A mood of protest began to build up in society, particularly among the middle class. At the same time, a portion of the Western-oriented forces placed their bets on splitting the Medvedev-Putin tandem, hoping that Medvedev would revolt against Putin, thus toppling the existing political set-up.
The Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights (CCSHR) was established, on the one hand, as a channel for communications with the president, and, on the other, to serve as a liaison with the human rights movement as a whole. Aside from “classical” dissidents and human rights activists, it comprised a number of civil society experts, including myself. The CCSHR was a logical extension of the Civic Forum, which organized meetings of several thousand NGOs all over Russia. The Civic Forum emerged as the first major platform for contact between the authorities and civic activists. Its first meeting, which was held in the Kremlin, was attended by Vladimir Putin, then Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, and members of both chambers of parliament. I chaired the Civic Forum’s Organizing Committee and remember well that the term “civil society,” which was practically unknown before, came into use precisely at that moment. The CCSHR took over where the Civic Forum left off, working to establish a dialogue with civil society. At that time, the majority of its members came from the dissident and human rights flank of the Civic Forum. This model was successful for five or seven years, with human rights activists being able to inform the national leadership on where they stood. The national leadership, in turn, was aware of their position and could take it into account. To be sure, their demands were not always put into practice, but there were no obstacles to them comparing notes or declaring their position. This kind of platform for communications with the most diverse public groups must exist.
But what happened next? A mood of protest began to build up in society, particularly among the middle class. At the same time, a portion of the Western-oriented forces placed their bets on splitting the Medvedev-Putin tandem, hoping that Medvedev would revolt against Putin, thus toppling the existing political set-up. They mobilized certain political structures, including some from the human rights movement, which embraced their agenda and were eager to split the tandem, with an eye to supporting Medvedev against Putin. These individuals established themselves as Putin’s political opponents, thereby leaving the human rights camp and becoming politicians. But Putin won outright and this led to a paradoxical situation, where the CCSHR, formerly a channel for communications between the president and human rights activists, even those critical of the authorities, was transformed into a coalition of his political opponents. This begs the question: what is to be done? There are several options.
In the first variant, the CCSHR keeps its former composition, but everyone has to admit that its functions have changed and it is now a council for the president to liaise with his radical political opponents. In this case, it could seek new ideas and new members like Nemtsov, Navalny, Ryzhkov, etc. But there would be nothing presidential about it any more.
In the second variant, we keep the former model. Accordingly, the rookie politicians should be fired and replaced by "pure" human rights advocates. But the problem is that some of these people are prominent figures in, and current leaders of, the human rights movement. Of course, their position has brought the movement to an impasse, but they do dominate the human rights community, and it takes exceptional courage to do anything that is against the grain of such people as Alexeyeva, Ponomaryov and others. For this reason, it will be an uphill battle to find adequate replacements.
A third option is only feasible under the condition that the CCSHR members themselves, not the authorities, should reform, and come back from the political sector. But this means they will have to make a compromise with their conscience, and reason dictates that this is hardly possible. The political coalition of Vladimir Putin’s opponents is in existence, and it continues to develop. The peace that existed before Bolotnaya is no more.
But the authorities have to do something with this Council. New candidacies will be discussed in September. I think that Dmitry Davydenko, who defends Russian tourists’ rights abroad, or Dmitry Yanin, head of the Consumer Rights Protection Society, would fit in nicely. Chances are that the politicized activists will leave. It seems highly unlikely that the present composition, which is dominated by Vladimir Putin’s opponents, will continue to exist.