The Moscow Times reports that Rodina, the nationalist (but not quite as ‘nationalist’ as Zhirinovsky’s mob) party have been barred from participating in the upcoming Moscow Duma election, amid claims that they are gaining ground on United Russia, the pro-Putin, pro-Kremlin, and pro-Moscow City Hall party.
The Moscow City Court ruled on Saturday that a Rodina television campaign ad incites ethnic hatred and thus the nationalist party should be barred from next weekend’s elections to the City Duma.[The campaign ad] features dark-skinned men eating watermelon in a courtyard and throwing the rinds on the ground as a young blond woman walks by pushing a baby carriage, and ends with a call to “clear the city of garbage.”
The LDPR (that’s Zhirinovsky’s mob) are also under threat of being banned for a racist advertising campaign, although they will probably be saved by the fact that their ad campaign was never actually aired.
I have to say that, provided Kremlin back political machinations are not to blame for the verdict (more on that in a minute), I’m very pleased to see that a party has been publicly shamed for producing a racist advertising campaign. Racism is an aspect of Russian society that really troubles me. It’s not that I think Russians are inherently racist, but racism is one of those things that festers under the surface because people don’t yet have the courage to stand up and say that it is wrong. A verdict like this could be one small step on the way towards making it publicly acceptable for people to oppose racism on a daily basis, rather than look the other way.
Anyway, back to the second point. Was the judgement politically inspired? Did the Kremlin ‘arrange’ the verdict to push Rodina out of the race?
Well, if Rodina truly are gaining on United Russia, there certainly seems to be a the motive. With Rodina out of the way, United Russia’s position should be unassailable, right? Well… maybe. But I’m not so sure.
Consider this – if Rodina’s natural supporters can’t vote for their first choice party, who are they going to vote for? Well, some of them just won’t vote of course, but most of them, I would imagine, will head right on over to Vladimir Zhirinovsky, and vote LDPR. This, surely, would have the effect of combining the LDPR / Rodina vote, and creating a really serious challenge to United Russia.
So, in my opinion, the answer has to be no, the verdict wasn’t fixed. In fact, I reckon United Russia are now going to be looking a little more nervously over their shoulders than they were a few days ago, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see people coming out of the woodwork to defend Rodina’s right to free speech…
Andy, you are a trusting soul. While I agree with you 100% about how good it is to see racism sanctioned, I don’t think it’s possible for a court decision of such political significance to take place without, uh, involvement from non-judicial actors. I’ve seen commentary recently – e.g., in this piece carried in JRL and on Russia Profile – and it was discussed earlier in the year that the guys in the Kremlin have no use for Rodina anymore. The party was a pet project of the Kremlin that took on a life of its own. I have to say that I’m happy to see Rogozin take it in the shorts – he’s one of my least favorite Russian political figures, for all of his blustering nationalism and meddling in “near-abroad” matters, not to mention the increasingly blatant tendency to play the race card, all done with such a smarmy and smug look on his face.
This gives Putin’s team the chance to say that Russia does not accept ultra-nationalist political discourse, meanwhile clearing the political playing field (if it does in fact mean the demise of Rodina) of a potential future nuisance. Needless to say, I wouldn’t count Rogozin out. The guy is clearly as ambitious as they come, and seems willing to bend his ideology to the needs of those in charge, so I’m sure he’ll come out of this OK.
Furthermore, the LDPR is not a real threat. Everyone knows they are a joke and do not constitute an independent political force. The Kremlin seems to have chosen an old, reliable, buffoonish puppet (Zhirik) over a younger, more ambitious one who may have tried to color outside the lines. Perhaps the LDPR will be barred from these elections also, but I doubt it – they are the “loyal opposition” that Rodina never became. But maybe I’m being too cynical about all of this…
http://www.mosnews.com/interview/2005/11/28/thepurpose.shtml This recent interview with Mikhail Delyagin of Rodina might also be interesting. I’m afraid my Russian isn’t good enough to read enough of the Russian language news websites, so I’m just getting up to speed on Russian politics.
