‘Russia’s trouble is that our parties aren’t created at the bottom but at the top’

About new political parties in Russia and why they don’t represent any real power

‘Russia’s trouble is that our parties aren’t created at the bottom but at the top’
Photo: Igor Ivandikov / vm.ru

The latest protests in Russia showed that a lot of protesters root for not only freeing Alexey Navalny but also a shift of power in Russia and real representation of different social groups in the country’s management. In an interview with Realnoe Vremya, Dmitry Zhuravlyov explains if there can be created new parties for this part of the citizens, why these parties haven’t appeared over the year and what the parties created in 2020 can hope for.

“In 2021, our parties are just a sentence from the textbook”

Mr Zhuravlyov, do you think our society is mature enough for the appearance of new strong political parties? Or is the people’s request still formed to see individuals, not parties, in power?

Of course, our society is mature for the appearance of new parties. The case is that the main problem of our civilisation is boredom, which means people all the time need something new. Moreover, now every social group needs something bigger than a party — they need either their representation in power agencies or at least semblance of such representation. In other words, the country in general needs a wider range of parties. But in 2021, our parties are just a sentence from the textbook: the textbook puts they must exist, and they do ‘exist’.

Though a traditional, historical destination of parties is to establish communication between business and power. But now authorities themselves perform this function, while despite seemingly different ideologies, there aren’t big differences between current parties. Of course, they have good people, but if people from businesses don’t communicate with authorities, these parties will reach the finishing line altogether.

Does society need parties with such an ideology today?

First of all, a left party is necessary. It must decide if it is Bolshevik or social-democratic. Yes, we have the CPRF but it can’t resolve this issue. Secondly, we need a party of small owners who would reflect positions of the middle class. We still don’t have it no matter what party activists claim. Finally, we need a classical conservative party (those who are now called as such are conservative liberals) that will say that the changes we cannot do without are possible in the country and necessary.

Do you think the youth that are showing more and more interest in politics need such parties too?

The youth are a special story. They go to protests because they are convinced that any change in the country is for the good. And a 17-year-old person is a hundred per cent sure of this. Because his personal situation is considered by him as a starting point, and any movement for a young man, in any case, is an upward movement. Moreover, a young man doesn’t appreciate stability — it isn’t a value for him. And a young man doesn’t have experience. This is why the more beautiful a picture is, the clearer the division into good and bad people is, the more he believes it. Because the parties created on age or, let’s say, sexual grounds, are a nuthouse. While the liberal party represented not only in Parliament is the most suitable one to represent the youth.

But the question is how long the youth will consider it their representative. For instance, it will have a seat in the Duma like Communists now, after that, it will deal only with its own problems like any current parliamentary party.

Photo: Maksim Platonov
The country in general needs a wider range of parties. But in 2021, our parties are just a sentence from the textbook: the textbook puts they must exist, and they do ‘exist’

'The idea of the ruling party in Russia isn’t very effective'

Such development of the situation under authoritarian power isn’t surprising.

Such ‘development’ for the party is possible under any power. The most important thing in democracy isn’t voting but declaring a candidacy: yes, as a party member you can use the people’s love, but if your candidacy hasn’t been declared, you won’t be chosen. Moreover, at any point, the party will gain political capital and say to people: ‘Now we, not our supporters, will decide who will be a candidate from our party to Parliament and presidency’.

Can not a party remain the one dealing precisely with problems of society?

Of course, it can. But it takes at least a sound mind. That’s to say, if your party meets society’s every request, if it says it knows how to solve a problem and more or less clearly explains this to citizens, it will save its authority. And here, by the way, it is important to consider what the authority of United Russia rested on among citizens before the pension reform. The party said that the country didn’t have an alternative to United Russia, while they, United Russia, were the ruling party, they would help them. But it is always important to know that the idea of the ruling party in Russia isn’t very effective because it also claims responsibility for what isn’t within its sphere of influence. This is why I have always told United Russia members they aren’t the ruling party but a party of the parliamentary majority. But as a saying puts it, you cannot chop wood with a penknife.

Are the authorities ready to meet society’s current requests via New People and For Truth! parties created last year?

They aren’t. Neither New People nor For Truth! have managed to achieve considerable success and popularity taking advantage of the factor they are new.

Photo: Maksim Platonov
The idea of the ruling party in Russia isn’t very effective because it also claims responsibility for what isn’t within its area of influence

'Prilepin’s party is, in fact, the reincarnation of the LDPR'

Did the pandemic impede it?

The pandemic has disturbed everybody equally. Despite my initially good attitude to New People party, these candidates won’t obviously win Alexey Navalny’s candidates. They don’t have an object to show some successes to: this party is a more liberal version of United Russia considering that small and medium entrepreneurs who are not interested in United Russia’s dominance would join it. In theory, of course, if it is beautiful, while in practice, these small and medium-sized businesspeople will demand: ‘Try to get at least one per cent, otherwise, why should we have our heads ‘burnt’ for you?’ As for Prilepin’s party, it is, in fact, the reincarnation of the LDPR. Like, Prilepin will now take a step forward and say something sharp... Why should we follow him if the right-wing liberal opposition now has sharper words? They aren’t better, smarter, more useful — they simply talk sharper than Pripelin. And why do we need him?

Who is the new party that united Mironov’s followers, Patriots of Russia, which is already forgotten by many, and Prilepin created for?

The new party is created for Prilepin, of course, but it is another question whom it favours. People who will want to vote for Mironov may not want to vote for Prilepin and vice versa. Adults among Mironov’s fans don’t want to hear sharp words — they have already heard them. As I have already said, Prilepin’s words aren’t sharp enough for the youth.

