POLITICAL PARTIES IN RUSSIA

POLITICAL PARTIES IN RUSSIA

Political parties in Russian have a tendency to form around strong personalities and how they come across on television rather than around issues or constituencies or platforms. Since the Putin era began 1999 multi-party democracy has given way to strongman rule and Putin party United Russia has been dominate.

After early 1990, when the Soviet constitution was amended to delete the provision that the CPSU was the "leading and guiding" force in the political system, many political groups began to operate more openly in Russia. The constitution of 1993 guarantees Russians' right to a multiparty system. Political party development has lagged, however, because many Russians associate parties with the repressiveness of the CPSU in the Soviet era. [Source: Library of Congress, July 1996 *]

Aside from the Communist Party, a remnant of the Soviet era, Russia has had few political parties with national followings. In the immediate post-Soviet years, a wide variety of new parties espoused either some type of Western-style democratic and free- market reform or retaining a form of the strong central government inherited from Soviet times. Parliamentary elections of the 1990s generally fragmented and weakened the reform parties, although State Duma legislation in that period most often was the result of compromise. In that period, party configurations changed rapidly as groups merged and split. [Source: Library of Congress, October 2006 **]

Performance by Political Parties in Russia

Ruling party: United Russia. In 2001 the United Russia Party was formed, giving the Putin administration an effective voice in the Duma; that party’s triumph in the 2003 parliamentary elections enhanced Putin’s position. In those elections, the failure of any reform party to exceed the 5 percent minimum diminished the already weak political voice of the reform opposition. Ensuing legislation increased the minimum to 7 percent and required parties to have at least 50,000 members and organizations in at least half of Russia’s regions, further enhancing the dominance of the United Russia Party. [Source: Library of Congress, October 2006 **]

Political parties and leaders: 1) A Just Russia [Sergey MIRONOV]; 2) Communist Party of the Russian Federation or CPRF [Gennadiy ZYUGANOV]; 3) Liberal Democratic Party of Russia or LDPR [Vladimir ZHIRINOVSKIY]; 4) United Russia [Dmitriy MEDVEDEV]. A total of 78 political parties are registered with Russia's Ministry of Justice (as of January 2014), but only four parties maintain representation in Russia's national legislature. [Source: CIA World Factbook =]

The major reform parties of the early 2000s, Yabloko and the Union of Rightist Forces, were hindered by the electoral reforms of 2005. A third reform party, the People’s Democratic Union, appeared in 2006. In mid-2006, the reform parties discussed uniting into a single organization to ensure representation in the Duma. The Liberal Democratic Party of Russia and Rodina (Homeland) parties have nationalist agendas that include abolition of the federal system and expulsion of immigrants. In 2005 Rodina was the fastest growing party in Russia, but it was prohibited from participating in most regional elections in 2006. **

Twenty-six parties competed in the December 1999 election: The top finishers were: 1) the Communists (25 percent); 2) the Unity Party (24 percent); 3) the Fatherland-All Russia (FAR), the center left part endorse by Primokov and Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov (12 percent); 4) the Union of Right (UFR), supporters of Putin (9 percent); 5) the liberal Yabloko party (6 percent); 6) Zhirinovsky's nationalist bloc (6 percent).

Seats in the 450-seat Duma before the 2003 election. 1) the Unity Party (185 seats); 2) the Communists (126 seats); 3) the Union of Right (UFR) and Yabloko (48 seats); 4) Regions of Russia (47 seats); 5) Liberal Demotratic Party of Zhirinovsky' (14 seats); and 6) Other (30 seats).