Yeah, I have these days where I like to see the good in the world. Doesn’t happen often, so I have to make sure I luxuriate in the feeling when it comes along…
Seriously, though, I have a feeling that the Rodina verdict is one of those bizarre verdicts that the courts sometimes throw out when the folks at the top aren’t paying close enough attention.
And, while you are right that the banning of Rodina does give Putin the chance to say that Russian society (and by inference, he) is intolerant of racism and ultra-nationalist policies, the banning is only for a local election. There’s a fair chance that, actually, the banning will increase support throughout the country, if Rodina manage it well.
Andy, there’s more to the Rodina ad (which I have not seen): it communicates Rodina’s anti-immigration stance by invoking racist sentiment. By indiscriminately condemning the ad, Russia’s political establishment attacks not so much racism as anti-immigrationism. It is now prepared to brand immigration restrictionists as racists. I’m unhappy to see this — I think immigration is part of, not a solution to, Russia’s most important long-term problem (the demographic crisis). I’d rather live with mild racism now than with extreme racism tomorrow when immigrants’ kids grow up to be the Russian (i.e., uglier) version of the faubourg mob.
LDPR stands to gain from this ban (but not much), and as Lyndon says, they are Kremlin puppets.
Delyagin’s recent interview to Time is puzzling. He used to sound reasonable but now he’s talking about Russia embracing Islam and creating a “new civilization”. And he’s Rodina’s official economist, isn’t he?
On second thought, I doubt LDPR will add many votes. Here in Moscow, the typical Rodina voter is probably a disaffected “liberal”, a former Yabloko or SPS voter. Someone who had expected to gain from Yeltsin’s reforms but ended up losing big.
Alexei, I’m not sure I follow your logic. My understanding of the judgement was that Rodina were barred specifically for inciting racial hatred.
I haven’t seen the ad either (oddly, despite the massive Russian community, they didn’t air it in London) but, what I can gather from news reports is that Rodina very explicity made the analogy that immigrants are garbage, and that they soil Russia.
Opposing immigration is a perfectly valid political view, but there are ways to hold the debate that don’t sink into racism. I don’t know if I would necessarily class Rodina as a racist party, but their advert was clearly pandering to people’s worst fears of another race.
I would acknowledge that those fears exist, but there is no excuse for playing to them in such a blantant way and, worse, making it seem acceptable to discuss a problematic issue in such a way.
By the way – I just discovered that the LDPR initiated the case. Pot, kettle, black, etc.
Also, I thought I’d add – much of the analysis I’ve read seems to think that public support for Rodina will grow as a result of their expulsion.
Andy, you can view the ad here – http://www.rodina.ru/mgd/rolik – it really is offensive. And I have to disagree with Alexei on the immigration issue, I don’t think the situation in Russia is comparable to the factors that have created the unrest in France at all, for several reasons:
1) Many if not most of the migrant workers in Russia are still rooted in their home countries/communities and do not view Russia as a future or permanent home, due to several factors:
– they are often not legally documented in Russia
– their families often do not accompany them to Russia
– many of them work for a finite period of time in order to purchase a residence in their home country and then may return periodically to work as their financial needs dictate.
2) Not all of the migrant workers in Russia are from Muslim countries – many are from Ukraine, Moldova, Armenia… – and at least some of the Muslim migrants to Moscow are not really immigrants to Russia, since they come from Russia’s North Caucasus.
3) Unlike in France, the immigrants’ children (those of them who do make it to Russia instead of waiting for their dad to come home to ****stan with a bulging wallet) will not have the benefits of a welfare state to fall back upon, much less “spoil them,” as the French welfare state has been accused of doing. Anyone who moves to Russia to take advantage of the social services there will be sorely disappointed, even if he can jump through all of the bribe-seeking, bureaucratic hoops required to get citizenship and actually qualify for the benefits.
