Finally! The liberal opposition in Russia has an organization it can call its own. The national Solidarity movement held its founding conference in the Moscow suburb of Khimki over the weekend. Sure, I know what you are saying. Other Russia, the National Assembly, the United Civic Front, the Russian Popular Democratic Union, the Republican Party, Yabloko, the Union of Rightist Forces, the Judean Popular People's Front.... The list seems endless.
But what if Solidarity is the one to tip the balance? Could happen.
I'll be honest -- I'm not sure what Solidarity is. It seems to be an umbrella organization, headed by the leaders of most of the organizations enumerated above (the Judean Popular People's Front is not participating). But that's what Other Russia is, no?
But there are a few things about Solidarity that make it notable. First, it is trying to be a grassroots organization. At the congress, former world chess champion Gary Kasparov told delegates Solidarity has chapters in 42 Russian cities, while former Deputy Energy Minister Vladimir Milov said, "this isn't another club for politicians inside the Moscow Garden Ring, but a genuinely all-Russian organization," according to "Vremya novostei." That may be wishful thinking, but at least it is well-directed wishful thinking. (You can see videos and read documents from the Solidarity conference here.)
The second thing that I like about Solidarity is the active participation of Milov, whose "300 Steps To Freedom" is an impressive document and whose economic and political analysis on gazeta.ru is among my favorite reading. (RFE/RL's Russian Service interviewed Milov from the Solidary congress.) His participation gives me hope that the movement might actually develop a positive program, although with no access to the media and constant state harassment, it has little chance of making that program known.
But I'm not the only one who is a little unsure about the new grouping. Republican Party head Vladimir Ryzhkov told RFE/RL that he is not joining Solidarity. He said he participated in talks in the spring about the new group and was disappointed that they could not agree on tactics or even membership. "In short, there was no unity on the form of work or on its content or on the circle of participants," Ryzhkov said. "So already in the spring it was clear to us that this organization could not become genuinely broad and so in order not to create harmful illusions, we are not participating." Russian Popular Democratic Union head Mikhail Kasyanov is also not in Solidarity, although several leaders in his party are participating and he has not flat-out rejected the idea of signing on.
Where does Solidarity go from here? The movement's leaders say that tactics are undetermined as of yet, but the basic call of the movement is non-cooperation with the authorities until a legitimate legislature is convened. How to achieve that goal in a country where the authorities have cut off every avenue of peaceful political activity is the problem facing Solidarity's leadership. With no money, no media access, no fair elections, no legal status, and constant bullying from the authorities and surrogates like Nashi, Solidarity has its work cut out for it.
-- Robert Coalson