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Boris Nemtsov and Eugene Chirikov at Harriman Institute. No Chance for Russian Opposition

21 , 2011, Olga Hvostunova

Left to right: Boris Nemtsov, Eugene Chirikov, Andranik Migranian, Timothy Fry

Left to right: Boris Nemtsov, Eugene Chirikov, Andranik Migranian, Timothy Fry. Photo imrussia.org

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On September 16, Institute of Modern Russia and the Harriman Institute (CU) hosted a discussion panel “Russian Elections 2011-12: Is There a Chance For Political Opposition”. The answer to that question was, unfortunately, no, unless there come some substantial changes in the political system.

The discussion panel was quite diverse. The Russian opposition part was represented by Boris Nemtsov, leader of the political movement “Solidarity”, and Evgeniya Chirikova, environmental activist and leader of the “Ecological Defense of Moscow Region” movement and the unregistered “Movement for the Protection of the Khimki Forest”. The official point of view of Russian authorities was articulated by Andranik Migranyan, director of the Institute of Democracy and Cooperation and a well-known Kremlin policy advocate. This polar political setting was doomed to turn into a heated discussion, balancing on the verge of a scandal.

Evgeniya Chirikova was the first to speak. In her brief remarks she gave an outlay of her activities. Since 2007 she’s been trying to bring attention to the project of constructing a federal Moscow-St.Petersburg highway through the Khimki district of Moscow. The course of the highway lies within a so-called ‘green zone’ of Khimki forest, which means that it’s strictly forbidden by law to initiate any sort of construction activities in this area. Still, the highway is being constructed, thus destroying a unique ecological area and violating the law. As Ms. Chirikova noted, this is a corrupted project developed in the interests of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Arkady Rotenberg, his personal friend and judo trainer, now a successful businessman. 

To stop this devastating construction, Ms. Chirikova initiated a local civil protest movement that soon gained large civil support. Still, the protest was ignored by authorities. Moreover, a journalist, Mikhail Beketov, who wrote an investigative article on the level of corruption involved in the case, was attacked and severely beaten. As a result, he became a disabled person. Many link this attack to the article he published. 

Video of discussion panel «Russian Elections 2011-12: Is There a Chance For Political Opposition» at  Harriman Institute. New York, September 16, 2011:

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Following the grim story of the Khimki forest, Mr.Nemtsov took the floor. His speech was not much fun, either. Mr. Nemtsov had plenty of facts to share regarding the government actions against political opposition in Russia. 

“The problem is that there are no independent registered parties. The seven existing parties are “muppets”. All electoral lists are examined by Kremlin. And Kremlin’s control spreads over information and economical policies of the parties.”

Mr. Nemtsov also made a few remarks on the recent political scandal in the “Right Cause” party that had expelled Mikhail Prokhorov, a famous Russian billionaire and its leader of only 3 months. 

“He [Prokhorov] made three mistakes. First, he said he wanted to be Prime Minister, though it was a joke. Second, later, he said he might run for the president in 2012 if his party gets the second best results in parliamentary elections. And third and final, he refused to include Putin’s and Medvedev’s candidates in his party lists when they asked him to.” 

Concluding his presentation, Mr. Nemtsov added that there would not be free elections in Russia and there would not be any point in participating. He offered a slogan for this campaign: ‘Vote for Russia, Vote Against Everyone’.

Finally, Andranik Migranyan took his chance to try to contradict his political opponents. Describing himself as an independent political analyst, Mr. Migranyan failed to make a single constructive point. His speech became a series of personal attacks against his adversaries, aimed at discriminating them and their words. A mixture of common trivia, blatant lies and Kremlin-style propaganda, the speech just didn’t deliver. 

Some of his remarks were:

“I know that professional experts, who know better that a young Ms. Chirikova, looked through all the alternative projects to the Khimki highway and found them more dangerous and costly.”

“Years ago I invented ‘civil disobedience’. It’s against the law. Ms. Chirikova, you are violating the law and trying to destroy the traffic system”.

“The problem of political opposition in Russia is that they don’t understand that not every political movement ends up in success. Sometimes, you need to give up and go back to your kitchen.”

“The policies of the 90s created the situation when people just don’t want to vote for marginals”.

Unfortunately, these provocative remarks made their way and raised the temper of both his opponents who were impatient to cross-fire. The audience pitched in with their sharp questions. And by the end of the panel Timothy Frye, director of the Harriman Institute and moderator, was doing his best to restrain the heated panelists. 

Also, by the end of the discussion, it became once again clear that political opposition in Russia won’t hold a chance in the upcoming elections, because it has no admission to official campaign. The only thing left to do is to continue its peaceful protest, to raise awareness and to involve more citizens in the movement.

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