Liberals Can’t Be Appeased

One thing that an observer of Russian politics can’t help noticing is the sheer impossibility of appeasing the Russian liberals. Here are two recent exhibits from the Moscow Times.

First, coming to the end of his Presidency, Medvedev pardoned some people in a list of political prisoners presented by the non-systemic opposition a few months ago. The choice of pardons seem justified on grounds of reason and proportionality although it is unclear to what extent, say, someone convicted to three years in prison for selling 70g of marijuana qualifies as a political prisoner (if that was a criterion for political repression, I wonder how many “political prisoners” are currently rotting in US jails?).

But predictably enough the liberals are far more concerned with Medvedev’s refusal to pardon Khodorkovsky without at least first receiving a petition requesting a pardon from the imprisoned. Of course one would also think that withholding many billions of dollars from the tax authorities and defrauding minority shareholders – as repeatedly established by not only the Russian justice system, but the ECHR – are far more serious crimes than selling weed even in a country as regressive in its attitudes to drugs freedoms as Russia. Not that Russia’s so-called “liberals” see it that way.

The second case concerns the liberalization of party registration laws and the return of direct gubernatorial elections. One would think that after years of demanding these reforms, the liberals would welcome these developments. You’d be wrong. The liberals have condemned the eased registration requirements for providing “unlimited opportunities to multiply fake, pro-Kremlin parties.” The Kremlin can literally do no right. If requirements are tough (40,000+ signatures), it is a ploy to bar access to liberals from the political arena. If the requirements are easy (500+ signatures), it is a ploy to drown out the liberals with fake parties.

Both accusations are, of course, preemptive rationalizations of the liberals never-ending failure to attract support. Never mind that they already have two parties, neither of which ever gets more than a tiny fraction of the vote. The possibility that this could be due to the fact that many Russians simply dislike the liberals – for their lies, self-pitying whining, “Rashka” bashing, and proud association with the 1990’s and foreign interests – most likely never enters their puffed up heads.

Just a few moments of thought would reveal this critique for the sham it really is. Contrary to conspiracy theories, keeping control of fake parties is exceedingly hard, indeed practically impossible. If they are small, they are (electorally) ineffectual anyway. If they gain broad-based popular support, then they de facto break loose of any remaining ties that bind. Case in point is the Fair Russia party, which started off as a Kremlin project but which no even minimally informed observer can now deny is as oppositional as any other, being the driving force between the protests over the mayoral elections in Astrakhan.

Then there is the brouhaha over some fairly minor restrictions over eligibility to participate in gubernatorial elections. Rather than being appointed by the President as before – or in numerous acknowledged democracies like France or India to this day – they will have to have the support of 5%-10% of local legislatures. This sounds like a very modest and not unreasonable requirement.

The real reason that the liberals protest the very “liberalization” they’ve endlessly harped on about is that protest is all there ultimately is to them; the only way they can keep themselves heard, and somewhat relevant. They will not be getting votes from people they regularly insult and dismiss as unthinking, primitive masses. This makes them all the angrier and more vitriolic.

EDIT: This article was translated into Russian at Inosmi (Либералам не угодишь).

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