Opposition is not needed. Ivan Belyaev – about politics for everyone
Any person who follows Russian politics has heard complaints about the “split of the opposition”, that “the opposition has quarreled” and “cannot unite”. Most likely, he heard them from the first day of his interest in politics, and maybe he complained about it himself, then he got tired of complaining, then… In a word, this is an endless circle of the same clichés.
In a sense, I shared the faltering hopes of those who thought that February 24 of last year would cancel the old discords and splits, I left only one truly principled thing: a person stands up against Putin’s aggression and senseless slaughter – or not. It turned out that this is not the case at all, old claims do not go anywhere and new ones constantly arise. Some “left” versus “stayers” (certainly the most far-fetched dispute of the year), then constant debates about who is right against the war and who is wrong, who was once bad or good. This is a very stupid, unnecessary and annoying process. If you focus on it, it takes a lot of energy and nerves. But maybe then just defocus? Do they spit?
The tougher and meaner the regime, the easier it is to please the opposition
Let me explain what I mean. The word “opposition” has many meanings, but in our case we can reduce it to two key meanings. In a competitive democratic society, the opposition is fighting for voters’ votes and political power. The British Labor Party is in opposition to the Conservatives and would like to replace Rishi Sunak with “their” prime minister. German Christian Democrats, after many years of dominating the political scene, were forced to join the opposition, but they will definitely try to return to the government, in the usual democratic elections for Germany.
It is obvious that the opposition as a political force, capable not only of winning in individual local elections, but also of fighting for supreme power in the state, has not existed in Russia for many years. The most radical critics of the system believe that it never existed, and even the communists of the 1990s do not count. But there has definitely been no opposition at least since Putin’s first term. Even many political activists who declare the need to fight for power have been living in a strange state for years, when they cannot take a single meaningful step towards achieving their goals. Now, when a significant part of them is in exile, they are indistinguishable from human rights activists or journalists.
The second possible interpretation is relevant for an authoritarian society in which there is no open political struggle. In such a situation, anyone who opposes the regime and criticizes its abuses is clearly an oppositionist. The tougher and meaner the regime, the easier it is to please the opposition: in Russia ten, five, and even two or three years ago, Maxim Galkin was an ordinary comedian and TV presenter, and Boris Grebenshchikov and Andrey Makarevich were famous rock musicians. In Russia in 2022 and 2023, these are political emigrants who have been deprived of the opportunity to appear on stage for their families. None of them aspired to be an oppositionist, but suddenly they are perceived by the public in exactly that capacity.
The only difficulty is not to confuse these two meanings and not to mix them in everyday life. “Moral” oppositionists, dissidents, dissenters, “charters” do not need some kind of strict association and certainly do not need to “not quarrel”. Their position is dictated by fundamental ethical incompatibility with the actions of the regime, over many years of corruption and repression against dissidents, then aggressive forays against neighboring countries, and finally, now the largest war in post-Soviet history. This position does not even need to be agreed upon, it is capable of existing and expressing itself in everyone.
The opposition in the direct political sense certainly needs a certain ideological and organizational consolidation, but here’s the catch: in March 2023, there is simply no need for any political opposition. Do you have any elections that can be won and thereby take control of the State Duma? Enter the Kremlin? So there is no political opposition, and God is with him. It did not exist in Czechoslovakia in 1988 or in Italy in the middle of the Second World War, but an hour or two later there was a turbulent political life with parliamentary elections and party coalitions. In Russia, too, there will be an outbreak of political life, some reanimated parties and movements will be included in it, many political forces will gather from scratch. Then, as voters, we can appeal to them to unite or separate.
Now there is none of this, therefore, in essence, all disputes or discords are simply unimportant. When people waste their time and the rest of their media resources on something that does not weaken Vladimir Putin, does not lead to the collapse of the regime or the end of the war, it is unpleasant and annoys many, but in the long run – what is the difference? There is no opposition, and at the same time, everyone is an oppositionist to the best of his ability, that’s all.
Ivan Belyaev is a journalist of Radio Svoboda
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