But the youth and not only the youth can vote deliberately after not seeing parties they like, in the end, numbers won’t look like those the Kremlin would like to see. Will the top management start creating any other parties for the elections to the Duma to somehow lower the intensity of possible protests?

The Kremlin won’t have the time. Moreover, they were convinced that the story with New People and Prilepin will work but when they understood it didn’t work, everything the Kremlin had the time to do was to create a coalition.

A year ago, we learnt about Prilepin’s party, messages about a female party chaired by singer Valeriya started to appear in the mass media at the same time. Growth Party was probably planned to be promoted at the top because singer Sergey Shnurov joined it. It was rumoured about the engagement of popular Russian YouTuber Dud to the party’s projects, but a year later we have only New People and For Truth!, which though turned into a parliamentary party, as new projects. Why didn’t the ideas of the parties grow?

As I think, the Kremlin chose what seemed to be the most viable option at that moment, but I think that if those parties they could talk about had been supported at the top, their numbers would have been much lower than those of New People and For Truth!.

Perhaps, the indicator of Valeriya’s indicator would have been low if it had been created. But would a party with Yury Dud on the banner also have had low ratings? He is now one of the idols of the youth and could get their voices.

But Prilepin could also have got a lot of votes of the youth. While nothing worked for him. Yes, it could have been discussed that the party’s technological mistakes (while there were some) are the case. But I think that new parties don’t set big goals.

Photo: Angelina Obolonskaya / aif.ru
As for Prilepin’s party, it is, in fact, the reincarnation of the LDPR. Like, Prilepin will now take a step forward and say something sharp... Why should we follow him if the right-wing liberal opposition now has sharper words?

'The country doesn’t have normal parties because they are simply unnecessary'

Why do we need them then?

The case is that the current managers of United Russia (I am not talking about Medvedev) and Sergey Kiriyenko are opponents. Kiriyenko doesn’t need United Russia with 95% of the seats in the Duma because in this case, he stays as a supervisor of the Kremlin’s domestic politics.

The Kremlin doesn’t want the Duma’s today’s ‘host’ Vyacheslav Volodin to become its a hundred per cent owner, otherwise, they won’t handle him. The main issue of the Kremlin isn’t some additional representation of social groups but an elite balance, which is in general key in any politics. The most important thing is that the ‘neighbours’ not become stronger than me! And if it is necessary to expand political representation, thank God!

You know, Vyacheslav Volodin created such conditions in the State Duma so that no issue is resolved without him. And if United Russia members get the constitutional majority, neither the government nor the president’s administration may cope with it. He will demand to worship him in exchange for what they want. The picture already changed by 2021. Now the government can’t kick doors in the Duma — Volodin already has a higher status than ministers. And if the picture doesn’t change after the elections like now, he will get huge influence.

Can we assume that the ongoing party construction will unfold after 2021? Because the Kremlin can’t help but see requests of different strata of society for representation, and it would be more sensible to approve the creation and registration of a lot of real parties.

The case is not that if the Kremlin will give it the green light or not. In the current system, there won’t be real parties in Russia. Our parties are created only for the future. Unless the country has large private capital that would be independent of power, the country doesn’t have normal parties because they are simply unnecessary. While real, livelier parties, I will repeat, won’t have the time to be created by the 2021 elections. While after 2021, the number of parties has to increase, otherwise, people will simply stop going to Duma elections in five years.

But isn’t the main decision regarding the rise in the number of parties up to the Kremlin?

Russia’s trouble is that our parties aren’t created at the bottom, as it should be, but at the top. But if they are created at the top, it won’t be possible to meet requests for the representation of all social groups. But our parties won’t be created at the bottom either because nobody is interested in it. To create a weak party for a person, invest in it all your life to make it stronger, then the president probably has already changed, and many other things have changed too, and everything you have invested in the party all your life will go down the drain, who needs this?

Photo: duma.gov.ru
The Kremlin doesn’t want the Duma’s today’s ‘host’ Vyacheslav Volodin to become its a hundred per cent owner, otherwise, they won’t handle him

'I don’t believe that the non-parliamentary opposition can change the order'

What are such approaches to the party construction fraught with for the political situation in 2021, during the election year?

After the elections, the Duma, in this case, will become purely legislative, not a political institution. And if a Belarusian-like scandal arises, I don’t think this will lead to something. Perhaps, the possible situation will bring to the indifference of the opposite part in the power, that’s to say, will stop taking authorities seriously.

Personally, I don’t believe that one side can persuade the other one in case of September protests. Neither do I believe that the non-parliamentary opposition can change the order — any fortress is seized in Russia from the inside, not from the outside.

But can we then conclude that the authorities made sure in 2020 that their victory in the elections is real, this is why they focused on the projects of two parties?

You’re right, though you simplify it a bit. It depends on what is called a victory: for some, a victory is one thing, for others, it is different. And if the victory project for the authorities were one thing, the four parties they used to bet on would have stayed. But as the victory project isn’t unique, the number of parties turned into six.

I understood that you are hinting at the elite fight inside the Kremlin again. But I want to finish the talk with a prediction. Can we expect new parties in the Duma?

Judging by the low media profile of New People, they themselves don’t believe in their victory — the party is absent in the media, while is it normal for a new party? Old parties can afford it, but not new ones. Who will vote for it then? To hope for a rise in the rating during debates? It is simply naive. My forecast is that New People won’t have more than 3%, while the chances of the new party with Pripelin are higher. But the presence of Mironov nearby can be a disadvantage for him. As I have said, fans of sharp words obviously dislike Sergey Mironov.

Interviewed by Sergey Kochnev