MOSCOW, Nov. 28 (UPI) -- A Moscow court's order to ban Rodina (Motherland bloc) from running candidates in the Dec. 4 local parliamentary election appears to signal that the Kremlin has had enough of its own creation. The conventional wisdom holds that the ban will only heighten the appeal of Rodina's extremist political rhetoric. Just the opposite will most likely happen.
Running a television ad clearly aimed to inflame passions about the country's lackluster immigration polices -- when images of the unrest in Paris on everyone's mind, Rodina made a final bid to increase its polls numbers prior to the December local Duma election. This bid has been nipped in the bud. Ironically, Russia's other nationalist party -- Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) headed by Vladimir Zhirinovsky -- was behind bringing Rodina to court for inciting racial hatred. It is reported that the LDPR has its own xenophobic television ad that has never been air, but its campaign leaflets are not much different from Rodina's television ad.
Rodina, headed by the well-spoken, charismatic, and good-looking Dmitri Rogozin, has had a checkered career since its inception in 2003. A Kremlin creation with a decidedly populist-nationalist outlook, Rodina's mission was to attract rank and file Communist Party voters to it own cause. The ploy worked better than expected -- in the December 2003 national parliamentary elections Rodina garnered the third highest number of votes. Not only were the number seats essentially "stolen" from the communists, but the election also saw the country's liberal parties' electorate list, Yabloko and the Union of Right Forces, shut out. During the course of a few months, the Kremlin created a powerful political party and politician with considerable popular appeal.
Rodina has always espoused easily discernable nationalist rhetoric. However, that nationalist rhetoric has evolved from call for greater social justice to its newest incarnation -- xenophobia and, judging by its overtly anti-immigrate television ad -- racism.
The call for greater social justice was directed against the handful of super-wealth individuals call the "oligarchs." Formed with Rogozin and "the people's economist" Sergei Glazyev as co-leaders and when the "Yukos Affair" started to play-out, Rodina called itself the "anti-oligarch" party attracting interest and, most importantly, votes. With the "Yuko Affair fading into the past, former Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovsky behind bars, and Russia's other resident oligarchs completely cowed, Rogozin lost his most important political calling card.
When Russian government moved to abolish Soviet-era social benefits in favor of cash payments at the start of the year, Rodina attempted to take advantage of the dissatisfaction of pensioners and other citizens on fixed incomes. As hundreds of thousands took to the streets in protest, Rogozin and other Rodina party notables staged a hunger strike in sympathy. Lashing out at the government for its poorly thought-out social policies - though always publicly loyal to President Vladimir Putin, Rodina was again in the public eye. However, being the public eye and in out-right opposition did not sit well with its original patrons in the Kremlin.
Rodina has afforded the Kremlin with some important advantages. Not only has the party attracted former communist voters, but it has also played the nationalist card defending Russia's real or imagined interests when believed threatened. This suited the Kremlin's plan to keep its own party -- United Russia -- focused on the nuts and bolts of economic reform. Rodina would be given the green light to stoke nationalist passion when necessary. Rogozin, however, has always wanted more. No one's fool or lackey, Rogozin apparently is convinced Rodina can and should be an independent political force in its own right. The Kremlin and United Russia see things differently.
In summer, the Kremlin started an operation to remind Rogozin that if he intended to go into complete opposition and on his own; he should not expect any help in his ambitious endeavor. The first part of this plan was to pay back Rogozin in is own style of party building. In a move not unlike Rogozin's maneuvering in 2004 to rid himself Glazyev as a competitor in the party, a faction of his party abandoned him and was warmly received by United Russia as the true representative of Rodina. Since then, the Rodina factions have patched up many of their differences, but the point was made: Support of Rogozin within his own bloc of parties is fragile.
The second and most recent test is the contest for seats in Moscow's local assembly -- seen as a primary for the nation-wide parliamentary vote in 2007. Moscow is Mayor Yuri Luzhkov's "company town." Luzhkov is also in the leadership of United Russia. Under recently passed legislation regarding the nomination of regional governors (the city of Moscow is considered a region), the president appoints the governor and the local assemble approves the appointment. Luzhkov, it is believed, intends to resign his current position in favor of leading the local assembly to approve the Kremlin's choice to govern Moscow. Rogozin, to put it politely, has gotten on the nerves of the Luzhkov, United Russia, and the Kremlin. This troika of "displeased" is a bad omen for Rogozin and Rodina.
Rogozin and the future of his party, at this point, are very much open to question. The conventional wisdom that the ban barring Rodina candidates to run in Sunday's Moscow election will only mobilize support is an overestimation. What the conventional wisdom fails to point out is the fact that other parties can and are perfectly willing to play the nationalist card to garner votes. Rogozin and his party are not unique when it comes to a strident nationalist message, but both used this message against the Kremlin for the own purposes. Rodina has run its course.
Peter Lavelle is a Moscow-based analyst who writes for RIA Novosti.