Recently, a wave of discussions about the fragmentation of the Russian opposition has again begun on social networks. It sounds rather strange today: by historical standards, the level of interaction and cooperation between various opposition groups is quite high. There are scandals, but there are no splits between large opposition groups, no attritional wars of mutual destruction (there is periodic tingling of each other for some reason, but this is nothing like the total obstructionism that we have known in the past). Different opposition groups are doing quite a lot of practical useful work in approximately the same areas - mass political broadcasting to Russia, international diplomacy, helping Russians abroad, discussing the image of the post-Putin future - and there are no global contradictions here. When you take a look at what your colleagues are doing, you can see that everyone is constantly working hard, often in active interaction with each other.
Everyone works constantly and hard, often in active interaction with each other
Where does this set of stereotypes about eternal swearing and the inability to unite come from? There are two main reasons for this - but first, let's look at what is actually happening.
Social media controversy is a bloated problem
First of all, it seems that a serious scandal is the collapse of some large project, a split in an organization, a political war of mutual destruction (when the main meaning of someone's activity is harming an opponent), active actions to torpedo each other's actions and platforms. Nothing like that is currently happening. There is mainly a periodic exchange of critical statements.
How dangerous is it really? Yes, not how much. Sharp criticism of someone can become a problem only if the person being criticized is offended and, in response, makes the desire for revenge the meaning of his activity. If he simply spit on it all, say to himself “that's an asshole” and continue his work, then nothing will happen, and mutual criticism, even if sharp, will not receive any negative consequences in itself. Yes, we have recently heard a lot from the opposition about each other. But what specific efforts and projects does it hinder?
In general, among free people, mutual criticism, sometimes even reaching loud polemics, is a normal phenomenon. It may be unpleasant, but there is nothing fatal about it. We are all living people, everyone often has a very different vision of current events and the world as a whole. It is often difficult to accept someone else's point of view, especially in such critical circumstances as today. People react emotionally. This is their right.
Among free people, mutual criticism - even reaching a loud controversy - is a normal phenomenon.
It is much more dangerous when some sharp words begin to inflate to the scale of a universal conflict. Let me give you a simple historical example. In 1989, the democratic opposition achieved its first major success in the struggle against the dictatorship of the CPSU - the election of democratic deputies in the elections to the Congress of People's Deputies of the USSR - and formed the Interregional Deputy Group. Serious tensions existed between the two potential opposition leaders, Boris Yeltsin and Andrei Sakharov. In principle, this could have ended in a serious conflict and split among the opposition. And, although this did not happen, in part because of the death of Andrei Sakharov in December 1989, skepticism about Boris Yeltsin remained among the dissidents of the old school. And yet there was no major split, and the Democrats were waiting for success and victory over the CPSU. Two circumstances then seriously differed from today.
First of all, there were no social networks then. Frankly speaking, if they were then, it is very likely that Yeltsin and Democratic Russia did not succeed, and we would still live "with the scoop." There was no mass platform where some contradictions were procrastinated every day (and then they were, as they say, through the roof), giving the supporters of change the impression that the opposition was “something not like that” and should not be supported, because it “ swears all the time." They swore then, I repeat, no less than now. But we, ordinary citizens, looked first of all at the deeds of opposition politicians, and not at who said what to whom. There was simply no platform for this. And thank God.
If we fast forward to today, we can clearly see that any single event, even if unpleasant, in most cases does not carry such a massive negative charge for the opposition as its subsequent promotion and discussion in social networks. Thousands of angry and accusatory posts are written, they are followed by an even more emotional reaction - a spiral of confrontation unwinds.
Look, for example, at Garry Kasparov's notorious interview with Yuri Dud, where Kasparov said a lot of unpleasant things about other oppositionists. Neither I nor many of my colleagues watched this interview and are not going to, because we have known Kasparov for a long time and understand roughly what he can say. We are not very concerned about this, we do not believe that this is of any great importance and will affect something, and Kasparov is a free man and has the right to say whatever he wants. But in social networks, until now, two weeks later, there is a bloody felling about this interview. And this is very sad, because the newsbreak is not even close to worth it to be so hot.
