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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EDITORIAL: True Colors Of Duma Are Revealed




When the new Duma was elected in December, suddenly the talk was of a new "centrist" and "reformist" parliament, one that would be a breath of fresh air after the "Communist-controlled" and "obstructionist" one. At hand, we were told, was a new Golden Age of collegial law-making that would see a frenzied burst of good government - a clean new tax code, for example, that Holy Grail of Russian public policy.


Instead, what do we see? The Kremlin's Unity provokes a row by getting behind Gennady Seleznyov (the only Communist we know of who smokes with a cigarette holder). The Communists, Vladimir Zhirinovsky's LDPR and the Kremlin join forces - as they always do, whenever the Kremlin cares enough - and the Kremlin ensconces a Communist as speaker.


This is not necessarily a horrible event, or even a significant one. But what we would like to point out is that once again, reality has exploded the myth of the "leftist opposition" Duma.


That the Duma is so often described as "Communist" or "leftist" or "obstructionist" - not just by the media, but also by Western governments - is a neurosis worthy of clinical study.


After all, history shows that whenever it matters to the Kremlin - be it passing a national privatization program, adopting a "monetarist" budget or agreeing to install as prime minister a cuddly right-wing technocrat - then the Communists and the LDPR are on board. In other words, if the Kremlin had ever chosen to make it a priority, it could have rammed a tax code and other indispensable legislation through the Duma ages ago.


Why do Russia-watchers doggedly insist on getting this wrong?


We suspect because it blurs the hard edges of a story line that was adopted out of political expedience in 1993, when Boris Yeltsin shelled parliament. To justify supporting Yeltsin in that, the West had to buy into the fairy tale of a hard-line rogue elephant Communist parliament that could only be put down. And that's the story that has been stuck to up to the present day.


The reality is more complicated: The 1993 parliament had good and bad elements; Yeltsin, by his own admission in his memoirs, decided he hated the Duman early on and wanted it gone; and that hard-line Kremlin position did much to strengthen extremism in parliament.


Instead of recognizing this, we all subscribed to a caricature of reality - one that ignores that since 1993, the Kremlin has been opposed by the best democrats (Yabloko), while enjoying a distasteful yet easy understanding with the reds and browns.


- Matt Bivens