Ends and Means

28 September 2012

By Andrei Kovalev

It is pointless to battle with Putin: the problem isn’t with him, but with the system he embodies. This system does everything possible to ensure the marginalization of the protest movement. In particular, the system maximally restricts the social basis of those who oppose it. 

Who should we consider to be the true opposition? I wouldn’t count only those who came out on Bolotnaya Square, for example, or those who supported similar rallies in cities across Russia and other countries. The opposition also consists of those who were close to the victims of the 2002 Nord-Ost siege in Moscow’s Dubrovka theater, and of the 2004 Beslan school massacre, and of similar acts of terrorism in the country. It consists of those Russian citizens whom the government paints as a target for the rest of the population for the sole reason that they are not  ethnic Russians or followers of the Orthodox faith. The opposition is made up of the artists whose exhibits were recently stormed at the Andrei Sakharov Museum, and their fans and supporters, as well as all those who sided with the young women of Pussy Riot and could not accept the verdict that was handed down against them. The opposition is the pickpocketed and impoverished pensioners, teachers and doctors. It is all thos people who see injustices being committed against them, and against those close to them, and against everyone around them. And these people need to unite.

By contrast, a union of the liberal intelligentsia - and even more so of the ethnic minorities - with xenophobes, who call themselves “Russian nationalists,” and other pseudo-patriots would not only be impossible, but would ruin the one chance we have to create a genuine, countrywide movement aimed at demolishing the dictatorship of the security services and replacing it with a system that respects human rights and democratic standards.

By the way, regarding the “patriots” and nationalists, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to cooperate with some of them as well; among their ranks, there exists a good handful of sincerely misguided individuals who are capable of realizing that true patriotism is incompatible with wishing ill to your neighbour – and after all, the neighbour will always try to get their own back... 

But the ends don’t justify the means, and we must be uncompromising in rooting out those individuals and those forces that would inevitably compromise our noble and vital cause. It would be impossible to win the battle without first clearing the ranks of this unnatural ballast.

If a nationwide movement of this kind succeeded in coming together, then the current regime, which plays by the old tactic of “divide and rule,” would collapse like a house of cards. The goal of any government, if it truly cares about its country rather than about saving its own skin, is to unite, not to divide its citizens.

It is this unification of the people, and the overcoming of the ethnic and religious intolerance that has been thrust upon them, that should comprise the main goal of the opposition if it were to come to power.

And the opposition should aim for power, since the notion of a “systemic opposition” doesn’t exist. If you’re part of the system, you can’t fight against it. Of course, there is such a thing as schizophrenia, but it would be a stretch to apply it to strict pragmatists who try to appear as though they’re speaking out against their own interests.

To overcome the regime, it would be enough to demand that society live according to the law and not according to special “understandings,” and that the Constitution— including Article 18 which states that human and civic rights and freedoms have direct effect — be respected. Likewise, we should not apologize for breaking an unconstitutional law. Such laws should be attacked in the streets and on public squares, in Russian and international courts and human rights institutions. This effort requires the participation not only of activists but also of lawyers, in the first case those who provide legal representation in court.

There also exists another effective tactic: not paying taxes on the basis of moral grounds. Why pay taxes to illegitimate crooks and thieves - whose only mandate comes not from the people but from Mr. Vladimir Churov, the head of the notorious Central Election Commission - so that they can stuff their pockets with taxpayers’ money? Let them be followed and treated arbitrarily, and put in jail for political reasons.

Most importantly, we must establish a serious, mutually respectful dialogue. But not with the illegitimate authorities, or with their undercover agents, or with those who are obviously representing their interests. For there is no point in negotiating with tyrants. But it is essential, on the one hand, to have a dialogue within the opposition, in order to develop a strategy and tactics, along with a positive plan for the future. And, on the other hand, a dialogue between the opposition and the rest of the population is also vital, so that Russia can finally start to develop a civil society. A society that won’t just rid itself of what it doesn’t want, but will also create.