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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

'Liberty' Drives a Mercedes

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The other day I happened to be at a gathering at a foreign embassy. It was just a small gathering, and the talk was fairly banal, but the hope of posing some questions to a former prime minister of a certain European country meant that the time was worth spending. This former prime minister appeared to have emerged from a lower-class background, more or less without formal education. He learned everything he knows from real-life experience and studying at night, but nonetheless he managed to work his way to the very top of his rather conservative party.

It was obvious that he was something of a role model for two young Russian politicians who, among four other better-known colleagues, had also been invited to the party.

These two politicians were very young. One is 28 years old, and the other is slightly over 30. I had never met them before and was intrigued to speak to them. Both of them had been elected to the State Duma on the pro-Kremlin Unity ticket from Moscow districts.

Click here to read our special report on human rights.How had it all happened? Quite nicely, as a matter of fact. They had intended to create their own party, and, voila, they stumbled across some people from the newly formed Bear movement, which later turned into Unity.

What had they been doing before? Business, they said. Judging by their haircuts and their ordinary, rather cheap suits, they were not New Russians, had not worked for the kind of company that offers employees face massages at their desks and did not patronize the fashionable hair salons of Paris.

In fact, I probably would not even have remembered them the next day Ч Unity people tend not to stand out very much Ч if not for two interesting details. First, they said during the conversation that they would like to create a "Party of Liberty."

Rather meanly, I asked them what they meant by "liberty." After all, when Sergei Kovalyov or Larisa Bogoraz Ч former Soviet dissidents who served time in jail and exile Ч use such words, you don't ask them to define their terms. However, when I hear members of the pro-Kremlin Duma, people who never seem to take any public stands that seem close to my understanding of what "liberty" means and who never said a word in defense of the thousands who have been forced to give up their liberties and still more basic human rights (such as, in the case of Chechnya, their right to life) use such terms, well, you can understand why I would want to know exactly what they were trying to say. They chose not to elaborate. Perhaps it was just too hard for them to explain.

The second detail came when the dinner was over. As these guys walked out of the building, a brand-new silver Mercedes Ч which screamed out ostentatious wealth Ч ran straight through the gates of the ambassador's residence and pulled up at the bottom of the stairs. Inside, I could see a driver and a body guard. The license plates, starting with "NN," suggested that the car was either from the Kremlin or a closely associated structure. There can be no doubt that the car was not private property, but belonged to the state.

The two young politicians said a warm good-bye, jumped into the car and sped off.

Now, just to be clear, let me say that I have nothing against people who drive expensive cars, even when they claim to be devoted representatives of the common people. But when members of a pro-government Duma faction so brazenly advertise who pays their expenses and how generously, you can't help but think that they don't care a whit for public opinion. You start to suspect that they are not counting on the support of the electorate to further their political careers but that they understand they need "administrative resources" in order to get re-elected.

You can imagine what a shock the recent U.S. presidential election was for our political elite. Here was Al Gore, then the second most powerful official in the country, losing the election because he didn't have the "administrative resources" to add a couple thousand votes to his tally in Florida. Everyone here was marveling at the incomprehensible impotence of the American executive branch.

Nonetheless, I still enjoy the idea of a pro-Kremlin "Party of Liberty."

It just sounds kind of nice.

Yevgenia Albats is an independent journalist based in Moscow.