One of the big events in Russian political life this fall was the split of the country's main right-leaning opposition party, the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS). In late September, party leader Nikita Belykh resigned and left the party after it was revealed that other party officials had decided to join a Kremlin-organized rightist coalition with two minor parties, Civic Force and the Democratic Party of Russia.
This weekend, the three parties are scheduled to hold congresses at which they will dissolve themselves in preparation for the creation of the new party, which will be sort of a mirror image of the Kremlin-sponsored left-leaning party, A Just Russia. Presumably, the two parties will play little brother to the dominant Unified Russia and all three will support the Kremlin in creating an illusion of pluralism. Most likely, the services of the holdover opposition Communist Party and the nationalist-rightist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia will no longer be needed.
One of the main SPS figures to remain with the party and help form the new structure is acting SPS leader Leonid Gozman, who today published an op-ed on gazeta.ru that defended his choice. His headline, "Compromise Or Defeat," more or less sums up the tenor of the piece. Gozman explained his reasoning as well during a long interview with RFE/RL's Russian Service on September 30.
Gozman argues that "we don't live in Norway or Switzerland, but Russia." He proceeds from the acknowledgement that "our life is such that without cooperating with the authorities and without the approval of the authorities, it is not possible to create or maintain a viable party." He further argues that those who believe the system can be changed by public demonstrations a la the Orange Revolution in Ukraine "tragically misunderstand the situation in the country."
Gozman goes on to say the SPS was the subject of "a massive attack" by the authorities during the 2007 election campaign -- "arrests, slander in the media, a financial blockade" -- that turned the party into a "club." He also states that he disagrees with much of what the authorities are doing, including the current drive to extend the president's term of office to six years.
However, Gozman says, he prefers evolutionary development to revolutionary development, saying that any protest-based political change will inevitably be co-opted by xenophobes under the slogan "Russia for Russians."
In the end, Gozman says that his talks with the Kremlin have been based on "compromise," although the only compromise he mentions on the Kremlin's part is that it has allowed him and his comrades to form this new party. He should ask himself whether left-leaning Russians have seen their interests genuinely represented since A Just Russia was formed.