Although they no longer fool anyone, the Kremlin still likes to maintain a few “liberal” decorations. During the four-year puppet presidency of Dmitri Medvedev (himself a decoration of the highest order), the grand-sounding but powerless Presidential Human Rights Council was filled with reputable civil society leaders, such as Lyudmila Alekseeva, Elena Panfilova, and Dmitri Oreshkin. Following Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency, more than a dozen council members have resigned—though some, including Alekseeva, later returned.
Still eager to maintain his “reformist” credentials, Medvedev, now prime minister, announced the creation of a Government Expert Council that is supposed to serve as a platform for discussing Cabinet decisions. On Monday, the premier named the first 200 (of the 400) members of the body. The move created a sensation: among those chosen by Medvedev to advise his government were figures clearly associated with Russia’s opposition, including Irena Lesnevskaya, publisher of the outspoken New Times weekly magazine; Konstantin Kalmykov, co-founder (with Alexei Navalny) of the anticorruption initiative RosPil; Elena Lukyanova, an attorney for Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Russia’s most prominent political prisoner; Kirill Kabanov, chairman of the National Anticorruption Committee (an NGO); and Irina Prokhorova, editor in chief of the New Literary Review. Stunned observers did not know what to think: did Medvedev suddenly challenge Putin, or did opposition activists defect to the Kremlin en masse?
It turned out to be neither. In a rush to “liberalize” the government’s image, officials have simply forgotten to ask their supposed appointees. Lesnevskaya, Lukyanova, Kabanov, and Kalmykov learned of their “appointment” from the newspapers. Prokhorova has said that she did receive an invitation to join the council, but declined it. “I don’t know what you are talking about,” Alexei Arbatov, one of the founders of the liberal Yabloko party and another supposed member of Medvedev’s Expert Council, responded to journalists when asked about his “appointment,” “Why am I learning about this from you, and not from the prime minister?”
“You cannot be a little pregnant,” said Lesnevskaya, commenting on her resignation from the council she never agreed to join. “You cannot pretend to advise the government … while knowing that your advice is not needed and not acted upon. It is a meaningless exercise.” It is also, not least, a question of reputation. Few civil society activists should want the words “Medvedev adviser” in their résumés—especially now, as protest sentiments are rising (the latest Levada Center poll puts national support for the pro-democracy movement at 42 percent), and as analysts are predicting a politically “hot” autumn in Russia.
Photo Credit: www.kremlin.ru