The Russian opposition needs institutional representation
The events in Moscow and other cities in December 2011 and January 2012 have clearly demonstrated that there is an opposition in Russia, and this opposition should be granted legal status. This is not a simple issue, but it should be addressed as a step towards making Russian society more democratic.
By allowing demonstrations, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has actually recognized the existence of the opposition. At the least, he has made a note of it and responded to it.
The authorities are adapting to the new reality. Putin is a man of his time, just like Mikhail Gorbachev was a man of his time. Gorbachev is often unfairly criticized for not being able to foresee all the consequences of his actions. Putin is facing the same problem. He needs time to adapt to the new situation.
Putin understands that the global situation is complex and that hasty moves can results in unintended consequences. He knows that the situation in Russia has changed. He is right, to a degree, when he says that the opposition has no practical program. Both Putin and the opposition face the same task of clearly formulating a program. Rejecting the need for this would be a fatal mistake for the opposition. However, this is not an easy task; the opposition will have to go through a transitional period to prove itself by submitting practical proposals to the government.
The December demonstrations in Moscow are a step in the right direction but still just a step. The next step should be submitting proposals to the government. They must make clear to the government that there is a clear alignment of forces, which does not exist yet. It is still unclear what the opposition is demanding or proposing.
The opposition needs institutional representation. If the opposition is not represented in the State Duma and in the regions, and if creating parties is so difficult, the first step should be to lift the obstacles to achieving these goals. Neither Putin nor anyone else alone can initiate such a transitional period. It takes the concerted efforts of society as a whole. Now is the time when society can launch the transition to democracy with the involvement of all the real forces in the country. This opportunity currently exists because there are forces in the country that can create a body representing the opposition forces in the State Duma and all other government institutions. I am not referring only to the establishment of a party, but also to trade unions and the overall development of civil society. This means that the country needs new legislation. To develop a new democratic state, Russia needs to overhaul its legislation.
It also needs open and understanding people who are able to govern a country with such a complex structure, history and other factors that should be taken into account. This goal cannot be achieved without making the requisite efforts. The government cannot do it alone. There is a clear need for dialogue and a new venue for such a dialogue.
Putin will likely win the upcoming presidential elections due to public inertia. The pre-election demonstration on February 4 and the post-election demonstration on March 11 point to a degree of pressure, but it is unlikely to lead to clashes. There will not be a decisive showdown but rather movement forward. Therefore, demonstrations are not enough; the focus should be shifted to drafting a program and proposing issues for debate.
It seems that the opposition will receive its response. It will not be a response from the police but a political response. A political discussion will begin, and this will mark a major step forward. The opposition will continue to pressure the government, which will be forced to respond to these challenges. Everyone must do their part.
Giulietto Chiesa is journalist, member of the European Parliament (2004-2009)
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.