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Johnson's Russia List


March 13, 1999    
This Date's Issues: 3087 3088  


Johnson's Russia List
13 March 1999

[Note from David Johnson:
Catching up.
1. Russ McGinnis-Helping young woman.
2. Cameron Sawyer: Germany and Russia/Gunars Reinis.
4. T. S. White: Re: 3085/Response Sexual Harassment, Russian Style.
5. Adrian Helleman: Response to Radley (JRL 3084).
6. Vladimir Shlapentokh: Will Russia Pass the Democratic Test in 2000?]


Date: Fri, 12 Mar 1999 
From: Russ McGinnis <> 
Subject: JRL #3086

I read the account of the young woman in Ekaterinburg
who was blinded by a robber's gunshot. I propose a
divagation from the emblematic onanism of the List
to the purpose of doing something useful:
If the story is true, then why can't the young woman
learn to operate a computer in the travel industry?

And why can't we help her? You know, show a handful
of Russians that somebody gives a damn. This will
likely mean that I don't get new vanity plates for
the SUV, but I'm willing to pledge $20/mo for a year
to help her eat and get a computer and get trained.

It's not like the List is above concerning itself
with the fate of an anonymous wretch; I know from
my calculus-tutoring days that none of the ethereal
intellects went into the social sciences. The irony
is that they would be the first to help.

Russ McGinnis
Engineer. Unaffiliated. 


Date: Fri, 12 Mar 1999
From: Cameron Sawyer <> 
Subject: Germany and Russia/Gunars Reinis

The difference being that Nazi Germany in 1945 was a defeated state
occupied by foreign armies, and Russia is not. It's important not to get
carried away with the idea that the Cold War was a war in the sense that
WWII was - it wasn't. In many ways it's easier to build a state on the
ashes of a totally destroyed one, where you have more or less benevolent
foreign powers to design it for you. The Soviet state was not destroyed in
1991, it was modified and restructured, a much more complicated process.