4) If the Russian economy grows as much as the Russian government wants it to, it will need the labor force enhancement much more than France’s economy needs its surplus labor force.
Alexei, this is what I wanted to post as a comment to one of your several recent posts on immigration – http://therussiandilettante.blogspot.com/2005/11/amnesty-for-illegals-2-standard-pro.html
Well, now I feel like I’ve put more effort into this comment than into most posts on my own blog… but I think the discussion about immigration is going to be increasingly important in Russia’s future, so it’s an interesting topic to discuss.
Andy — as you say, the ad was banned for inciting racial hatred: it appealed to racist prejudices to promote an anti-immigration agenda. I fear that from now on, all opponents of immigration will be branded as racists. Remember Enoch Powell — he was vilified as a bigot, and perhaps he was one, but he was right on most points, unfortunately.
Lyndon: 1) is what Germans thought was good about their guest worker program — now the country is full of immigrants; 2) right, and most Russians don’t object to Ukrainians and Moldovans coming here; 3) Russia offers no dole (although health care is still infinitely better in Moscow that in a Tajikistan village) but well-organized communities can extract rent through monopolization. Look what happened to farmers’ markets in Moscow; recall American garbage collectors. 4) It depends on the growth pattern but in any case there are millions of un- and underemployed Russians out there; plus, not everyone wants growth at any price.
Alexei, good points, although I still have to agree to disagree on the broader proposition you mentioned in an earlier comment – that immigration would be a part of rather than a solution to Russia’s demographic crisis. It seems to me that immigration can be part of a demographic crisis only if you are somehow concerned about the country’s ethnic makeup being diluted (which seems silly to me because the RF already incorporates so many Muslims and other ethnic groups). Otherwise, in Russia’s situation of stagnant or declining population, I don’t see how immigration is not a good thing, assuming those immigrants who come to stay are willing to work, which I think they are.
As for the millions of un- and underemployed Russians, this is of course the classic anti-immigration argument which we hear every so often in the US as well, advanced in turn by inefficiency-creating (rent-extracting, if you like) groups like labor unions and bigots who forget that everyone in this country except for the Native Americans had an ancestor get off a boat or a plane at some point. Of course, Russia is not traditionally a “nation of immigrants” in the way that America is, but if Russia intends to create a free labor market, it’s inevitable that some Russians will wind up out of work, and this should not be blamed on those enterprising or hard-working immigrants who somehow are able to find work.
One more note on this – according to Andrei Piontkovsky (I cornered him after his very interesting talk at SAIS in DC tonight and asked about this) the decision to bar Rodina from the MosGorDuma elections was appealed to the Supreme Court and will be finally decided tomorrow. Piontkovsky’s comment was that the decision would show whether the Kremlin wanted to get rid of it’s “Frankenstein” – i.e., Rodina – or give them a bunch of added publicity and presumably a boost in the polls. He also questioned Russia’s ability to support “two Le Pens” – Zhirik and Rogozin – on an ongoing basis.
So, Andy, we’ll be counting on you to follow the story tomorrow to see where it comes out.
Lyndon, I am strongly against dramatic changes to Russia’s ethnic mix. That Russia is multiethnic in a natural way does not mean it can easily assimilate immigrants. We’ve been lucky that north of the Caucasus, Russia has not seen much interethnic violence but the peace may be brittle.
I think there is a more general question involved in this debate. Who gets to decide who to let in, and how many? I would argue this is up to Russia’s current citizens. Popular opinion is against mass immigration.
Efficiency is often misunderstood. It is ultimately based on utility, which is a personal characteristic. If the representative voter rationally prefers to keep immigrants away, zero immigration is the efficient solution.
Russia has a relatively free, although highly imperfect labor market that keeps millions of native Russians underemployed. They are not a tiny minority — they may easily be the majority. Labor mobility isn’t great but it’s not the root of the problem. The Russian economy would still be abnormal with perfectly mobile workers. Importing workers will make a large number of Russian citizens even worse off and a small number better off (in the short term).