Russia’s Elizabeth Warren?

On January 21st Russian Duma Deputy Oksana Dmitriyeva went on broadcast television and argued that “in a time of [economic] crisis, there should be a change of teams in government. These people don’t know how and don’t want to change course.”

She may well be the only deputy of the Russian State Duma with a functioning brain, and lately she hasn’t shied away from saying as much.

Dmitriyeva has consistently taken a stand against the government’s austerity, be it in the form of cuts to higher education and healthcare, or “pension reforms” that left seniors even more impoverished than they were before. In proposing her own “anti-crisis” bill to lift the wilting economy, she declared that the cause of the country’s economic trouble was “not the price of oil but the incompetence and greed of the government.”

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Tough talk of this nature has landed Dmitriyeva into hot water with her political party, “A Just Russia,” where she served as national Vice Chairperson. That is, until a decision emanating from its Moscow headquarters last Tuesday put an end to her tenure as Chairperson of the St. Petersburg branch of the party, ostensibly over misuse of funds and declining numbers of registered party members. Having openly criticized the government – on television no less, where most Russians get their news – is a more likely explanation for her removal.

Dmitriyeva is part of a shrinking circle of opposition-minded politicians who escaped the turbulent Russian 1990’s both unscathed and untarnished. First elected to the Duma as a member of the Yabloko party in 1993, she served on the committee for budget, taxes, banks and finance. She was reelected once in 1995 and in 1998 served as Minister of Labor and Welfare Development under Prime Minister Sergey Kiriyenko (and Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov) for four months before her resignation, after which she became a professor at the St. Petersburg State University of Economics and Finance.

Taking the ministry post in the Kiriyenko government got her kicked out of Yabloko, which apparently considered her acceptance to have been a mistake. But this appears to be the way Dmitriyeva prefers to operate: pushing from within the system for better policies. As Minister, she argued for increases to the minimum monthly wage and attacked the way the government handled pension money, calling for the Pension Fund to be audited.

Dmitriyeva would later bounce from party to party, getting reelected to the Duma each time, until finally joining A Just Russia at its formation in 2006. Back then, A Just Russia was theoretically intended to become the center-left wing of a hypothetical two-party system that would make it the counterpart to Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev’s United Russia party. That idea never came into fruition and A Just Russia is now widely regarded as a spoiler party to siphon off the elderly vote from the Communist Party. But considering the onerous requirements for parties to participate in federal elections in Russia, being a part of A Just Russia made sense for Dmitriyeva.

Until now.

After finding out she was getting kicked out of her position as regional chair, Dmitriyeva made overtures to the effect that she would resign herself, tweeting as much Saturday evening. Moreover, she has now spoken to a number of mainstream publications about her intention to form a new coalition party comprised of opposition forces, declaring: “I am ready to spearhead this new structure, but believe it will have several leaders.” Ultimately, their goal will be to participate in the 2016 parliamentary elections, which may actually see some serious contention as Russia’s economic crisis unfolds.

If anyone could make those elections competitive, Dmitriyeva could. When she attempted to run for governor of Leningrad Region last year she polled second at 16% to the incumbent’s 39%. That was before her run was blocked by the local legislature, 156 (!) of whose deputies must approve of any candidate. With 35% of voters undecided, it could have been a real race.

Once the dust had settled and the incumbent, Grigory Poltavchenko, cruised to reelection, she stood in front of her colleagues in the Duma and called out the obvious falsification of the results. If Putin had won up to 60% of the vote cleanly in his last election in Saint Petersburg, there was no way that the much less popular Poltavchenko had actually won the reported 86% of the vote he received there, she reasoned.

If Oksana Dmitriyeva had an American counterpart, it’s not hard to conclude that it would be Elizabeth Warren. Both are widely-cited authorities on economics in their respective countries. Both have a record as pragmatic advocates for the working and middle classes. And both have been searingly critical of their respective central banks! We haven’t quite heard Elizabeth Warren agitating for “mass political parties” as Dmitriyeva has yet, but she could still come around.

We’ll be keeping our eyes on this one.


James Neimeister is a freelance writer from Ohio. His interests include: Russia, Ukraine, education, technology, and "cyberspace."

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  • mirth

    This thread seems played out, so, since you may be in need of it as much as I am, here’s a bit of cheer. It’s shot in Turkey, a Samsung commercial, a good and very endearing one. Do yourself a favor and watch the vid:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UrvaSqN76h4

  • Indigo

    I think part of that collapse of ‘hope and change’ was Obama’s failure to stay in the Senate for several terms, learning where the skeletons are buried, maybe burying a few himself, and getting a strong sense of whose arm to twist, when. and how far. He’s got none of that because he never bothered to get acquainted with the players.

    Take note: Elizabeth Warren. Newbies do not get anything done from the Oval Office, regardless of their solid ideas or good looks.

  • mirth

    Oh sure. It would be great drama to see.

  • Indigo

    I doubt it’s a smokey room.

  • Indigo

    Possibly, but I like the drama of an unnoticed sliding panel opening up.

  • nicho

    Bill Hicks had the same fantasy

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bIiCjhCBDaM

  • That’s one of the problems our entire security apparatus has right now. Military, diplomatic security, intelligence… it’s all outsourced to mercenary groups that are only as loyal as their paycheck. What happens when we’re no longer the highest bidder?

  • And a good part of the reason why ‘hope and change’ suddenly devolved to ‘not letting the perfect become the enemy of the necessary’. Messages which ended up being at direct odds to one another. Destroying hope and purposefully avoiding change, just to get something passed in Congress. If Obama was actually the President that the right-wing loons think he is, we’d all be in a better place right now.

  • mirth

    It’s more likely that this confrontation happens before the new president ever enters the Oval Office.

  • Indigo

    A hostage of the system, oh yes. I have this on-going fantasy that when a newly inaugurated president sits down in the Oval Office for the first time, an disguised panel opens and a committee of CIA-NSA types enter uninvited to inform the new president exactly what he will and will not do and say, unless he plans to be assassinated. It probably doesn’t happen that way but I bet there’s a truck load of threats, bribes, and innuendo flying around that room.

  • nicho

    I think she already is

  • Bill_Perdue

    I think that by the time they get to Congress, the WH or the Supremes they’re a
    combination of con artist in their relations with voters and prostitutes in their relations with the rich.

    Often, these fake reformers are the worst sell outs. Like Wilson and LBJ, who ‘kept us out of war’. Or FDR, who promised to end the Depression. (It was ended by the actions of the Imperial Japanese Navy at 7am, Hawaiian Time on 07 Dec 1942.) Or like Clinton who championed and signed DOMA and DADT, NAFTA and the deregulation bills of 1999 and 2000. Or by Obama who broke promise after promise.

    Now he’s even reinvading iraq.

    public option – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=acc6Wn_BWlk

    union busting – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SA9KC8SMu3o

    end the war – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8VlXfs1K04g

  • emjayay

    Then I guess I would recommend she just walk around with a big target on her back.

  • nicho

    Yup. “Liberals” in the US have this ongoing fantasy that if they can just get Warren or Sanders or Stein into the Blight House that everything will be OK. It’s The System that is corrupt. The person in the Oval Office is just a hostage of The System.

  • nicho

    Bodyguards are thugs for hire. Someone can always pay them more than you do.

  • Bill_Perdue

    It’s not even remotely possible to ‘reform’ capitalist states like the US and the RF. The rich are too rich and too ruthless. New workers states will have to be created.

  • S1AMER

    Good for her. But I hope she has good bodyguards.

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