Try an experiment: do not log in for a week, not only on social networks, but even only on Twitter. And on Facebook, mute those authors who constantly write pathetic and accusatory posts. And you will see that the scale of "quarrels and scandals in the opposition" is not at all as great as it seems to you. That many oppositionists continue to release their analytics on the situation in the country, their proposals for arranging the Russia of the future, speak at international venues, hold events for Russian activists abroad, and much more. What you won't see is the notorious "scandals".
I do not want to say that social networks are an absolute evil and they need to be got rid of. But such an experiment will show that the notorious "scandals" are more a product of spiraling inflation than an element of real life. Try not to communicate with an annoying grandmother for a month, who constantly itches in your ear: “Daughter, it’s time for you to get married, otherwise you’ll get old and no one will take it,” and you can calmly look around and independently understand whether you need to get married or not and Is this actually a problem for you? The recipe here is simple: as Taylor Swift sings, "you need to calm down - you're being too loud." Before charging opposition politicians for “scandals”, we ourselves need to calm down a little and make it a rule not to disperse conflicts in social networks.
Are journalists to blame?
The second problem - and someone should say this out loud, although this is not accepted - is the attitude towards the oppositionists of the independent Russian press. Although it has softened in recent times - largely due to the general hardships of emigration - nevertheless, it is still fundamentally different from the democratic press of the 1980s. Then the oppositionists, and the same Yeltsin, could be scolded, but in general, everyone who dared to raise their voice against the CPSU was first perceived as heroes, and only then there was criticism.
Modern Russian journalistic culture, which was formed back in the well-fed and relatively free “zero”, is completely different. She is full of contempt and arrogance towards the oppositionists, they are constantly subjected to public and humiliating examinations. They cling to some unsuccessful (and often simply distorted) statements and inflate them, but do not notice major political achievements. Recently, the only exception has been Alexei Navalny, who (often through gritted teeth) is given credit for creating a truly mass resistance movement and for his personal courage, but others often get even more against this background, they say, okay, so be it, Navalny we recognize, but everyone else "does not pull."
Journalism today is full of contempt and arrogance towards the opposition
This is a very harmful attitude. The culture of popularizing scandals against the backdrop of hushing up achievements comes from here. Everyone willingly writes who and how Kasparov scolded, but you would have been better off writing at least about what important work Kasparov is doing to create a different, more humane image of Russia in the international arena (here he certainly should be given credit). No, there are no articles about this in the independent Russian media.
This attitude is unacceptable and in many ways is the root of the problem. Remember the same economic program of Navalny before the 2018 elections. You can criticize it as much as you like, and much of the criticism can be fair, but on the whole it was an absolutely suitable, worthy document, certainly no worse than government programs. How many publications in independent media have characterized her like that? Approximately zero: the reviews were completely negative, critics of the program were given a disproportionately large platform. Bottom line: despite a completely working program, it was possible to sow doubts in the minds of a large number of people.
We must be aware that the image of the opposition as “constantly scandalous” is primarily the result of dispersal and promotion in social networks and independent media. You can watch my latest interviews and make sure that no matter how you explain to journalists that you don’t want to comment on someone’s scandalous statements, you will still be asked questions primarily about this.
The image of the opposition as "constantly scandalous" is the result of promotion in social networks and independent media
Colleagues, the de-escalation of conflicts is needed primarily among you. Tension among politicians is not critical. There will always be disagreements. We have the right to quarrel sometimes. Disputes and criticism do not cause any fatal damage to our activities. Causes a constant transformation of disagreements, in general, not exceeding the "natural radiation background", into a kind of "plot of the century." Learn from the democratic press of the 1980s, which ultimately helped to get rid of the dictatorship of the CPSU, and did not interfere.
Merging does not solve problems
Further, about the “unification of the opposition” itself. As I have already stressed, coordination is proceeding today at rather high levels by historical standards. We normally communicate with each other, with the same Mikhail Khodorkovsky I personally saw each other in Berlin at the end of April, we plan to meet again soon. A large conference is scheduled for early June in Brussels with the participation of both the leadership of the European Union and a wide range of various Russian independent democratic politicians, journalists and experts.
