Moscow mayor given the boot, but will his replacement be any better?
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Russian president Dmitry Medvedev on Tuesday fired longstanding Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov, criticized for leaving on holiday while forest fires choked his city. But the opposition fears his successor,yet to be named by the Kremlin, will be just another government puppet.
Russian president Dmitry Medvedev on Tuesday fired longstanding Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov, criticised for staying on his holidays while forest fires choked the city. But the opposition fears his successor, yet to be named by the Kremlin, will be just another government puppet.
Luzhkov is one of Russia's longest standing - and most controversial - politicians. First elected in 1992, he was subsequently re-elected three times till 2003. In 2004, then President Vladimir Putin cancelled direct elections for regional governors and mayors following the bloody Beslan school siege, arguing that this would help combat terrorism and improve local administration. Luzhkov was, as a result, confirmed in his position by the Kremlin.
The 74-year-old mayor governed Moscow for over two decades with an iron fist. His supporters credit him with changing the Russian capital from a grim and grey Soviet city into a rich and modern metropolis, with luxurious new skyscrapers.
In the later years of his time in office, however, he was accused of destroying Moscow's historical heritage, neglecting the city's public transport system and repressing opposition and minority groups, in particular gays. He has also faced serious corruption allegations. Luzhkov's wife, Yelena Baturina, heads a construction company that has been granted many of the city's public construction projects. The rumour mill in Moscow bristled with stories that Luzhkov’s corruption was feeding his wife's immense fortune.
However, the mounting unpopularity of the mayor peaked in the summer, when Luzhkov departed for his holidays in the Austrian Alps while Moscow was blighted with an unprecedented heat wave and an enormous and choking ash cloud due to nearby forest fires.
In a city where demonstrations and protests are almost unheard due to the government’s strong somewhat repressive tendencies, several hundred opposition activists gathered at Bolotnaya Square near the Kremlin for the latest in several recent anti-Luzhov protests. The protestors waved banners declaring "Free elections for a new mayor" and "No to censorship" and demanded action to be taken.
Videos of anti-Luzhkov protests in September
Rally to call for Luzhkov's resignation and free elections for a new mayor. Bolotnaya Square, Moscow, September 25, 2010.
Gay picketing against Luzhkov in Moscow on September 21, 2010.
Police cancelling an unauthorised anti-Luhzkov rally on September 20, 2010.
"Our success will be complete only if we recover the right to elect our own mayor"
Ilya Yashin is one of the leaders of Solidarnost opposition movement. He participated in the protest on Bolotnaya square on Saturday.
I have both good and bad feelings about Medvedev's decision. Onthe one hand, Luzhkov had been mayor for too long, he should have left far earlier. On the other hand, the new mayor will be hand-picked by the Kremlin without consulting the people, and he probably won't be any better. Our main task today is to recover our right to elect our city's Mayor.
Nevertheless, there's more good than bad in Luzhkov's dismissal. The scale of Moscow's problems has reached a critical point. The level of corruption is absolutely ridiculous,local self-government is in shambles and transportation networks are crumbling. Right at this moment, I'm stuck in a traffic jam on my way home from the Domodedovo airport. My car has barely moved in the last 2.5 hours - Muscovites regularly find themselves in this kind of situation.
Those are the main problems, but there are many, many more, and nothing was being done about them. Although Luzkhov has a history of loyalty to the authorities, the scale of Moscow's problems was impossible to ignore, and the President had to fire him.
I don't overestimate the role of our protests in Luzkhov's dismissal, but I think our campaign at least had some influence. Mostly, however, his removal was due to his power struggle with the Kremlin. You could tell authorities had stopped backing him: state media were openly attacking him in recent days, which was new, and police did nothing to repress our protest at Bolotnaya Square.
Our success will be complete if we recover the right to elect our own mayor. Unfortunately, this is highly unlikely. The opposition in modern Russia has no rights, and no way to influence decision-making. All we can do is name the problems and draw people's attention to them. Nevertheless, we'll continue to fight our cause. Today, public opinion is "warmed up" and perhaps ready to listen to us. We can't wait to see what will happen next, or and who will be appointed mayor. It's time for the opposition to act."