Different Political Parties in Russia

A Just Russia, also translated as Fair Russia, or A Fair and Just Russia, is a social democratic political party in Russia currently holding 64 of the 450 seats in the State Duma. It was formed on October 28, 2006, as a merger of the far-right Rodina, the Russian Party of Life and the Russian Pensioners' Party. Later, 6 further minor parties joined. A Just Russia's platform is based on the principles of fairness, freedom and solidarity. It calls for a "New Socialism of the 21st Century", which guarantees the rights and freedoms of the individual and ensures the proper functioning of a welfare state. In 2011, Nikolai Levichev was elected as party chairman, succeeding Sergey Mironov who led the party in 2006–2011. On 27 October 2013 Mironov again was elected as party chairman. A Just Russia took 13.2 percent of the vote in the 2011 national parliamentary elections. [Source: Wikipedia]

The major reform parties of the early 2000s, Yabloko and the Union of Rightist Forces are now dead of nearly dead. They took less than five percent of the vote of in the 2003 parliamentary elections and were hurt by links with “new Russians” and oligarchs such as Mikhail Khodorkovsky. They were never very big but they were regarded as a force for change and reform and pro-Western views. Yabloko and the Union of Rightist Forces were hindered by the electoral reforms of 2005. A third reform party, the People’s Democratic Union, appeared in 2006. In mid-2006, the reform parties discussed uniting into a single organization to ensure representation in the Duma.

The Union of Right Wing Forces (known by the Russian acronym SBS) was a Western-oriented, liberal party. It was created on the eve of the 1999 election and was headed by Boris Nemtsov (a reformer and former Deputy Prime Minister who was assassinated in 2015) and Anatoly Chubais (an influential reformer who served in the Yeltsin) Yabloko was headed by reformer Grigory Yavlinsky. It was launched in 1993 and never reached double digits

In the mid 1990s there was a Beer Lovers Party. At that time a group of Leninists called the Russian Communist Workers Party (RKRP) had about 65,000 members and a headquarters in St. Petersburg. One member told Reuter, "Liberalism destroys any state. It has destroyed our state, sooner or later it will destroy your (Western) states...Only Communism can save mankind...Democracy is the foundation of fascism."

Russian also some small Muslim parties. In 1995 the newly established Union of Muslims of Russia, led by Imam Khatyb Mukaddas of Tatarstan, began organizing a movement aimed at improving interethnic understanding and ending Russians' lingering conception of Islam as an extremist religion. The Union of Muslims of Russia is the direct successor to the pre-World War I Union of Muslims, which had its own faction in the Russian Duma. The post-communist union has formed a political party, the Nur All-Russia Muslim Public Movement, which acts in close coordination with Muslim clergy to defend the political, economic, and cultural rights of Muslims and other minorities. [Source: Library of Congress]

Political Parties in the 1990s

Before the Putin era, which began in 1999, political parties had a history of breaking apart, merging, realigning and reforming After elections they have . The make up of the parties in of the Duma a few years after a election may have no resemblance to the make up of the parties in of the Duma immediately after a election.

During an election in 1995, 8,000 Russians from 43 different political parties were registered. Twenty-three parties and blocs competeed i the 2003 parliamentary election. In that lection a party had to get at least 5 percent of the vote to set seats in parliament, a rule that was established to get rid of eth clutter of too many parties.

The largest party representation in the mid 1990s in the State Duma was by Communist Party of the Russian Federation, Liberal-Democratic Party of Russia, Our Home Is Russia, and Yabloko coalition. More than a dozen other parties had representation in the State Duma. Seventy-eight nominal independents in State Duma. [Source: Library of Congress, 1996 *]

In the mid-1990s, most of Russia's parties were based on personal followings, had few formal members, and lacked broad geographical bases and coherent platforms. Prior to the legislative elections of 1993 and 1995, much shifting occurred as parties formed and abandoned coalitions, sometimes involving partners with which they had little in common politically. Even the KPRF, direct heir to the CPSU, waffled on many central economic and foreign policy issues in the 1996 presidential campaign. One observer noted that for most Russian voters, the two major sides in the 1996 election had no identification with broad national issues; they were simply the anti-Yeltsins and the anti-communists. Experts identified the lack of focused national party organizations as a key factor in the diffusion of political power to subnational jurisdictions in the mid-1990s.

United Russia

The United Russia Party is the party of Yeltsin and Putin. It has traditionally had no platform other than loyalty to the Kremlin and Putin. It used to be officially called United Russia People’s Party and called the United Party. Officially Putin is not a member.

