Lev Ponomarev, Elena Kotenochkina, Oleg Elanchik: How to unite the opposition?

18 April 2023

Lev Ponomarev, Elena Kotenochkina, Oleg Elanchik of the Initiative group of the Sakharov Movement for Peace, Progress and Human Rights

 Source: Republic.ru

This text was written by members of the initiative group of the Sakharov Movement for Peace, Progress & Human Rights, headed by human rights activist Lev Ponomarev. The authors urge the Russian opposition to unite and they share the results of surveys conducted among Russian citizens who oppose the war.

As a result of several meetings, the first of which is to be held in Berlin at the end of April, it is expected that Russian opposition forces will find a way to come together and conduct meaningful discussions of their plans. The meetings are to be devoted to forming a body that truly represents the millions of opponents of war and those who support democracy. The very task itself inevitably involves maximizing the links between the coalition and the people who remain in Russia. An effective coalition is also necessary for negotiations with the West.

The main strategic goal of this process is to create a democratic state based on the rule of law in Russia. This is the primary goal because a common position in relation to Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine has long been formulated and is well known.

The process of unification has been delayed. There are many reasons for this. A number of these that present us with practical tasks will be considered here. 

First. The opinions of those outside Russia now play a decisive role in public discussion of the opposition’s tasks. This is because millions of people in Russia are forced to remain silent in order to avoid criminal prosecution. This is especially true of those who continue to do vital human rights work in Russia, which in certain cases is more important than public statements. It is practically impossible now for such people to take part in antiwar meetings abroad or to influence the content and outcomes of these meetings.

This problem could be partially solved if we were able to ensure that representatives of civil society groups and their leaders who are in Russia, including those in prison, were able to attend the meetings devoted to uniting the opposition. These representatives should be listened to carefully, and their positions taken into account in the conferences’ published proceedings.

Second. Due to the natural development of political events in Russia, the most famous oppositionists were previously linked to the regimes of Yeltsin or Putin and actively made careers in the 1900s or early 2000s. At the same time, a great many civic initiatives during those years were suppressed, such as the trade union and ecological movements. And in the recent prewar years, there was also an active increase in young people’s participation in politics and in the creation of youth oppositionist, journalistic, and human rights projects that the regime essentially crushed. Therefore, virtually none of the forces listed above are represented in foreign oppositionist circles.

In particular, leftist democratic antiwar forces have been weakened. The leftist movement, which opposes the Russian Communist Party, has split, while the party stratum of the Russian Communist Party that does not support the war has been subjected to pressure and repressions from both the regime and the party leadership. We know that right now democratically inclined leftist antiwar forces are uniting, for instance, under the Socialists Against the War project.

It is critically important that the most visible representatives of these forces—the antiwar youth movements and the anti-authoritarian leftists—take part in forming the coalition.

Why is this so important if these forces are weakly formed and seemingly should not have any influence on Russians’ views? The problem is that in the mind of people of leftist-democratic views, the oligarchs and “liberals” who ensured the rise and stability of the Putin regime were and remain in power. By breaking with the Putin elite and opposing it today, they are natural participants in a coalition of antiwar forces. But there is a noticeable mistrust among Russians for people from that elite, even though they harshly oppose the regime. And the opposition coalition taking shape should take these circumstances into account.

Obviously, the formation of a broad coalition will harm the radical positions of certain opposition representatives most of all. Specifically, direct calls for armed resistance, as well as the proclamation of the necessity for Russia’s territorial dismemberment. These issues cannot be allowed to destroy unifying processes, and under no circumstances should a compromise sacrifice the interests of the mass antiwar movement to a radically inclined minority.

In order to determine the opinion of democratically and antiwar-inclined Russians on the most crucial issues of the impending coalition, we went to signatories of the “No to War” petition. In the first few days of the war, this petition was signed by 1.3 million people, who demonstrated that they had antiwar and democratic views. We conducted two anonymous surveys among the signatories: “People Inside the Democratic Movement” and “Goals. Methods. Consequences.” On some points the results were unexpected.

2088 people took part in our first survey. Conclusions.

First. It turned out that 78.4% of those surveyed remain in Russia. This is a very important result.

“Peace. Progress. Human Rights”

Second. The data obtained clearly confirmed the demand for a real unification of the opposition. Thus, to the question, “Which topics do you consider most urgent for discussion inside the opposition?” the majority (more than 70%) chose “consolidation of democratic forces.” Many wrote about consolidation/unification in the open response to the question, “What, in your opinion, does the antiwar movement lack most of all?”

“Peace. Progress. Human Rights”

Third. Based on answers to the question, “Which democratic forces are you most oriented toward?” in first place was the Navalny team (FBK [Anti-Corruption Foundation])—26.3%. In second place, slightly behind, was Maksim Kats and his team (21.7%). In third place (13.8%) were Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Garry Kasparov with their Free Russia Forum.

“Peace. Progress. Human Rights”

Fourth. About 45% of those surveyed—most of whom, remember, are inside Russia—have noted a decline in support for the war to some degree or another. In addition, 32.8% say that they personally have been able to change the minds of a certain number of people in their circle.

“Peace. Progress. Human Rights”
“Peace. Progress. Human Rights”

1197 people took part in our second survey. Conclusions.

First. The response showed that there are more rightist democrats (32%). Although there are fewer leftist democrats (20%), their numbers cannot be disregarded. And 48% will be oriented toward the specific programs of parties or politicians. This implies that the unification of rightist and leftist democrats is highly desirable.

“Peace. Progress. Human Rights”

Second. Today, one of the most relevant issues—which has become more acute since the murder of “milblogger” and propagandist Tatarsky—is “Should the broad coalition of antiwar forces include, among others, representatives of organizations that have publicly supported actions similar to the murder of Dugina and Tatarsky?”

The response showed that it should not (62.8%). Nevertheless, a significant percentage (29%) believes that they should be represented in a broad coalition.

“Peace. Progress. Human Rights”

Seemingly, the picture resembles the previous question, and a broad coalition should be based not only on the majority but on the minority as well if it constitutes a significant part. But in the second case, the question is not about uniting people with different political positions but about uniting people with different moral notions. Therefore it is obvious that if a broad coalition includes people who allow terrorist acts as a method of political struggle, this will mean a drastic shrinking of the coalition itself.

Third. The last important question we want to look at—“How should the democratic opposition express its attitude toward Russia’s possible collapse”—divided the audience virtually in half.

55.8% believe that the democratic opposition should declare as its goal the preservation of Russia with maximum federalization and rights guarantees for cultural and ethnic communities, while 41.8% believe that it should not prevent national republics from freely leaving Russia.

“Peace. Progress. Human Rights”

Translated by Simon Cosgrove and Marian Schwartz

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