Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Russia’s inconvenient opposition


Last weekend, presidential elections took place in Russia. Vladimir Putin, the leader of the ruling United Russia Party and the man who has been running the show in Russia for the past 12 years, won 64 percent of the vote according to official results.

But many observers, both inside and outside Russia, argue that the elections were neither free nor fair, that the media was overwhelmingly pro-Putin, that some people were bribed or even forced to vote for the United Russia candidate and that there was widespread voting fraud.

This in itself is nothing new. Putin, like his mentor Boris Yeltsin, has been winning questionable elections for years. Yeltsin even sent tanks against the Russian parliament at one point in the 1990s, because they opposed his radical free-market reforms.

What is surprising is the way the opposition to Putin is presented by the Western media. For one thing, most news reports simply refer to them as “the opposition,” rarely giving the names of political parties and almost never saying what they stand for.

When individual members of “the opposition” are mentioned, it is nearly always bloggers, liberal intellectuals, wealthy businessmen or some other members of Russia’s pro-market, pro-Western, newly-rich circles. These people are presented as if they are the leaders of the opposition to Putin, but the truth is that they constitute a tiny, irrelevant minority. Presenting them as the main opposition is like presenting the Green Party of the United States as the main opposition to Obama.

Most of the Western media seems to be going to extreme lengths to avoid talking about the real opposition to Putin – those groups that actually got millions of votes in the election instead of a few hits on their blogs. One CNN commentator, Andrew Keen, goes so far as to lament that the Russian opposition is “mostly limited to Moscow [and] politically naive,” and he seems to suggest that they need to set up political parties as if they don’t have any yet. He does this despite the fact that the picture at the head of his article shows protesters carrying the banners of the largest opposition party in Russia, which he does not mention even once.

That party is the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, which has been Russia’s largest opposition group for almost 20 years and has consistently come in either first or second place in every national election since 1995 (but they’ve never been allowed to govern, of course).

In the presidential elections last weekend, the CPRF candidate came second. If Putin stole the elections from anyone, he stole them from the communists. This is the key fact that the Western media seems desperate to avoid mentioning: The main purpose of all that fraud, intimidation, bribery and authoritarianism in Russia is to prevent the communists from winning elections.

To present the political situation in Russia as a conflict between the iron-fisted Putin and idealistic young liberals is to distort the facts beyond all recognition. Putin does indeed rule with an iron fist, but he rules as a pro-business conservative who defends the privileges of the super-wealthy elite and who has implemented the kinds of right-wing economic policies that American Republicans could only dream of.

For example, taxes in Russia are far lower than in the United States, with the income tax having a single flat rate of 13 percent (by comparison, the wealthiest people in the U.S. pay a marginal income tax rate of 35 percent). The opposition to Putin, although it does contain a small number of liberals, is largely made up of communists and other anti-capitalists who oppose market-based economics because of what it has brought to Russia over the past 20 years: deepening poverty, unemployment, the collapse of health care and education, plummeting life expectancy and living standards and the rise of organized crime. This is a very widespread opinion. According to a poll conducted by the Yuriy Levada Analytical Centre in 2009, 60 percent of Russians regret the dissolution of the Soviet Union (and 16 percent would like to see it restored just as it was before). Such views are also widely held in other countries of the former USSR. According to another 2009 poll – this one conducted by the Pew Research Center – a majority of Ukrainians oppose capitalism and regret the shift to a market economy.

These facts are not widely reported by our media in the West. Perhaps it’s because they do not want to admit that capitalism has failed in the former USSR and made the Soviet system look good in comparison. In the words of Rupert Hayes, a former Moscow correspondent for the BBC, “What you realize when you live in Russia is that so many of our assumptions are wrong. While we were celebrating Russia’s release from Bolshevik tyranny, most Russians were being plunged into poverty, unemployment and misery as unbridled capitalism was let loose upon an unprepared populace.”

Or perhaps our media’s attitude towards this issue isn’t really about Russia or the ex-USSR in particular, but about the Western liberal worldview in general. Almost every time they report a major political conflict anywhere in the world, our news channels have to portray the “good guys” as pro-market, pro-Western liberals – even when they are not.

Just like CNN doesn’t like to admit that the largest organization calling for free and fair elections in Russia is the Communist Party, Jon Stewart (yes, even Jon Stewart) interviewed Egyptian protest leader Gigi Ibrahim and introduced her as an “Egyptian political activist.” Actually, she’s also a Marxist and a member of the “Revolutionary Socialism” political party. And did you know that one of the most militant groups opposing the current Iranian government is the Worker-Communist Party of Iran? No? My point exactly. If you’re fighting against a widely hated oppressive regime, but you’re not a liberal, the Western media will either portray you as a liberal or pretend you don’t exist.

Mike Tudoreanu is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected].


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  • S

    SonyaOct 23, 2012 at 12:12 pm

    A great article!

  • B

    BrianApr 12, 2012 at 9:49 pm

    Hmmm, I find that hard to believe. If there is one thing communism is good at, it’s creating a strong state apparatus. Besides, Russia’s problem with corruption affects private corporations just as much as the government.

  • C

    Communism FailsApr 12, 2012 at 2:12 pm

    Communism left the state apparatus weak, thus the problems with corruption following the transition to capitalism. The government needs better non-military security to supervise crime, both blue and white collar.