Yeltsin formed the Unity, or Bear, Party in the closing months of rule. The party did surprising well in parliamentary election the December 1999 elections, taking 23 percent of vote, placing second behind the Communists, even though the party did hold its inaugural congress until nine days after the parliamentary elections.

It originally looked the Unity Party was going to form an alliance with other non-Communist parties such as the Union of Right and the Fatherland-All Russia Party but in January 2000, The United Party made a behind the scenes deal with the Communist Party and divided the Duma committees between themselves. In 2001, the Unity Party absorbed its rival, the Fatherland-All Russia Party, and took effective majority control of the Duma. It then maneuvered the Communists the out of power. In elections in December 2003, United Russia, won 37 percent of the vote, the largest percentage for any party since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. It has dominated the Duma ever since then.

Communist Party

The Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) is the official name of the communist party in the Soviet Union after 1952. Originally the Bolshevik faction of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party, the party was named the Russian Communist Party (Bolshevik) from March 1918 to December 1925, then the All-Union Communist Party (Bolshevik) from December 1925 to October 1952. After the August 1991 Moscow coup, Russian president Boris N. Yeltsin banned the party in Russia and ordered its property turned over to the government.

The Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF, known in Russia by the acronym KPRF for Kommunisticheskaya Partiya Rossiyskoy Federatsii) is a Communist party in Russia. The Communist Party of the Soviet Union was banned by Yeltsin after the coup in 1991. It was allowed to reform in 1992. Unlike other Eastern European countries, the Communist Party hasn’t bothered to change its name much.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union the Communists have been led by Gennady Zyuganov and have largely been a parliamentary party. It dominated the Duma until the December 1999 election. Before then it held 157 seats. With its allies the Agrarian Party and the nationalists it held 250 seats, a majority in the 450-seat Duma. At that time the Communists were powerful enough to block legislation it didn’t want and promote policies it was interested in. But after the 2003 election, the Communist Party had only 51 seats and was longer a political player. In the parliament elections in December 2011, the Communist Party won 19.2 percent of the vote. In 2012, presidential elections, Zyuganov won 17.2 percent of the vote.

In the early 2000s, the Communist Party was bitterly divided between hardliners who remained true to Soviet ideology and moderates who supported a form of democratic socialism. In the spring of 2002, the Communist Party was shorn of much power in the Duma and lost it ability to pressure Kremlin policy after Putin's Unity Party reneged on deal made after the 1999 election and ousted the Communists from committee chairmanships.

See Separate Article on Communist Party in the Soviet Era Under Communism.

Communist Party Positions

Communist Party platforms initially included the reestablishment of collectivism, renationalizing many enterprises, implementing strict controls over the economy, the restoration of the Soviet Union and a return to Cold War rivalry with the United States. Communists annually mark the anniversary of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution with rallies and protests.

Communist politicians put down reformists and liberals. They accused Yeltsin and Gorbachev of being traitors and shaming Russia into "begging all over the world" for aid. They also complained about amount of pornography that had entered the country since Communism fell.♠

Anti-Semitic banners often mixed with pro-Soviet signs at Communist rallies. Members of the Communist party blamed Russia's economic problems on the "yids" and a "Jewish-Masonic conspiracy." Although he claims not to be anti-Semitic, Zyuganov said Jews “control the world's economy."

In the 2000s, the Communists softened their position on many issues to attract a broader base. Later the party began to campaign on issues like higher wages, more cooperative responsibility and undefined “social justice.” The Communists have been accused of having nothing to say and blocking reforms.

Communist Party Support

Communists initially drew a great deal of support from the elderly, disenfranchised pensioners and workers, war veterans, babushkas and collective farm workers in rural areas that opposed market and land reforms. The Communists tapped into nostalgia for a good life in the Soviet era. The Communist party had a large membership base and fairly good grassroots support. But its supporters have been dying off. The party has little support among young people and its attempt to attract young workers has not worked.

