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Yabloko Forces Its Members to Pick Sides

After being squeezed out of the Moscow City Duma this fall, the liberal Yabloko party has made a last-ditch attempt to stay politically alive by banning members from participating in any other political organization.

The ban looks like a bid to get back in the Kremlin’s good graces and win seats in future votes, observers said.

Yabloko leader Sergei Mitrokhin conceded Monday that the party’s failure to win any City Duma seats in the Oct. 11 elections had played a role in its decision to impose the ban at a weekend party congress. “This is simple political hygiene,” Mitrokhin, who held one of Yabloko’s two seats in the previous City Duma, told The Moscow Times.

Yabloko’s new policy forbids members from joining any other political or public organizations, including the anti-Kremlin groups Civil Front, Other Russia and Solidarity. Members who break the rule face automatic expulsion after a three-month grace period.

Ilya Yashin, a leader of Solidarity and the former head of Young Yabloko, criticized the ban as a step toward the Kremlin that would lead to the disintegration of Yabloko’s democratic ideals and the potential exodus of hundreds of members who currently support both Yabloko and other organizations. “I’ve already heard that some Yabloko members want to join Solidarity to protest the party’s decision,” Yashin said.

Yashin said Yabloko needed allies like Solidarity if it hoped to gain political clout. “Cooperation between Solidarity and Yabloko has been improving recently, especially in the regions, and the party should have learned its lesson after the elections,” he said.

United Russia swept the City Duma elections, taking all but three seats, which went to the Communists.

Mitrokhin said the changes would only benefit Yabloko. “I’m not afraid that this will result in any damage for the party because double interests are destructive for the party,” he said.

Yabloko has had to make a sacrifice to show its loyalty to the Kremlin and secure the right to participate in future elections, said Dmitry Oreshkin, an analyst with the Merkator think tank. “As a result, the party will lose the trademark bullheadedness and opposition rhetoric that it was once known for,” he said.

He said Yabloko’s younger members might leave for Solidarity and warned that Yabloko, one of the last surviving parties from the 1990s, might fold.   

“It looks like Putin’s era has led to the death of all parties founded in the 1990s,” he said.

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