Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 98

Two of Russia’s oldest democratic organizations voted themselves out of existence over the weekend. Democratic Russia (DR) and Russia’s Democratic Choice (DVR)–along with New Force, the small movement associated with Sergei Kirienko, the former prime minister who is now President Vladimir Putin’s envoy to the Volga federal district–held separate meetings in Moscow, during which they each voted to disband. All three groups are part of the Union of Right-Wing Forces (SPS), and their decision to disband clears the way for the SPS founding congress, set for May 26, during which the union will declare itself a full-fledged political party. Russia’s Democratic Choice, founded by Yegor Gaidar in 1993, voted overwhelmingly to disband and effectively be absorbed into SPS after Gaidar called on its members to do so. The step did not go unchallenged, however. It was opposed by, among others, two veteran human rights activists who are also leading DVR members, Sergei Yushenkov and Sergei Kovalev, both of whom have decided to leave SPS. Along with other DVR members, Yushenkov–who, like Kovalev, is a State Duma deputy–have criticized various aspects of SPS’s planned transformation into a party, including a proposed charter, which they say is based on a rigid party discipline inappropriate for a democratic political party. Yushenkov charged that the charter embodied “antidemocratic centralism” and “Leninist principles of party building” (Radio Liberty, May 19; TV-6, May 20). Last month, Anatoly Chubais, a founding member DVR and an SPS leader, said that the smaller parties making up the SPS should be “completely destroyed, liquidated” for the sake of a “radical consolidation of the right-wing force” (see the Monitor, April 30).

Yushenkov and other dissenters have also criticized Boris Nemtsov, who is favored to be voted in as chairman of the SPS political council–a post which will essentially be that of party leader–for subordinating the party to the Kremlin’s will. Yushenkov last week accused Nemtsov of urging a “code of political responsibility” that would essentially prevent the SPS from going into opposition under any circumstances. Nemtsov, for his part, has said repeatedly that the SPS will support President Vladimir Putin when he pursues policies the union approves, such as the 13-percent flat tax which went into effect at the start of this year, but will oppose the Kremlin in other areas, particularly where it is perceived to be limiting basic rights, such as press freedom. Yushenkov also accused Nemtsov of opposing the Kremlin in words only, and of putting forward a “quasifascist” plan for a political settlement in Chechnya. Nemtsov’s plan, which he broached earlier this year, would among other things isolate regions of Chechnya under federal control from those that are not and bar an ethnic Chechen from being in charge of the region (Novoe Vremya, RTR, May 20). Yushenkov and his allies have also criticized the Kremlin’s move to bring Russian regions under stricter subordination by the federal authorities, such as the creation of seven new federal districts last year each under the supervision of a presidential emissary. The leadership of both SPS and its rival Yabloko supported the Kremlin’s efforts in this area (, May 18).

Nemtsov is being challenged for leadership of the SPS by Yegor Gaidar and Aleksei Kara-Murza, who represents Voice of Russia, the movement founded by Samara Governor Konstantin Titov. Kara-Murza, among other things, has openly called on Anatoly Chubais to run for the presidency in 2004 and opposes the SPS’s planned alliance with Yabloko. Nemtsov is favored to win the SPS leadership position, and, while there have been rumors of bad blood between him and Gaidar, both men appeared last night on RTR state television in an apparent display of unity (RTR, May 20). Meanwhile, radical democrat Valeria Novodvorskaya, head of the small Democratic Union, which is part of Democratic Russia, strongly opposed the call for the latter to disband, which said was dictated by the Kremlin. Democratic Russia, however, voted to dissolve and merge with SPS (Russian agencies, March 19; Moskovsky Komsomolets, March 21).