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Petersburg’s Yabloko late but right
Editorial, Moscow Times, Wednesday, January 20, 1999
In russian

The liberal Yabloko Party’s decision this week to move into opposition against St. Petersburg autocratic governor, Vladimir Yakovlev, has been long overdue. For far too long, Yabloko has been silent as Yakovlev has bullied and intimidate political rivals and given free rein to corruption in his administration.

In fact, Yabloko’s mixed experience in St. Petersburg shows that nationally it has been correct to insist on remaining entirely in opposition to a series of flawed governments. Quite simply, both in St. Petersburg and in Russia at large, there is great need for an informed and reputable political opposition that can hold the government accountable.

In St. Petersburg, Yabloko threw its support at the last minute to Yakovlev in the 1996 gubernatorial elections, helping him to edge past sitting chief executive Anatoly Sobchak. In return, one of Yabloko’s most prominent St. Petersburg members, Igor Artemiev, was appointed a vice governor and tasked with handling city finances.

Artemyev did some great thing during his two years in office. He restructured the city’s debt burden with a lower-interest Eurobond and drafted deficit-free city budgets.

But when the governor tried to quietly channel city finances through Balt-Uneximbank, Artemyev lobbied behind the scenes to block that – yet at the end of the day he was part of the team and had to hold his tongue. The same was true for Yabloko.

Compare this to the national situation, where the government has the benefit of former Yabloko member Mikhail Zadornov as finance minister, but Yabloko itself remains free to publicly critique Zadornov and the government he works for.

Not so in St. Petersburg. There, Yabloko made the mistake of signing up for a government it had insufficient say in running. When Governor Yakovlev fought to emasculate the local charter movement – which has succeeded at enshrining in law principles of political accountability unheard of in Russia – Yabloko spoke out, then abruptly changed sides. The party’s voice was needed more than ever as journalists were hassled and city lawmakers accused the governor’s office of blackmail and threats. But it remained silent.  It did not rouse itself publicly until cornered by such oafishly direct assaults as a City Hall-engineered television program accusing Yabloko of being part of a Zionist conspiracy  to “colonize” St. Petersburg.

Artemyev quit, warning that Yakovlev was headed in “a communist and fascist direction”, and has surrounded his administration to corrupt interests. Artemyev might make a good governor some day. But he’d be even more attractive for that high post if Yabloko has held him and the St/ Petersburg City Hall to its nationally high standards.

In russian

Moscow Times, Wednesday, January 20, 1999
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