With the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) now split in two (a faction of KPRF members who oppose its leader, Gennady Zyuganov, held their own party congress on July 3, the same day Zyuganov and his supporters held the regular congress), Rodina (Motherland) may be within striking distance of replacing the KPRF as Russia’s premier “national-patriotic” party. During the party’s fourth extraordinary congress, held on July 6, Rodina moved to consolidate its structure by abandoning its previous collective seven-man leadership and electing Dmitry Rogozin, one of its co-leaders and head of its State Duma faction, as its sole leader (Itar-Tass, July 6).
Rogozin used the congress to stake out unequivocally left-nationalist positions for the party. He called for incorporating the breakaway Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia into the Russian Federation. He also said that Moscow should immediately ask the Georgian authorities to hand over Badri Patarkatsishvili, the Georgian businessman and long-time associate of the self-exiled tycoon Boris Berezovsky. The Russian Prosecutor General’s Office has charged both Patarkatsishvili and Berezovsky with large-scale embezzlement of state property and put them on its list of internationally wanted criminals. Rogozin also said that the Russian government should show more concern about protecting the rights of Russian citizens abroad, including the two Russian intelligence agents who were sentenced to life imprisonment on June 30 for the February assassination of former separatist Chechen president Zelimkhan Yandarbiev in Qatar. The Rodina leader said that in order to stem the flow of narcotics into Russia, the government should close the country’s southern borders and establish visa regimes with the neighboring states. Rogozin also called for the imposition of direct Kremlin rule over Chechnya (Interfax, July 6).
Rodina also used symbolism during the congress to convey its “national-patriotic” message. Serving as the backdrop for the stage at the Moscow House of Music, where the congress was held, was a huge poster with the name “Rodina” written over the outlines of the Soviet Union. “You have probably noticed that this not a map of the Russian Federation, but of the Soviet Union,” Rogozin told the assembled party delegates. “Our Motherland is the Soviet Union!” (Politcom.ru, July 6).
Rodina declared itself in opposition to the government on key social and economic issues. It opposes the government-sponsored bill to replace social benefits for millions of Russians (including the disabled, war veterans, Chernobyl nuclear disaster victims, and Leningrad siege survivors) with cash compensation that the State Duma has already approved in first reading. “Until the government takes steps to return the status of a welfare state to Russia, we will consider ourselves in resolute opposition to the government,” Rogozin told the congress. He added that the party wants several cabinet ministers, including Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref, and Health and Social Development Minister Mikhail Zurabov, to be fired (Itar-Tass, July 6). Last month, Rogozin said Rodina would push for the dismissal of Anatoly Chubais as head of Unified Energy Systems, Russia’s electrical power grid (RIA Novosti, June 22).
Rogozin was also highly critical of United Russia, the pro-Kremlin party that currently dominates the State Duma. The December 2003 parliamentary elections saw the removal from the Duma of forces directly responsible “for the massive impoverishment of the population and the catastrophic consequences of the reforms,” Rogozin said, apparently referring to the Union of Rightist Forces. But he said that while Unified Russia won the largest number of Duma seats in that election running on a “centrist platform,” today it is “drifting to the radical-liberal” side (Iamik.ru, July 8). Rogozin said that Rodina is hoping for the support of Russia’s trade unions, but added that the unions must get rid of the “collaborationist” leaders “who have sold themselves to United Russia” (MosNews.com, July 6).
The delegates to Rodina’s July 6 congress approved a manifesto that states: “It is possible to begin restoring social justice only by creating a responsible political opposition party, a mass party, as an instrument in the fight against the oligarchy, as a means of taking power and handling it in a dignified way” (RIA Novosti, July 6). The manifesto calls for introducing a progressive income tax to replace the current 13% flat tax, a progressive property tax, a luxury tax on items such as automobiles and yachts, a “compensatory” tax on enterprises that passed into private hands through the controversial 1990s loans-for-shares scheme or “other frauds involving the privatization of state property,” and taxes on natural resources (Rosbalt, July 6).
In practical political terms, Rogozin said the main goal of Rodina, which came in fourth place in the December 2003 parliamentary election with 9% of the vote, is to win a parliamentary majority in 2007 and thereby be in a position to form a government that is to its liking. (While President Vladimir Putin said in his annual State of the Nation address in 2003 that he would consider the possibility of forming a cabinet based on the parliamentary majority, the president constitutionally retains the prerogative to form the cabinet.) To this end, Rodina is making an effort to increase its appeal among young Russians. One new member of the party’s political council is Oleg Bondarenko, who previously headed the KPRF’s youth branch. Bondarenko’s followers — who, according to one press account, have given up their red hammer-and-sickle T-shirts in favor of Che Guevara berets — plan to travel to London, where they will hold a demonstration outside Boris Berezovsky’s residence and chant: “Borya, your Motherland calls you!” (Strana.ru, July 6).
Meanwhile, Sergei Glazyev, Rogozin’s erstwhile ally who was ousted as co-chairman of Rodina’s Duma faction in March, did not attend the July 6 congress. Glazyev has accused Rodina Duma deputies of taking their orders from the Kremlin.