The Communist Party has always called itself the worker’s party. Yet among its representatives in the 2000s was a 30-year-old oil executives that earn $10 million a year, symbolizing the direction the party was taking to survive: namely its need for youth and money. In 2003, a quarter of the candidates that ran on the Communist Party ticket were businessmen, many of them millionaires. The Communist Party has attracted some young supporters. But sometimes looks were were deceiving. Explaining why she was at a Communist rally, one 18-year-old girl told the New York Times, "Our teachers told us to come here instead of classes, It was obligatory...We heard from our grandmothers and grandfathers what life was like under the Communists and we do not want to repeat it. We are against communism and against Zyuganov."

The Communist Party has little influence for some time now. The number of seats it had was reduced from 113 to 51 after the 2003 elections. It presidential candidate won only 14 percent of the vote against Putin in the 2004 Presidential election. At that time some Communist Party members were talking about quitting or joining another party. There were rebellions in the party. Many unhappy members called for Zygunanv to reign. He insisted he was going to stay on and make the party relevant. After a long run since its inception in the Bolshevik era. It was a stunning decline. By 2004 , the party had only a 10 percent support rate in one poll and only 2 percent backed Zyuganov.

Russian Nationalist Parties

The nationalist parties were very strong in Russia in the 1990s and still enjoy support by certain sectors of the Russian population. Important issues for them include cracking down on big business, foreign investment and the oligarchs (tycoons), countering Western expansionism, bringing back the glory days of both the Soviet and the czarist eras and protecting Russians abroad.

There is an overt racist angle to many of nationalist positions: a mistrust of foreigners, suspicion of minorities and dislike of Jews and Muslims. Many Russian nationalists believe that Russia’s problems can be blamed on Zionists and freemasons. Anti-Muslim feelings have been stoked by the war in Chechnya and other troubles in the Caucasus region. The tsar's symbol—the double headed eagle had—adorns the nationalist flag. The nationalist slogan is “Russia is for Russians.”

Motherland, or Homeland, Party (Rodina) was influential party that won 9.2 percent of the vote and 37 of 450 seats in the 2003 parliamentary elections. It was led by two articulate members of parliament: Dmitry Rogozin, a moderate nationalist, and Sergei Glazyev, a former Communist. The party itself was a mix of nationalists and Communist and was deliberately launched to steal the thunder from the Communist Party. Its platforms included making the Orthodox Christian the state religion and returning more control of the economy to the state. It had been supported by Putin and got a fair amount of air time on television before the 2003 parliamentary election. Even though it was created only months before the election its finished in third place. But after 2003 divisions in the party and attacks from other parties led to its demise.

The small fascist People’s National Party has a Swastika-like cross on its flags and banners. Members, many of whom are skinheads and young people, give Seig-Heil-like salutes when they greet one another. They are initiated with a Ku-Klux-Klan-like ritual, complete with a burning cross and an oath to of loyalty to “the triumph of the white race.” The group was founded by Alexander Ivanob-Sukharevsky, a former film director and admirer of Jean-Marie Le Pen of France. Some of its members have called Hitler a “political genius” and have met with former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. The Russian National Unity is a larger neo-Nazi party.

National Bolshevik Party

The National Bolshevik Party is a radical party of ultranationalists known for tossing eggs and squirting mayonnaise at officials and causing other problems. Their leader Eduard Limonov was jailed for 2½ years for inciting a coup in Kazakhstan. Thirty-nine members, most of them students in their teens and twenties, were accused of creating a “mass disturbance” for breaking into the offices of the President outside the Kremlin, and unfurling banner out the window that read “Putin Quit Your Job!” The party was outlawed in June 2005.

Members of the National Bolshevik Party have pelted a prime minister with an eggs and squired mayonnaise on a top election official and struck a Kremlin-supported governor with a bouquet of carnations. Once members dressed in blue uniforms entered the Ministry of Health building saying they were checking the buildings for bombs. After the building was evacuated they unfurled their red, white and black party flag and tossed out leaflets in the streets.

The National Bolshevik Party began as an avant-guard movement of Russian punks and skinheads. At one point it was estimated to may have 15,000 members. Its flag has the same colors and lay out as the Nazi flag: a white circle, with a red background and a black symbol in the middle. The symbol in the middle is a hammer and sickle instead if a swastika.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky and the Liberal Democratic Party

Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the controversial leader of Russia's nationalist neofascist party, is one of the most colorful politicians in Russia. Known for his controversial statements and outrageous behavior, he made a strong showing in 1993 parliamentary election and still is around. Today, many Russians regard him as a sick joke and a buffoon.