Most importantly, different groups are actually united in what we do. We say the same thing in communication with international circles. We help Ukraine, we help Russian activists. We conduct large-scale broadcasting to Russia, which has no analogues. The impact on public opinion is obvious. There is no need to belittle and devalue this with jokes about “turned into YouTube bloggers”: by all historical standards, the broadcasting of Western “voices” to the USSR during the Cold War is considered a super-successful project, and today our collective audience coverage in Russia is much higher than then, and they broadcast Russians for Russians, and not some representatives of Western countries.
We conduct large-scale broadcasting to Russia, which has no analogues
The essence of our positions broadcast to Russia is similar. We preach a decentralized state, parliamentarism, federalism, the need to abandon the omnipotence of officials and special services, similar ideas in the field of economics and social policy. We have absolutely common solidarity with Ukraine, common positions on punishing Putin's war criminals, helping Ukraine, and dissociating future Russia from imperial ambitions. What is the "split" here?
Some people persistently demand the creation of a "democratic CPSU" - a single organizational structure, with a single presidium, where the democratic L. I. Brezhnev, the democratic M. A. Suslov and so on would sit together. I carefully observe people who are actively campaigning for something like this, and I see that it takes on the character of a manic idea, a kind of fetish. There are some strange hopes that if a “democratic CPSU” is created, then, as if by magic, the war will end, Putin will disappear and the good old calm times will return.
Such ideas about a "magic wand" that will change everything and stop the nightmare at once, periodically replace each other with enviable regularity. A little over a year ago, commentators surfed the Internet and created petitions demanding that Russia be disconnected from SWIFT - I was asked almost every second question on the air about this topic. People believed that if Russia was cut off from SWIFT, then Putin would immediately turn into a pumpkin and capitulate. When SWIFT was cut off and that didn't happen, the idea of an oil embargo took over. When the oil embargo was introduced, but Putin did not capitulate again, everyone began to curse Olaf Scholz and demand that Leopards be delivered to Ukraine. Now SWIFT is (generally) disabled, the oil embargo is in place, Leopards are being delivered, but the miracle never happened. After that, the sacred place is increasingly occupied by the demands of the "opposition to unite."
But there is no magic wand. Putin is waging the most complex hybrid war against the democratic world in a huge number of areas, he has huge resources, and he can be defeated only by long hard work in all these areas. Yes, I am an experienced person, I know Russia well and I am aware that the phrase “long hard work” drives one into despondency and depression, and many are again looking for a magic wand - who runs to Professor Nightingale, who repeats the mantra about “unifying the opposition” . But even if the opposition suddenly unites tomorrow, creates a “democratic CPSU” and, like United Russia, begins to vote unanimously on all issues, Putin will not disappear from this, the war will not stop, it will not change absolutely anything, and you will still have to return to the idea of long hard work.
“In parts they cost more”: why the Russian opposition does not need to unite
As for associations, we already had such experience - roughly speaking, before Navalny appeared. "Committee-2008", the United Civil Front, "The Other Russia", "Solidarity", the Party of People's Freedom and, as the apotheosis of everything, the Opposition Coordinating Council, which collided with an iceberg on the very first voyage and sank before reaching its destination. Alas, it was in many respects a lost decade: huge resources were spent on all these unifying conferences and congresses, but no qualitative breakthrough was achieved. It even hurts to remember: then it was really possible to spend a day (and often several days) agreeing on some banal joint statement on a topical issue, where everyone proposed their own amendments, considering them to be the most important.
