Yabloko: Keeping Russia’s Liberal flame alight

Last September an all too rare event could be seen at the exits of some Moscow metro stations: young people were dishing out leaflets in a campaign for candidates in the municipal elections of that year. They stood before stalls and banners emblazoned with a green circle intersected by a red wedge: the emblem of the Russian United Democratic Party – Yabloko.

Whilst ever more stereotyped as a `centre of illiberalism`, the Russian Federation can boast its own liberal heritage – and one that culminated in the short-lived provisional government of early 1917. Yabloko might be viewed as the contemporary legal and constitutional heir to that facet of Russian history.

Yabloko (`apple`) emerged in 1993 and became an official political party eight years later. They adopted a unique stance of supporting the post-Soviet democratic reforms yet criticising Yeltsin’s authoritarianism and his so called `shock therapy` privatisation drive. Without doubt, they are something of a voice in the wilderness in the climate of sociocultural conservatism in Russian society.

Observers of the Liberal International, Yabloko have argued for the entry of Russia into the European Union and taken a stand against what they call `corruption, oligarchy, Stalinism and nationalism` and wish to combat these with `deep evolutionary changes` to Russian politics. (An English translation of their programme is provided by the School of Russian and Asian Studies at www.sras.org) Often critical of American foreign policy, they have also expressed reservations about the dismantling of the Soviet Union and espouse an `Alternative Patriotism` centred around `security, prosperity and respect for its [Russia’s] citizens`(Russia Today, 27/7/16). Their belief in a regulated economy places them in the social liberal camp and one broadcast, by Russia Today, placed them alongside the Western Greens (R.T, 15/9/16).

Emilia Slabunova is their leader, a former school governor in her late fifties and one of Russia’s few female party leaders. Grigory Yavlinsky, however, is one of Yabloko’s main figureheads. A founder of the party, this 67-year-old economics professor is a former Deputy of the Council of Ministers who worked with Gorbachev in laying down the transition to a market economy. Their grassroots backing, meanwhile, comes in no small part from undergraduates. As they now have no seats in the Moscow State Duma they constitute an extra parliamentary opposition force.

Nevertheless, Slabunova has made clear in a radio interview that her nation has `had enough of revolution`. They remain committed to contesting elections, and have even spurned a proposed alliance with the more centre right PARNAS (the People’s Freedom Party). Alone they get over 3% of the vote and this entitles them to a simplified registration system. They have won seats in regional governments in St Petersburg and Karelia, run a headquarter in the salubrious Zamoskvorechye district in central Moscow and even offer an English language website (eng.Yabloko.ru). Moreover, Yavlinsky has been put forward by his party to stand as a candidate in the 2018 presidential elections.

On April 12th 2011 in Moscow, Yabloko hosted an international conference on `The Threat of Extremism and Xenophobia Among Youth`. Indeed, we live in a period when all the talk is of `deglobalisation` and a new rift has opened up between Western Europe and the Russian Federation. In such an atmosphere, liberals and social democrats need to keep the channels of communication open with their cousins across the divide – in the way which that meeting exemplified – and with an attitude of mutual solidarity.

 

* Edward Crabtree is a Lib Dem member who lives and works in Russia.

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3 Comments

  • Lorenzo Cherin 6th Feb '17 - 1:16pm

    Edward writes well in this piece.

    An excellent party . They have made one mistake for years . It is more topical in these days of the Ukraine conflict escalation. Some have criticised the Western rush and some in Ukraine in their desire to be in the EU and yet on Russias doorstep. But the entry of Russia in the EU is ludicrous ! I remember when the leader of Yabloko years ago, Yavlinsky, spoke at the Liberal Democrat conference and reading his views on that alone made me see why he , his party and this one would go nowhere with such a stance.

    The thing is to understand history not impose on it , and thus go against the grain of it completely.

    Russia is the mirror mage of the US as a power in its own mind and past.

    It was before during and after the cold war, a power in its own right.

    It is not going to do any favours to itself or the EU if it joined it. It is two or three times the population of the largest countries , very much more in geography.It would be the latest accession country and the biggest and thus dominant state.

    It is nonsense.

    Liberals need to get back to the diffusion and separation of powers and rights of nation states.

    It is why Verhofstadts plans are not for us either !

  • Thank you for the kind comment, Lorenzo.

    I see Russia as very much a European country. The comparisons with the U.S.A, whilst Russians like to make them themselves, do not ring true to me.

    Russia’s (re)integration into Europe would have to be a very, very long term project and,anyway, could only occur within a much reformed E.U. To that extent I half agree with you.

    Anyway, the point of the article was not discuss specific policy details of theirs (the E.U membership aspect is not such a big plank of their platform now in any case) – but more just to draw people’s attention to this party – and with it to challenge the ongoing image in the West of Russia as being some kind of inherently reactionary rogue state.

  • Richard Underhill 12th Feb '17 - 7:52pm

    and a boundary dispute with Japan, caused by Stalin’s actions in 1945.

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