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Is the Russian Opposition Playing a Losing Hand?

RuNet Echo This post is part of RuNet Echo, a Global Voices project to interpret the Russian language internet. All Posts · Learn more

On May 27, 2013 blogger, professional poker player, and municipal deputy Maxim Katz has left the Coordinating Council of the Russian Opposition [ru], proclaiming the e-democracy project [GV] a failed experiment. He is the second Council member to leave the body in two months — former Soviet dissident Andrei Piontkovsky quit [ru] in early April. Katz said he was happy to have participated as long as he did — especially in the election and debate process last fall — but that the Council was essentially crippled from the start by its “ideological curiae,” groups of representatives that were voted through according to ideological quotas for liberals, nationalists, and leftists. Katz complained [ru]:

курии позволили пройти в КС людям, которые очень отличаются по взглядам, подходам и целям как от основной части координационного совета, так и от поддерживающей аудитории.

the curiae allowed certain people into the C[oordinating] C[ouncil] who are very different in their views, approaches and goals from both the main part of the Coordinating Council and from its supporters.

This, in turn, according to Katz, broke the system and turned the Council into a reactive, rather than proactive, body:

На нескольких первых заседаниях КС занимался тем, что реагировал на тактические события, происходившие за несколько дней до заседания [...] На нескольких последних заседаниях КС не просто не начал думать о стратегии, а он даже перестал реагировать на тактические события — он теперь реагирует на производимые самим собой события.

At the first few meeting the C[oordinating] C[ouncil] was concerned with reacting to tactical events, which happened several days before the meeting [...] At the last few meeting the C[oordinating] C[ouncil] not only did not start thinking about strategy, it even stopped reacting to tactical events — now it reacts to events that it itself produces.

Katz concluded by saying that because individual members of the Council are much more effective than the body, the Council should be disbanded, and its “sensible” members should form smaller bodies tasked with forming a political strategy.

Although Katz's luscious locks and firecracker rhetoric may remind one of Comandante Che, he is no fan of leftist opposition members. Image remixed by author, using YouTube screenshot of Katz and  Che Guevara by Alberto Korda, public domain at Wikimedia Commons.

Although Katz's luscious locks and firecracker rhetoric may remind one of Comandante Che, he is no fan of leftist opposition members. Image remixed by author, using a YouTube screenshot of Katz and Che Guevara by Alberto Korda, public domain at Wikimedia Commons.

These reasons are close to the ones Katz gave in February, when he was already considering leaving the Council. Back then [ru] he also complained about the curiae, but also said that he did not really see a point in such “hodgepodge” body of people meeting in the first place, simply to argue about ideology on a regular basis. Instead he suggested that it meet only when something needs “coordinating” — like an opposition rally for instance.

Katz is a polarizing figure. Although he has a relatively large fan base of blog readers, who seem to approve of anything he does, some have criticized him for the move. For example, Yekaterinburg blogger Konstantin Chelyudskih noted [ru] that Katz's complaints are essentially silly: politicking and intrigues between rival factions is what real parliamentarism looks like, so the smart thing to do would be to try to learn from such problems. After all, a democratically elected government isn't some club, it is explicitly a place for people who are “very different in their views.”

Popular blogger Maksim Aleksandrov (who used to blog under scandalmax in the early 2000s), on the other hand, questioned [ru] Katz's identity as a member of the opposition in the first place:

О том что в политической игре он участвует не для того чтобы добиться политических изменений и не для того даже чтоб поднять бабла, а изсоображений более хитрых – говорят давно и вслух все.

The fact that he is part of the political game not to effect policy changes and not even to get some dough, but because of more sly considerations, is something that everyone has talked about forever now.

Maybe it's Katz's perceived slyness that is to blame for some of the more negative opinions about him; opinions held by many, as DemVybor's second-in-command Kirill Shulika claims [ru]:

я общаюсь с рядом членов КС, и вот они в один голос говорят, что там не было более ненавидимого человека, чем Кац, он даже Ксению Собчак обошел в этой номинации.

I interact with a number of C[oordinating] C[ouncil] members, and they all say that there was not a more hated person there than Katz, he has even passed [socialite and TV personality] Ksenya Sobchak in this category.

An artist's impression of how Max Katz made his money. Remix based on A Friend In Need by C.M. Coolidge, public domain, and YouTube screenshot of Katz.

An artist's impression of how Max Katz made his money. Remix based on A Friend In Need by C.M. Coolidge, public domain, and YouTube screenshot of Katz.

Shulika proceeded to lambaste Katz for allegedly dodging the Israeli draft by moving to Russia when he was 17, and for making his money playing professional poker (Katz apparently runs a poker backing firm now — lending out money to other players). He also criticized Katz for calling himself an “urbanist,” or an expert in urban planning and development, without having the requisite professional education or experience. Katz has apparently only completed a 5-day urban planning course, but regularly weighs in on Moscow's transport problems. Indeed, according to Shulika, it was this interest that prompted his exit from the council.

Shulika claims that the real reason for Katz leaving was his connection [ru] to Moscow's transport department [ru] and tram manufacturers, on behalf of whom he was essentially engaged in lobbying over the past year in his blog. Since the Coordinating Council technically frowns on lobbying, says Shulika, Katz was finally forced to make a choice. In this view, Katz's rhetoric about lack of Council functionality is just so much tinsel, aimed to distract. Whatever the case may be, we can be sure that he will keep his poker face.

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