The Liberal Democratic People’s Party, headed by Zhirinovsky, received 24 percent of the popular vote in the December 1993 election and 10.6 percent in 1995 but only 6 percent in 1999 but then made a comeback with 12 percent in 2003. Despite in extremist posturing it usually supports the Kremlin’s positions. In the parliament elections in December 2011, the LDPR won 11.7 percent of the vote. In 2012 presidential elections, Zhirinovskiy won 6.2 percent of the vote.

Zhirinovsky made a name for himself with his self-contradicting, off-the cuff statements, crude histornics, dramatic gestures, populist bravado, and charm. Describing a speech in the United States, a Washington Post reporter wrote: "He spoke in Russian, then stood back, watched the interpreter out of the corners of his eyes, and supplied the appropriate hand waving, eye-rolling and eye-narrowing for whatever the interpreter was saying.”

Zhirinovsky's Early Life

Zhirinovsky was born and raised in Alma-Ata Kazakhstan. He described his childhood as tough and impoverished ("in school one had a ball-point pen and I didn't," "I slept on a trunk," and endured lines to the communal toilet outside his family apartment). In actually, the contrary was true. His father was Jewish and died in car crash when Zhirinovsky was a boy. By all accounts though his upbringing was privileged middle class.

Zhirinovsky was brought up by his mother in a drab, walk-up apartment in Almaty. Some of his former neighbors described him as quiet and smart. Other believed he was the one who nailed his neighbor’s cat to a tree in the courtyard of the apartment complex. Zhirinovsky said he was constantly beat up by other boys. Describing his youth, he said, "I always felt I was a nuisance, a real drag, a bother. I was the main target of criticism. People hardly ever praised my behavior."

Zhirinovsky said his first attempt at sexual intercourse was failure because he was unable to remove the bathing suit of one of his female classmates ("the experiences impoverished my soul"). Zhirinovsky attended Moscow State University's Africa and Asia Institute and was trained as a lawyer.

Zhirinovsky's Political Success

Zhirinovsky first rose to prominence in the June 1991 presidential election, when he placed third out of six candidates and won more than 6 million votes. His showing allowed him to make campaign his full-time job. Zhirinovsky's misleadingly named Liberal Democratic Party won 23 percent of the vote and took 64 seats in the December 1993 Parliamentary election.

Part of Zhirinovsky success was based on the poor state of affairs in Russia and his ability to address the fears and hardships of the disenfranchised and people worried about being disenfranchised. It is believed he was helped by the KGB, which was anxious to stymie Yeltsin.

According to a study of voting trends in the 1993 election , pollster Yuri Levada told the New York Times, two groups of people were Zhirinovsky's biggest supporters. One group was "lower-middle class" older men who feared losing their jobs . The other group was men who were under 25 who had little interest in politics but were taken by Zhirinovsky's skillful television advertisement. Few women voted for him.

Zhirinovsky ran for president in 1996. His television campaign advertisements featured a sexy cabaret singer unzipping her blouse while singing to Zhirinovsky: "The world would be so boring without you/ you are my idol."

Zhirinovsky's Promises and Pronouncements

In 1991, Zhirinovsky said, "I say it quite plainly—when I come to power, there will be a dictatorship." He has also pledged to reduce the number of McDonald's, "host the white population" of South Africa after the "massacre" begins, napalm villages in Chechnya if one Russian soldier was killed there, replace Jewish television announcer with blue-eyed Russian ones, and turn the Kremlin into a 24-hour entertainment center. Once at an appearance at a Moscow department store he grabbed a bra from the lingerie department, twirled it around on his finder and promised voters cheaper underwear.