  • J

    JessicaApr 11, 2012 at 1:54 pm

    It’s annoying how in the US we tend to think of all politics in conservative vs. liberal terms – or in terms of the evil dictator vs. rebels who want their country to be more like the US – and if another country’s politics doesn’t fit into that framework we try to twist it until it fits.

  • A

    AlexyApr 11, 2012 at 1:43 pm

    Philip, what you said is completely untrue. To say that Russia did not establish free market reforms – or that it was “still pretty much a state-run economy” after the collapse of the USSR – is as far away from reality as saying that Obama is a Muslim communist. Russia DID undergo a massive campaign of privatization starting in 1992 (right after the fall of the USSR), which put most of the economy in the hands of private capitalists within the span of a single year. This is not a matter of controversy. Read ANY book about Russia in the 1990s, no matter if it’s right-wing or left-wing, and you will see it mentioned there. It was called “shock therapy”, and it was pushed by president Boris Yeltsin and prime minister Yegor Gaidar. Even the CIA World Factbook says about Russia that “Economic reforms in the 1990s privatized most industry, with notable exceptions in the energy and defense-related sectors.”

    When capitalism was introduced in Russia in the 1990s, people saw their life savings wiped out by hyperinflation, most of the country’s industry was sold off at rock-bottom prices to a handful of profiteers (the oligarchs of today), and these new private owners closed down thousands of workplaces and threw millions of people into unemployment. The greatest tragedy of all was what happened to retirees. Their pensions were slashed or became worthless due to inflation, and after a lifetime of honest work they were reduced to begging for food in the streets.

    Today, government spending in Russia accounts for only 20% of GDP (less than in the US), and, like the article says, there is a flat tax of 13% (MUCH less than in the US). Putin doesn’t imprison “big business leaders,” he imprisons people who oppose him – regardless of who they are or what they do. Big business leaders who DON’T oppose Putin are filthy rich and can do pretty much anything they want. For example, Vladimir Lisin is the 14th richest man in the world!

    You say that your family came from Russia, but that doesn’t replace actual information about the history of the last 20 years and the facts of today. I think you should go to Russia and see for yourself the crushing poverty and desperation of ordinary people living right next to luxury stores for the super-rich.

  • A

    AlexyApr 11, 2012 at 9:21 am

    The way the Western media tries to make a hero out of Khodorkovsky is disgusting. Khodorkovsky is a robber baron who got rich in the 1990s in the same way as all the others: by stealing state property and making it his private property, then impoverishing his workforce in order to squeeze maximum profits out of them. He was also very cozy with the authoritarian Yeltsin regime. Then Putin came to power, Khodorkovsky decided he didn’t want to support Putin the way he supported Yeltsin, so he ended up in jail. Cry me a river. He is no better than Lisin or any of the other oligarchs who are super-rich and powerful today. He just picked the losing side in the power game.

  • V

    VeshgardApr 5, 2012 at 12:52 pm

    “La Russophobe”, I don’t understand, what does democracy have to do with capitalism? Of course Russia does not have democracy. It never had democracy. Yes, Putin was anointed the successor to Yeltsin, yes, Yeltsin rigged his own elections and bombed his own parliament building. But at the same time, Yeltsin introduced capitalism with his “shock therapy” in which most state-owned industries were handed over to private owners in less than a year. And the REASON he bombed parliament was because that parliament was dominated by leftists who supported various kinds of socialism! (including, of course, a good number of communists)

  • P

    Philip KagalovskyMar 30, 2012 at 5:43 pm

    I hope this is some sort of sick joke.

    This idiot writing the article clearly has no idea what he’s talking about. Putin imprisons ‘big business leaders’ e.g. Mikhail Khodorkovsky, nationalises industries, and represses political opposition.

    I didn’t even see one negative point about the Soviet Union in there. As someone who’s family comes from the Soviet Union, I can’t stress enough how disgusting this is. Nevermind the fact that Russia did not establish ‘radical free-market reforms’ but after the collapse of the USSR was still pretty much a state-run economy, but at least today in the semi-capitalist (but barely) environment, people don’t wait 5 hours to get a loaf of bread.

    Sick, sick, sick!

  • H

    hmmMar 14, 2012 at 11:26 pm

    a spectre is haunting umass: the spectre of communism.

  • L

    La RussophobeMar 14, 2012 at 7:25 am

    This article contains shocking inaccuracies which discredit it utterly.

    It states: “If Putin stole the elections from anyone, he stole them from the communists.” That’s simply false. Putin systematically excluded all pro-democracy candidates from the ballot. Nobody knows what would have happened if they had been allowed to campaign and collect votes.

    It states: “These facts are not widely reported by our media in the West. Perhaps it’s because they do not want to admit that capitalism has failed in the former USSR and made the Soviet system look good in comparison.” That’s also false. Russia has never had capitalism or democracy, not for a single day. Putin was anointed the successor of Boris Yeltsin, who bombed his own parliament building and rigged his own elections. Russians have never given democracy or capitalism a fair chance to succeed.

    The author totally ignores the way Russians collaborated with Stalin and Brezhnev, murdering millions, and how they currently support the crazed policies of a maniacal proud KGB spy. The problem with Russia is not capitalism or democracy, it is the people of the country who refuse to behave like responsible citizens and condemn their country to disastrous failure.