A Tale of Two Russia’s: Why Liberals Hate Putin’s New Duma Speaker


February 13, 2017 – Fort Russ – 

Ruslan Ostashko, Live Journal – translated by J. Arnoldski – 

Observing the agenda of the liberal media and comparing it to what interests ordinary citizens, I can’t help but think that there exist two Russia’s. One is tiny with borders that coincide with the boundaries of the Russian-language segment of Facebook, the Yeltsin Center in Ekaterinburg, and a few dozen trendy coffee shops in Moscow and St. Petersburg. This Russia is very small, but loud and endlessly narcissistic. The interests and concerns of this “little Russia” almost never intersect with the interests and concerns of the larger Russia – the one that creates the country’s GDP, conquers the cosmos, opens new factories, speaks in Russian without an ostentatious British accent, and has for many centuries frightened foreigners with its incomprehensible vastness.

The different interests and approaches to life professed by these two, unequal parts of our country were beautifully exemplified in Kommersant’s interview with State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin. The interviewer tried to avoid almost all questions on issues that really concern the country’s population. Literally begging questions on the fight against corruption, reducing administrative pressure on business, reforming the political system, and compulsory auto insurance were not even asked.

Not only these questions that really do concern the general population, but also questions that really concern business did not receive attention. The journalist spent the whole interview trying to find out if the State Duma would ease the law on foreign agents and if not, then why. 

I especially liked the interviewer’s attempts to prove to the State Duma Speaker that the very phrase “foreign agent” is a bad carbon copy of English that is negatively charged and which sensitive representatives of civil society just can’t accept. It’s as if there are no other problems in the country besides the question of how to make things nice and pleasant for those who participate in the country’s political life on foreign money – money which foreign sponsors apparently allocate for the sole purpose of making Russian pleasant!

In fact, those who argue that the phrasing “foreign agent” is an unsuccessfully copy from English apparently do not know English or the history of the issue. In fact, this is a precise translation and the modern English phrase “foreign agent” also has a clear negative and derogatory meaning, as is even written on the English Wikipedia page. American lawmakers also chose this wording for use in FARA (Foreign Agent Registration Act), and the Russian law is an analogue to this American legislation in both spirit and form. So there can be no complaints against the Duma on this matter.

The non-systemic opposition constantly demands that things in Russia be like they are in the West. Well, here we are adopting the best Western practices. Overall, the opposition and NGO’s need to recognize that the presence of foreign money in domestic politics is not welcome anywhere in the world, and the Russian law is no more discriminatory than the American one. The very presence of a negative reaction to the phrase “foreign agent” is a sign that society is healthy, and this equally applies to any society – whether Russian, Chinese, or American.

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But besides disgruntled foreign agents, after Volodin’s interview the info-field and social networks were full of inspired people protesting against the new Duma leadership’s efforts to enforce labor discipline among deputies. Some called the speaker a “supervisor” while some protested against the struggle for attendance. For example, one Communist Party deputy stated that evaluating deputies by the number  of “hours on their asses” (an exact quote) in the Duma is wrong. 

I believe that if a deputy calls the time he spends in the Duma, i.e., in his workplace, “hours on the ass,” then he has the wrong profession. In fact, one has to work in the workplace, not just clock in “hours on the ass.” Would an ordinary citizen say at his workplace that his earnings should not depend on whether he shows up at work everyday, but only on if he shows up for payday?

I am sure that the new speaker of the State Duma would gladly discuss various difficult questions of parliamentary work and the nuances of the legislative process with deputies, but in order for this to happen, one has to force deputies to show up in the first place and recognize that a parliamentary mandate is not a sinecure, but real work which (surprise!) involves the need to work. 

Now one can really feel the anger of the semi-political hangouts that are really annoyed by this new political style. It is terrible to imagine the howl that would arise when deputies, in addition to working on laws, will have to really resolve issues that their voters demand. And they will have to. If the Duma is a representative body, then deputies should really represent the interests of voters.

Lastly, in observing the reactions to Volodin’s interview and those criticizing him, we can draw a simple and obvious conclusion. Volodin is being attacked not because he offends foreign agents, not because he played a major role in preventing Bolotnaya riots, and not because he is forcing deputies to get down to orderly work, but because he is consistently executing the orders of President Putin and does not hesitate to talk about this openly. 

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Russian liberals are very offended by the fact that Volodin is consequentially moving the assembly points of Russian politics from Moscow lobbies, the liberal media, and political expert cabals and returning real politics to the traditional Russian Duma. Let them be angry. This process is inevitable. After all, there is nothing stronger than an idea whose time has come. 

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