What is the problem with this approach? The fact that with extremely scarce resources you spend 95% of them on overcoming internal contradictions (which will inevitably be, because the oppositionists are free people, and it is normal for them to have different views). When you stop doing this and just do what you do best with a group of like-minded people, efficiency increases exponentially. Actually, this is what happened when Navalny appeared and put an end to all this unifying leapfrog and a kaleidoscope of one-day committees. The effectiveness and authority of the opposition have grown even more than at times - by orders of magnitude. Marvelous? Not really. Let me remind you of the quote from the movie “Pretty Woman”, where the character of Julia Roberts asks the character of Richard Gere what he does, and he replies: “I buy companies and sell them in parts, so they cost more.” In parts - attention - are more expensive!
With the advent of Navalny, the effectiveness and authority of the opposition have grown not even at times - by orders of magnitude
It is strange to ignore the existing negative experience of organizational associations - negative for objective reasons. “Just find the strength to overcome your differences” is a frivolous and naive approach. Disagreements are natural and inevitable. Some people think that there is nothing else to do but support Ukraine, while others want to think first of all about anti-war Russians and changing public opinion in Russia. Someone wants to deal with the image of the future of Russia (absolutely necessary work), while someone considers it a useless daydreaming and demands to concentrate on purely practical current things. For some, economic issues are a priority, and for others, LGBT. And so on. This whole complex and complex range of opinions cannot be overcome by a simple “find the strength in yourself to coordinate positions” - this is extremely naive. All efforts will be spent on developing a common position on all issues. There will be no left to fight Putin. We've tried it, we know.
It is much more efficient to coordinate the efforts of separate groups that have already developed and proven their worth, consisting of like-minded people who do not need to waste time coordinating positions. In electoral politics, this is called an "electoral bloc". Не зря Путин и Сурков запретили в России избирательные блоки аж в далеком 2005 году — они как раз и хотели, чтобы демократические политики, реагируя на прямолинейный запрос избирателей «просто преодолеть разногласия и объединиться», потратили все ресурсы и стесали все языки, пытаясь создать единую организацию, но потерпели неудачу. Так в итоге и вышло.
Давайте оценивать эту ситуацию комплексно и не хвататься за первую попавшуюся примитивную идею, как за несуществующую «волшебную палочку». На эту тему у Артура Конан-Дойла есть замечательный диалог между Шерлоком Холмсом и доктором Ватсоном, где Холмс, пораженный новостью о том, что вращается все же Земля, восклицает: «Но мои глаза говорят мне, что скорее Солнце вращается вокруг Земли... Впрочем, может быть, он и прав, ваш этот, как его, Коперник». Другая версия схожей ситуации — анекдот про обезьяну и полковника ФСБ, где обезьяна додумалась взять стоящую рядом палку и сбить банан с дерева, а полковник на предложение подумать продолжал отвечать: «Что тут думать, трясти надо!»
Не надо трясти. С объединением оппозиции надо обращаться нежно. Имеющийся опыт — преимущественно негативный, и на это есть объективные причины. Не надо пытаться усадить нас в единую «демократическую КПСС», которая голосует единогласно. Такого и без нас хватает. Наша ценность — в разнообразии идей и приоритетов, но при этом в общем векторе видения будущего. Мы имеем право и на гибкость организационных форматов, и на разногласия, и даже на скандалы. Дайте нам возможность выбрать лучшую форму для достижения нужного результата. Мы не так мало добились: у нас есть многомиллионная аудитория в России, признание и поддержка в мире, общее видение будущего. И все это — несмотря на попытки огромной, богатой и до зубов вооруженной путинской мафии нас уничтожить и раздавить. Нас есть за что покритиковать, но российская оппозиция заслуживает далеко не только критики. Она заслуживает поддержки.
С объединением оппозиции надо обращаться нежно
Хотим победить Путина? Давайте заканчивать бесконечно цепляться к оппозиции, раздувать какие-то противоречия в СМИ и соцсетях выше их реального уровня значимости, выдвигать наивные и нереалистичные требования создать некую «демократическую КПСС» только потому, что это соответствует вашим личным представлениям о том, как все должно быть правильно организовано. Давайте лучше работать — каждый на своем участке. Понимаю, обмусоливать скандалы интереснее, а работа — это скучно и вгоняет в депрессию. Но работать придется. Берите с нас пример и помогите нам в этом.