Kasparov's Solidarity seeks alternative political space' to defeat Putin
Archived Articles 05 Jan 2009 Paul GobleEWR
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VIENNA, January 5 – In order to promote the principles of democracy and thus to defeat Vladimir Putin's increasingly authoritarian system, Garri Kasparov argues that the new Russian Solidarity movement must include all those who agree on the necessity of overthrowing Putinism even if they agree on little else.

That approach, which the opposition leader laid out in a programmatic article in "Yezhednevniy zhurnal" on December 26, is one that represents a major departure from the more narrowly ideological politics of Russia up to now and opens the way for a broad if temporary coalition of many groups (www.ej.ru/?a=note&id=8704).

But it is not without risks. On the one hand, it almost certainly guarantees that the new movement, however attractive its name and noble its goals, is likely to be weakened by extreme factionalism. And on the other, it opens the way for the regime to denounce the entire movement for the participation in it of those many inside and out could unacceptably extreme.

In his article, Kasparov argues that the Solidarity movement he has promoted is based on two sets of principles. On the one hand, its rejection of a single leader, its focus on the unification of "diversified" groups, and its regional focus are all intended to promote democratic exchange of ideas.

And on the other, the opposition leader continues, the members of Solidarity are linked together by an overriding conviction that the only basis for having any contact with "the Putin regime" is to discuss its "demontage" and its replacement by a genuinely democratic political system.

What that means in practice, he continues, is that "having refused cooperation with the Kremlin," Solidarity is prepared to cooperate in various ways with others who are opposed to the Putin regime, including those on the left and Russian nationalists in order that "the supporters of the ideas if 'a liberal ghetto'" have a greater chance to have an impact on society.

"In order for Solidarity to exist as a political movement," Kasparov argues, "it is necessary that politics exist in the country," but that can't happen through "a dialogue with the powers that be" given their contempt for democratic principles and for open politics more generally. And consequently, Solidarity must serve as an alternative political space.

Thus, "the reestablishment in the country of politics as such and the reestablishment of public dialogue in which take part representatives of the most varied ideological groups is the chief goal of any cooperation with the left and the nationalists," groups that he acknowledges he and others at the core of Solidarity support ideas with which he profoundly disagrees.

Given the threat to democratic values, he continues, it is important that in the short term, no ideas beyond the principle of an open democratic system be privileged, a precondition he suggests for overcoming "the inheritance from the Yeltsin-Putin 'liberals' of the ideology of liberalism without democracy."

It is critical, he says, for Russians to recognize that "free business competition is impossible without political competition, without equality before the law, and without the division of powers," links that all too many people in Russia and abroad forgot during transition from communism.

And because they forgot, "however paradoxical this sounds," Kasparov suggests, "the 'liberal' state of the 1990s (not to speak of the Putin regime) turned out to be only a reincarnation of the Soviet system with its monopoly on ideology with its contemptuous attitude toward law, and with its system of the suppression of those who think differently."

Consequently, Solidarity's combination of refusal to work with the regime while being willing to talk with representatives of virtually all political stripes is the only way to move forward, because only in that way "beginning with oneself is it possible to destroy the traditional reliance on ideological monopolies" of whatever kind.

The "construction of an alternative political space" obviously makes sense only to those who believe that a "demontage" of the Putin regime is possible on the basis of "the joint actions of the opposition" who can avoid violence by taking part in a dialogue with each other in such a space.

This short-term cooperation in the face of the threat to the future democratic development of Russia that the Putin regime represents, Kasparov points out, in no way means that the groups coming together in Solidarity will not compete actively with one another once democracy is reestablished in Russia.

But, he says in conclusion, "without joint actions with our future competitors now, we will not have the chance at the present stage to show the superiority of our ideals in honest and open elections," a principled position that he recognizes many will be uncomfortable with but one that reflects the realities of the most dangerous situation in Russia today.
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