Yabloko, which had claimed to be the last registered democratic party in Russia, has officially broke up with the opposition. Its convention adopted a resolution last week that bans Yabloko’s members from participating in any opposition organizations, movements or coalitions.
Kremlin’s most hated “troublemakers” like The Other Russia and Solidarnost are explicitly mentioned in the resolution. Those who don’t leave these organizations within three months will be automatically expelled from the party, regardless if they hold high posts.
Yabloko had long struggled to balance the real democratic opposition and the so-called “system opposition” (i.e. controlled by the Kremlin). Members participated in Dissenters’ Marches and openly criticized Vladimir Putin’s regime while their official leaders were more busy attacking other democratic organizations and figures. Grigory Yavlinsky (Yabloko’s co-founder and former leader) and Sergei Mitrokhin (Yavlinsky’s successor) called themselves the opposition, but meanwhile supported the authorities when sensitive topics were concerned. They denounced any opposition’s attempts of consolidation, defended infamous Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov from accusations of corruption, and even went so far as to support United Russia’s candidate for mayor of Sochi against Boris Nemtsov of liberal Solidarnost.
But this display of loyalty wasn’t enough for the authorities. Yabloko hasn’t been allowed to win any major elections since 2003. The party also had huge debts after its lost campaigns. The latest Moscow Duma elections were a disaster for Yabloko when Mitrokhin lost his deputy seat. It became clear that Yabloko had no chances to win any elections without submitting to the Kremlin completely. The only other option was to join the opposition ranks and inevitably lose the official registration (i.e. the right to participate in elections, under current legislation) and face harsh repression. No wonder the party’s leadership didn’t want such a fate.
To guarantee the full loyalty of Yabloko, Mitrokhin needed to get rid of “troublemakers” within his own party. Such were the most independent and popular activists (like the head of St Petersburg branch Maksim Reznik or a well-known journalist Andrei Piontkovsky), who were already participating in different opposition projects. The latest resolution was therefore both a way to clean the party of its democratic wing and a signal that Yabloko was ready to surrender — A kind of a white flag visible from the Kremlin’s towers.
The latest decision makes Yabloko a part of the system of managed, or “sovereign” democracy built by Vladislav Surkov. This concept implies that all democratic institutions exist in paper, but are in fact imitated and controlled by the government. Elections are held regularly but their outcome is known in advance. Freedom of speech is praised but only exists on the Internet and in some papers with limited circulation. There are parties that call themselves opposition but they will never challenge the existing government or try to take its place. This system is used to fool and calm down people both inside and (maybe even more) outside Russia. “Our democracy is not perfect, but so isn’t yours,” they say to Western leaders. And there are always ones who prefer to believe (or pretend to believe) that this imitation is democracy.
The most ironic part of this story is that even after such a shameful surrender Yabloko has only a dim prospect of restoring even a part of its influence. As shows the experience of another wannabe pocket opposition party, Right Cause, Surkov doesn’t value his defeated opponents. Almost all candidates of Right Cause weren’t even allowed to run for elections this autumn. So there is a very slight chance that Yabloko will be able to win any elections after giving in to the Kremlin. Especially after they expel all their most promising activists.