By Paul Goble
A group of more than 50 former deputies elected at all levels in the past met in Poland to form a Russian legislature in exile to oppose Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine and his regime more generally. They assembled in exactly the same place where in 1989 representatives of the Solidarity workers movement and the government had their “round table.”
In a declaration to the world, the group said that their Congress of Peoples Deputies is a continuously operating organ of popular representation and legislative power of Russia, whose task is the preparation of legislative foundations and later the formation of provisional executive and legislative power during a transitional period (rusdep.org/prinyato-sezdom-osnovopolagayushhaya-deklaraciya-sezda-narodnyx-deputatov/).
The Congress also declared that “any decisions of Vladimir Putin, his government and structures subordinate to him are illegal.” And it adopted three specific appeals – to the citizens of Russia, to the Russian opposition, and to the Western allies (rusdep.org/obrashhenie-k-grazhdanam-rossii/, rusdep.org/obrashhenie-k-grazhdanam-ukrainy/ and rusdep.org/obrashhenie-k-soyuznikam-po-antiputinskoj-koalicii/).
There were debates about all three of these, but perhaps the most contentious issue at the meeting concerned the right of regions and republics for self-determination. The Moscow-heavy meeting ultimately limited itself to declaring that it recognized the principle as laid out by the UN General Assembly in October 1970 but not taking a position on portions of Russia.
The meeting also offered a draft law on lustration that would require the exclusion from political life of most of the current political elite of the Russian Federation, a requirement far more sweeping than any adopted by post-communist countries regarding officials who had served in earlier regimes.
The Congress ratified the Constituent Declaration of the International Anti-Authoritarian Union which calls for a coordinated struggle against all authoritarian and undemocratic regimes. That was signed not only by Ilya Ponomaryov for the Congress but by representatives of Tajikistan and Chechnya-Ichkeria, something some will see as recognition of Chechnya.
According to Ponomaryov, the main organizer of the group and of the provisional executive group that will serve as the leadership of the Congress between its meetings, “the chief result of the meeting is that in Russia a parliament has finally appeared.” It is a measure of conditions in Russia that some of those taking place did so virtually and anonymously.
This session has already been much criticized by Kremlin-linked commentators as one would expect, but it has also drawn fire both from non-Russian groups who view it as reflecting the views of a narrow stratum of Moscow activists and from the Putin regime which views it as an émigré game with no meaning at all.