Russia Between 1999 and 2008 Part II

By | February 25, 2022

The centralizing action of the president was able to assert itself thanks to the largely shapeless character of the political system. The post-Soviet parties constituted a weak constellation in identity, political culture and social roots. The December 1999 Duma elections changed the parliamentary majority in favor of the pro-presidential forces, but did not herald a more structural change. Yel´cin had not built an authentic party of the president, and the majority of liberal and national orientation that under him had governed the country had not coagulated in an organized formation. After the 1999 elections the communist party led by G. Zjuganov began to lose support: it remained an organized minority, together with the allied party of the agrarians, but also nostalgic and residual, representative of the oldest and most backward social groups, unable to offer an alternative government. The forces of the radical right hegemonized by V. Zirinovskij had been reduced to a maneuvering group for the power games in the Duma, after the electoral successes of the early nineties of the last century. The authentically liberal and social democratic components, whose most representative party was that of G. Javlinskij (Jabloko, Mela), had been progressively marginalized by El´cin himself and, in any case, constituted a small parliamentary minority. The same success reported by Putin in forming his own party (Edinstvo) in record time seemed indicative of the volatility of the political system. The subsequent evolution revealed its dependence and subordination to the personalization of power.

During Putin’s first mandate, Edinaja Rossija (unified Russia, new name assumed in April 2001 by Edinstvo) became the first Russian party, obtaining almost 37.6 % in the subsequent elections to the Duma in December 2003. In these elections the radical right was the only force to maintain their positions, while the communists fell to an all-time low (12.6 %). The Liberal and Social Democratic forces did not get enough votes to be present in parliament. At this point, together with minor allies, the president’s party (in reality, a rassemblement election based on a generically patriotic appeal) found himself dominating the Duma. But the most sensational phenomenon was the collapse and the insignificance of the oppositions. Neither the deputies of the radical right, inclined to transformism and easily corruptible, nor the communists, reduced to a role of sterile criticism, could in fact be defined as an authentic parliamentary opposition. The exclusion of the liberals and social democrats from the Duma thus meant the end of a political opposition to Putin, albeit a strongly minority one. From this point of view, the parliamentary elections of 2003 proved to be a point of arrest and involution of that much of party democracy and political pluralism that had established itself in the post-Soviet Republic.

According to itypetravel, the semi-authoritarian transformation of the political system also appeared to be the result of deliberate top-down action. The liquidation of major economic potentates gave the president populist consensus, leveraging widespread feelings of hostility towards the new rich. But it led, at the same time, to the suppression of the only vested interests capable of expressing a certain degree of pluralism in Russian society. At the same time, the struggle against the oligarchs produced an increasing political use of the judiciary and a tendency to suppress any criticism of the president. On the strength of the media experience that had contributed to his rise from anonymity to the presidency, Putin progressively monopolized all the media. Only a few independent voices were saved in the field of print media, none among the televisions. All this came to configure a regime of ‘controlled democracy’ even before the parliamentary elections of 2003, preparing the outcome. However, the strongest impulse towards ‘controlled democracy’ is most likely to be identified in the war in Chechnya and in the spread of terrorism. The second war in Chechnya was a choice dictated by several converging elements: avenge the military-patriotic humiliation suffered by Russia in the first war, safeguard Russian economic interests in the region, show in the most eloquent way the ‘strong hand’ against terrorism, also send a brutal signal directed against any disintegrating tendency of the Federation. From the beginning, the search for a solution based solely on the use of force was evident. After years of war the violence syndrome had not changed, and establishing a pro-Russian puppet regime did not appear to be a credible solution. The logic of the military solution and the spiral of terrorism that intertwined the independence matrix with the Islamic internationalist one fed each other, and gave rise to a bloodbath whose most tragic seal was the massacre of children in a Beslan school, which took place in following a terrorist attack in Ossetia and the consequent blitz carried out by the Russian security forces in September 2004. The Chechen question directly affected the future of the Russia itself, because it had mortified its most important reform: the search for a new public spirit and the birth of an authentic civil culture. Evoking the ruthlessness of the tsarist past and the repressions of the communist regime, insisting on the historical cyclicality of the wars between Russia and Chechnya, is not a productive exercise: it only means acknowledging the difficulty of an evolution of Russian statehood and its founding values.

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