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City news
Matviyenko: The Post-Modern Brezhnev?
09.28.2004 11:17

matvienko_soviet_era St Petersburg Times

By Vladimir Kovalev

Governor Valentina Matviyenko has a strong sense of nostalgia for the Soviet era, when she steadily moved up through the ranks of the Communist Party, getting closer to the top of party. Perhaps her dreams were shattered when the Soviet Union collapsed at the beginning of 1990s.

But in 2004, Matviyenko could return to the career path that she became used to, after seeing in the Kremlin-backed United Russia party something familiar that she has missed in the years since the last communist left City Hall in 1991.

"United Russia has become a real political force in St. Petersburg," Matviyenko said last week at the official opening ceremony of the city branch office of United Russia.

"This is reflected in the constructive work of the party with the legislative and executive branches of power," she said. "This is a centrist party that grieves for the country."

As if without United Russia Matviyenko would not be able to grieve strongly enough about the country and the city that she was elected to grieve for.

She said she is thinking of joining United Russia.

"We are ready to accept Valentina Matviyenko in the party and believe it would be logical for her to become a member of the United Russia Supreme Council," said Vadim Tyulpanov, the Legislative Assembly speaker and head of the St. Petersburg branch of United Russia.

I believe Matviyenko has chosen the right way to develop her career, taking into account that if certain expectations are fulfilled the United Russia Supreme Council will in several years turn into an analog of the Politburo, or the Political Council of the Soviet Union, which was responsible for everything in U.S.S.R.

If that does indeed happen, she will be right at the top with a chance to repeat the achievement of Leonid Brezhnev, one the longest-serving CPSU leaders in Soviet history. Isn't that her secret dream?

All this, of course, is speculation and seems like it could be written for a political novel, such as George Orwell's "1984."

On the other hand, there is nothing speculative in saying that United Russia is taking over the role that was formerly that of the CPSU. In the Soviet era, the CPSU was call was called "the managing and guiding party."

Matviyenko doesn't care that United Russia, with all its devotion to President Vladimir Putin, its strong hierarchy of subservient bureaucrats and rejection of alternative points of view, has guided the country into the ditch.

Politicians in contemporary Russia have become quite used to the practice of treading on rakes without noticing. They have done this several times in a row already. And I am afraid, for his particular reason, there is no way that Matviyenko could be persuaded that being a United Russia member would hinder rather than help her in her job of heading City Hall.

For most of her adult life Matviyenko, 55, has worked inside Communist Party structures. It is unlikely that a person who graduated from the party's Academy for Public Sciences in 1985 is able to change her mind about the party's role in managing the public.

Unfortunately, the public has known this for quite some time.

When I first heard Matviyenko speaking publicly in St. Petersburg last year, after she was appointed to head the Northwest presidential representative office, I could not believe how many words from the vocabulary of a typical Communist party official she used. That vocabulary is still familiar to many people who remember Brezhnev's speeches on the three Soviet television channels.

Then there was an unpleasant echo in my ears, which, I'm afraid, is going to turn into a loud cacophony some time soon when United Russia becomes the only party and its members are given the sovereign right to rule the rest of us.

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