about one’s boss (even an outgoing one), Boboshin changed the subject to Kaliningraders: “You know, theirs is a special kind of snobbery that goes beyond arrogance. Over the years, they’ve mentally shifted toward petty pragmatism, what amounts to an infantile, money-grubbing position: let Moscow send us money, and set our airfares and vehicle taxes lower, and we’ll spit in Russia’s direction because there is no life there.”

The bureaucrat is probably right — about arrogance, about the money-grubbing, and about pragmatism. But if these qualities were enough to make the Kremlin consider the popular mood in the region, and force the first cadres decision under the influence of protests, maybe those qualities aren’t so awful after all?

Aleksandr Yaroshuk


    • Thanks, Mike. There’s a reasoned comment following the article about how odd it is to have neoliberals like Nemtsov addressing a group that’s dominated by communists. Well, surprise-surprise, some of the commies seem to have agreed and are now asking for Revin’s dismissal on that grounds that he shouldn’t have invited Nemtsov and company: http://svpressa.ru/society/news/29478/

      This probably won’t get much coverage in the West, since it jives with the notion that the anti-Putin movement is a uniform, business-loving darling of the middle class.

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