Nemtsov and Milov: Russia Needs a Unified Democratic Force

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In an open letter, Boris Nemtsov and Vladimir Milov discuss the dissolution of the Union of Right Forces (SPS) party, calling on its members to leave a political party set to become a Kremlin marionette, and work on forming a unified democratic movement instead. (below)

The party’s leader, Nikita Belykh, put in his resignation and left the party on September 26th. The same day it became known that SPS had been working on a new project of “united democrats” loyal to the Kremlin. Previously, the liberal democratic party had been critical of the Russian authorities.

An unnamed source within the party told the Sobkor®ru news agency that the SPS had been in talks with the Kremlin since the spring. He said that a number of the party’s regional leadership had called for closer relations with the Kremlin, which has tried to bring small opposition parties under its control.

On October 2nd, the party’s top leadership voted 21 to 1 to dissolve the party, reforming it into a new organization. A vote will now go before delegates at a party convention scheduled for November 15th.

An appeal to members of the Union of Right Forces party

Dear friends and compatriots!

As result of recent events, the Union of Right Forces (SPS) has ceased to exist as a democratic opposition party.

Nikita Belykh’s place as the leader of the party was a guarantee that the SPS continue acting as an independent, living organism; a structure capable of conducting an independent policy, and defending liberal democratic ideas and values. Nikita Belykh courageously fought for the party.

The Kremlin’s scare tactics against representatives of Russian business has rid the Russian opposition of sources of financing. On a massive scale, the SPS was taken off [of ballots] in regional elections, and ran into unprecedented administrative and police pressure, [including] the arrest of its activists.

We are far from unconcerned about the fate of the party and its ordinary members in today’s difficult situation. One of us helped to create the party and was one of its leaders for a long time. The second planned on stepping into the party in the nearest term, being tied to it by a long ideological closeness. In this difficult minute, when the SPS party lost a leader who took the consistent position of standing up to authoritarianism, we feel personal responsibility for the future of thousands of commendable people, honest democrats who are members of the party.

Today these people wonder about the future of the SPS and of the democratic movement in Russia as a whole. We are addressing all the members of the SPS, who are not indifferent to the fate of democracy in Russia, with a call to refuse to participate in the project which would turn the party into the latest Kremlin lapdog.

A straight road has unfolded before the SPS, leading to a complete loss of political independence, a merger with the marionette faux parties of the Kremlin, like Civil Force or the Democratic Party of Russia, and the transformation of the SPS into a filial branch of the party of power under the guise of liberal democracy.

This path is disastrous for the liberal democratic concept in Russia. The existing authorities have completely trampled the fundamental values defended by the Union of Right Forces: freedom, private property, rule of law. By the efforts of these authorities, the country is ruled by lack of freedom, expropriation [of property], and lawlessness.

Those who hope to help in improving the country’s position by collaborating with authorities are committing a fatal mistake. Even if these hopes are spoken with the best intentions, there will only be one outcome: those democrats who collaborated with the authorities will first be used to “cleanse” the image of the ruling regime, and afterwards will be undoubtedly broken, induced to support the most unsavory actions by authorities, and the liberal ideas they propose will be thrown into the wastebasket. This has happened more than once before, and will happen this time as well.

We are appealing to all members of the SPS party who do not want to become accomplices in the destruction of the last liberal democratic party in Russia, and who want to continue defending freedom, with a call to not remain in a party awaiting a shameful fate as a Kremlin marionette.

We are calling on you to become participants in the process of consolidating Russia’s democratic opposition and of taking part in the creation of a single Russia-wide democratic movement, whose establishment is planned for a convention of democratic forces on December 13, 2008. Having united, Russia’s democrats are in a position to form a political power capable of properly standing up to the authoritarian political regime.

It is of utmost importance that the liberal-minded people, the highly proficient professionals, the intellectuals and businessmen that are a part of today’s SPS are adequately represented. Your help in the creation of a new democratic movement will be invaluable.

We await you in the unified democratic movement. Together we can raise the fallen banner of freedom and democracy in Russia.

Boris Nemtsov
Vladimir Milov

Moscow, September 29th 2008.

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About the authors:
Boris Nemtsov, a former Deputy Prime Minister (1997-1998) and Energy Minister, later founded the Union of Right Forces party. He has authored key anti-corruption legislation and served as a representative in Russia’s State Duma (2000-2004).

Vladimir Milov worked from 1997-2002 as an energy expert and a policy-maker in the Executive branch. He now heads the independent Institute of Energy Policy in Moscow, and has led the charge for reforms of Russia’s energy policies and infrastructure. He is widely considered Russia’s leading independent energy expert.