’Tis the season for information showers
The traditional summer lull in political shenanigans is always compensated for by a wave of gossip and information leaks, many of which would have little chance of being taken seriously at other times. There’s no point in accusing journalists of lacking professionalism – media demands are hardly the main reason for the yearly summer information showers. Whether one should approach these summer leaks more critically is another question, to uncover the real motivation behind each announcement. Like the poet Vladimir Mayakovsky said, "If the stars light up, it means somebody needs them to."
Berezovsky enters the ring
Of course, talk of impeaching President Vladimir Putin this autumn for pushing through the law on extremism is a bluff. The aim is to arouse interest in a public investigation, supported and actively sponsored by Boris Berezovsky, into the explosions that leveled apartment buildings in Moscow and Volgodonsk in 1999. A joint broadcast is even planned to present irrefutable proof of the participation of the FSB and, it seems, Putin himself in the terror acts. But a closer look reveals only two facts: Berezovsky’s strong dislike of Putin, which Putin quite clearly reciprocates, and Boris Abramovich’s no less intense desire to return to Russian politics, or at least maintain his influential status.
This brings us to the recent scandal of the Justice Ministry’s refusal to register the Liberal Russia Party. Berezovsky is its co-chairman and, it is said, prepared to invest $150 million in the party. Experienced political "engineers," who’ve already proven themselves in weightier campaigns, assure us with laughter that the Justice Ministry has no hidden agenda here. Rather, the clever writers of Liberal Russia’s charter most likely included a string of formal errors intentionally, forcing the Justice Ministry to deny them registration and send it back for rewriting. This allows the party to say that it frightens the powers that be, and that it is being oppressed.
A police economy
Several recent phantom leaks of another order come from the bowels of the Internal Affairs Ministry. To the consternation of observers and government, ministry sources revealed plans for several "police economic programs" to bring law and order to the more criminal branches of the economy and, at the same time, increase budget revenues. Internal Affairs Ministry economists worked into their plans tobacco, pharmaceuticals, gambling and fishing, among other economic branches. A high-ranking government official was somewhat skeptical about the rumors of the ministry’s economic proposals, remarking that law-enforcement officials would do better if they paid more attention to their primary responsibility: catching criminals.
All the same, this story does contain real intrigue. For several months there has been periodic speculation that Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov may be a successor to the current head of the president’s administration, Alexander Voloshin. However, aside from his Petersburg roots and personal acquaintance with the president prior to his "Moscow period" – which means he belongs to Putin’s private team – Gryzlov has little else going for him. His candidacy looks like nonsense. The present efforts of Gryzlov’s PR team to create for him a solid background in economics and politics (and one can confidently assume that Gryzlov’s circle released the leak mentioned above) bear witness to his intention not to linger too long at his Internal Affairs Ministry desk, but busy himself with greater tasks.
Charity for the Russian Orthodox Church
The last recent "news" item involves the Federation Council’s plan to draft legislation on returning the Orthodox Church’s pre-Revolutionary land holdings. This story comes from Federation Council member Ivan Starikov, who believes around 3 million hectares of land could be returned from the Fund for Redistribution of Agricultural Lands. The newspaper Vremya Novostei reported that the fund possesses up to 40 million hectares.
Though the announcement seems serious, it contains little fact. First, such an initiative is simply an attempt at restitution – and is it worth setting such a precedent and opening the door to the claims of every pre-Revolutionary property owner and his descendants? Second, although the Moscow Patriarchy has cautiously raised the question from time to time, in this instance, representatives of the church essentially crossed themselves and backed away from Starikov and his colleagues. Why is clear: Russian society is not ready to return to the bosom of Orthodoxy. Attempts to return lands to the church would conflict with the interests of today’s owners, who would undoubtedly unleash an active campaign against this proposal and the church as a whole. And among a population that grew up in an atheistic state exposed to aggressive anti-religious propaganda, such a campaign might drive people from the church and spark a surge of bad feelings.
But what is unclear is the motive for Starikov’s announcement. Either it is a bone-headed attempt at pleasing the president, who does not hide his sympathy for the Orthodox Church, or it is the opposite, a first strike. In this case, it was made as ugly as possible to create a deep impression and force the Orthodox hierarchs to refrain from even the most timid requests regarding individual churches, small land allotments for monasteries, seized church relics and more.
Ekaterina Larina is assistent editor of The Russia Journal.
E-mail Katya at email@example.com