Zhirinovsky talked about creating a Russian empire that stretched from the Baltic to the Indian Ocean, in which he promised that Russian soldiers could soon wash their boots. Zhirinovsky said he wanted to invade Finland and Turkey, reclaim Alaska, partition Poland and punish Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania if they didn't rejoin Russia in a Soviet Union-like state. "I'll bury radioactive waste along the Lithuanian border and put powerful up powerful fans and blow the stuff across at night. They'll all get radiation sickness. They'll die of it. When they either die or get down on their knees, I'll stop." On a trip to the United States, Zhirinovsky denied that his party was anti-Semitic and said his plan to reclaim Alaska was only speculation.

Russian expert James Billington said Zhirinovsky's autobiography Last Thrust to the South is "in some respects psychologically a more unstable work than Mein Kampf. Zhirinovsky said 90 percent of the first Soviet governors were Jewish and we must deal with ethnic minorities as America did with the Indians and Germany did with the Jews." He said he would solve the organized crime problem by executed suspected gangsters. Russia has called the United States the "evil empire" and accused it and Israel of conspiring to destroy Russia. In January 1993, he donned fatigues at the Moscow airport and said he was off to Iraq to "fight American imperialism." Zhirinovsky said that was pointless trying to apply the criminal code to suicide bombers because they were already dead. He suggested instead “killing his family—father, mother, brothers and sisters.”

Zhirinovsky and Sex

Zhirinovsky has bragged that he has slept with more than 200 women and said the solution to the low population rate was for him to personally sire children in different pats of the country. When he cast his vote in 1993, he said, "Today is the beginning of orgasm. The whole nation, I promise you, will feel orgasm next year." Before the 1996 election, he said, "At a sexually active age, women vote for me. And women in—what do you call it, menopause—women in menopause vote for Yeltsin." On Gorbachev, Zhirinovsky said, he should have stayed in bed with Raisa rather than pursue a career in politics.

In an interview with Playboy magazine, Zhironovsky implored the 20-year-old female interviewer—Jennifer Gould— to have sex with him and his bodyguards. "We'll understand one another better if you undress right now," he said. "You lie on these little beds, and these boys will caress you. An I will be listening to you and continue talking myself."

On pursuing group sex he said, "It's best when its with a group. There are of four of you here. You have to show me love for four. I love to watch more. I can join you later during the process. For me it's a way to get excited." After having his offer of group sex rebuffed, Zhironovsky told Gould, "Look how selfish you are...If each Chechen would have a woman, there would be no war. That's why you're the source of war in the planet."

Zhirinovsky's Outrageous Acts

Zhirinovsky socialized with former Nazi storm troopers and nightclub strippers and spit and threw rocks at protesters. He met with and praised international pariahs such as Iraq's Saddam Hussein and Libya's Muammar Gaddafi. During the Bosnian conflict he called the Serbs his Slavic brothers and said the Bosnians could be defeated with a secret weapon called the "Ellipton." In April 1999, Zhirinovsky released a CD of pop songs called the Real Colonel.

Zhirinovsky once flung a glass of orange juice in the face of an opponent during a television debate and posed naked in the shower for photographers. In April 1994, he got into a fistfight in parliament with another deputy and for a while was banging the deputy’s head against a wall. In July 1994, Zhirinovsky told Time, "If I behave like the good-natured intellectual that I really am I won't get votes. It's war out there, and I'm out to win."

In 1995, Zhirinovsky and nationalist legislator Nikolai Lysenko wrestled with a female legislator and choked her, punched in the head and ripped a silver cross off her neck. After the assault Zhirinovsky said, the female legislator "was getting high on our physical contact. Such women dream of being raped, but no one will come close to them...They like standing next to strong male bodies." Zhirinovsky refused to stand up to honor victims of the Holocaust at a ceremony in the Duma because millions of Russians were killed by Nazis too.

Zhirinovsky's popularity dropped after 1993 as nationalist parties became all the rage and getting air time was more problematic and people tired of his antics. In 1999, he was trounced in his bid to become governor in southern Russian province of Belgorod. He placed third and took only 17 percent of the vote (the winner grabbed 53 percent). Later in 1999, his party was barred from taking part in the parliamentary election. Zhirinovsky ran in the 2000 presidential election and took only 2.7 percent of the vote. His wife ran for parliament. His party won 12 percent of the vote in the 2003 parliamentary elections.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2016

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