From: "vetal" <> 
Date: Fri, 12 Mar 1999 
Subject: The Left in a Siberian City

#By Renfrey Clarke
#NOVOSIBIRSK, Russia - There's not a great deal of joy in being a worker in
Russia, and things are harder still if you aren't in the relatively
well-off capital, but out in the provinces. It makes a big difference,
though, if you can get a handle on the real meaning of what's happening in
the country. And if you can join in waging a political fight for
working-class interests - well, you may not eat better, but the
psychological pay-off can be enormous.
#Those, perhaps, are some of the reasons why left-wing activism continues
even in some of the most remote corners of Russia. Not that Novosibirsk,
where I have spent the past few weeks, is exactly the sticks. With about a
million and a half people, it is the largest city in Siberia, and a key
centre of education and science.
#In Soviet times, Novosibirsk was also one of the hubs of the country's
high-tech manufacturing. This point, though, is a sore one. Near where I
have been staying is a defence plant which once turned out fighter planes
at the rate of twelve a month. In 1998 it produced just three aircraft, and
wages at the plant have not been paid for two years. 
#The collapse of the high-tech sector is one of the reasons why, in the
1996 presidential elections, a majority of voters in Novosibirsk Province
opted for the candidate of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation
(KPRF). In both the provincial and city assemblies, Communists hold solid
blocs of seats.
#The KPRF, however, should not necessarily be identified with the left.
With its strong legislative presence in Novosibirsk, and about 4000 paid-up
members in the city, the party is in a position to keep the local
authorities under heavy pressure on issues such as social services and the
payment of "budget sector" wages. But forces to the KPRF's left complain
that the party's deputies have long since reconciled themselves to
capitalism, and are more interested in trading influence within the local
administration than in defending workers.
#Not all the city's oppositionists have been so readily tamed. Novosibirsk
has at least five emphatically anti-capitalist political parties and
groups, with a combined membership of perhaps 300 people. Another
significant left presence is the local organisation of the Union of
Officers, made up of opposition-minded retired military personnel. A number
of small trade unions are also aligned with the left.
#Considering how many people in Novosibirsk live barely above starvation
level, the size and political impact of the committed left is surprisingly
small. The reasons why angry workers in Russia do not, for the most part,
flock into left-wing parties are diverse and go far back into the history
of Soviet times. A major obstacle for the left, however, is simply the
poverty that made workers angry in the first place. 
#For Russian workers, even the bus fare needed if they are to get to
meetings can be hard to find. For the parties they might join, membership
dues cannot be a large source of income. Nor can literature sales, since
newspapers can only occasionally be sold rather than given away. For
expenses such as rent, telephone bills and printing costs, left
organisations usually depend on a few supporters who have higher incomes
and can make donations.
#A further brake on the growth of the Russian left, in Novosibirsk and
elsewhere, is the fact that large numbers of workers lack the time for
political activity. To keep themselves and their families, they have to
hold down two or even three jobs. 
#But with capitalism discredited in Russia, and the ruling authorities
widely hated, the failure of the left to grow impressively cannot be put
down solely to practical difficulties. The decisive reasons have to be
#Even in a city as large as Novosibirsk, left political activists remain
almost completely isolated from the international left and its debates
(something brought home to me by the fact that my presence at various
gatherings over the past few weeks has been a real event). Few good
historical materials are to be had, especially in Russian. Marxism-Leninism
to most Novosibirsk leftists therefore remains the skewed, selective
version found in Brezhnev-era party primers. 
#Not surprisingly, the reasons why Soviet socialism and the USSR itself
were quickly and deliberately dismantled are baffling to most people on the
Novosibirsk left. And the things that activists cannot understand
themselves, they cannot explain persuasively to others.
#Compared to the perplexities of the 1980s and 1990s, the politics of the
Stalin era seem to many leftists to be agreeably straightforward. But if
nostalgia for Stalinist times is comforting to the old, it is repellent to
the young. And of course, the unrepentant Stalinism of various groups on
the Novosibirsk left (including the largest, the Russian Communist Workers
Party) is seized upon by liberal propagandists out to brand the whole left
as totalitarian.
#The fact that the main political experience of most Novosibirsk leftists
has been in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union appears in their
organisational habits. Among the former military officers in particular,
unquestioning submission to orders from above is seen as a definite
political virtue. The result is that the left parties, as well as having a
dogmatist cast, tend to be marred by rigid hierarchism in their internal
regimes. With internal party democracy ill-developed and poorly understood,
political differences have been expressed in factionalism and recurrent
#It should not be thought, though, that the post-Soviet left in Novosibirsk
has achieved nothing. Left-wing news-sheets are published semi-regularly in
the city, and though often turgid reading, they provide a vehicle for
bitter criticism of the new capitalist order. Opposition demonstrations
each year on May 1 and November 7, the anniversary of the 1917 revolution,
draw about 10,000 participants. During 1998 Novosibirsk leftists twice
organised actions in support of the "rail wars", when unpaid miners and
other workers in the nearby Kuzbass region blocked rail lines. 
#And on January 23 this year, left activists from Novosibirsk were among
more than 150 delegates at a remarkable congress of representatives of
labour collectives, strike committees and workers' councils from Siberia
and the Urals. Held under tight police surveillance in the Kuzbass city of
Anzhero-Sudzhensk, the congress heard the call for a shift from
parliamentarism to active workers' struggle. A Council of Workers of
Siberia was elected, and a decision was taken to support only those
political parties that joined actively in defending workers' rights. 
#Even the characteristic failings of the left groups in Novosibirsk are
being addressed. Surrounded by piles of books in a run-down apartment, a
former research scientist and philosophy teacher (nameless at his request)
chairs meetings of an analytical group. How does the crisis in Russia
reflect the evolution of capitalism outside the country's borders? And what
did the founders of Russian Marxism really think about the internal regime
needed in a workers' party? The participants in the group are searching for
#Meanwhile, tertiary education lecturer Aleksandr Glazunov is the moving
spirit in an Inter-Party Initiative Committee of Communists.
Representatives of five left organisations gather weekly to conduct
dialogue, hoping to clarify differences and perhaps, overcome them.
#It is fair to conclude, however, that when rapid growth of the Novosibirsk
left begins, it will not be led by veterans of Soviet socialism but by
younger activists whose political experience dates essentially from the
1990s, and whose sense of the international heritage of the left is keen.
In Novosibirsk, such people are grouped in the local organisation of the
Russian Communist Union of Youth, known by the abbreviation "Komsomol". 
#With about 70 members in Novosibirsk Province, and 40 or so in the city
itself, the Komsomol is among the larger of the local left organisations.
It has one deputy in the provincial legislature. 
#Linked in earlier times to the KPRF, the Komsomol now insists bluntly on
its independence. According to Yevgenia Polinovskaya, a Novosibirsk history
lecturer who coordinates the Komsomol's work in Siberia, the falling-out
with the KPRF reflected disagreement by young radicals with the party's
right-wing course, opposition to its growing nationalist bent, and anger at
KPRF interference in the Komsomol's internal affairs. When Polinovskaya ran
as a Komsomol candidate in elections for the provincial legislature in
December 1997, the KPRF refused to back her campaign, running a non-party
factory director against her.
#Much of the activity of Novosibirsk Komsomol members centres on their
paper <I>Novosibirsky Komsomolets,<D> which appears four or five times a
year. Interesting and well-produced, the paper is by far the best literary
offering of the local left. With about a third of its members students, the
Komsomol also works to develop the student movement and to promote actions
in defence of education. In addition, it conducts its own political
education work, with activities such as discussion camps and debates with
other political tendencies.
#Alone on the Novosibirsk left, the Komsomol presents itself as an
internationalist current. Its search for lessons and examples outside the
Soviet and Russian experience is carried on largely through the Internet,
where it has a web page ( 
#Leftists in Siberia are not short of courage or devotion. To pack into a
decrepit Moskvich car and drive hundreds of kilometres in minus-thirty
temperatures, and then to spend a day conferring in an unheated cinema
beset by police, would test the mettle of most Western radicals. 
#The shortcomings which hold the Siberian left back are different, rooted
in the areas of program and method. Until now, the authorities have been
able to assume that the errors of the left would rule it out of account
indefinitely as a potential mass opposition. But that assumption may soon
cease to be justified.


Date: Thu, 11 Mar 1999
From: "T. S. White" <>
Subject: Re: 3085/Response Sexual Harassment, Russian Style by John Varoli 

I do not wish to diminish the problem of sexual harassment either
in America or in Russia but this article is so poorly founded that
it offends me. The author justifies his condemnation of the
Russian culture beginning with the uncorroborated statements of
one woman. This in itself prejudices the article's intent and
compromises the author's journalistic integrity. 

In the incident that begins the article the author generalizes the
problem by stating, "In the case of Tanya, the aggressor - her
boss - believed he could get away with behavior in Russia that he
knew he would be unacceptable in Europe."

To me this kind of short sighted generalization only belies the
fact that the author has a poor comprehension of the scope and
depth of the problem. Mr. Varoli has apparently either avoided
spending time in Amsterdam or Paris, or is convinced he can
artificially ascribe American legal values to the cultures of the
rest of the world. The fact is that American values toward sexual
behavior are more or less unique to America. Yet the author
approaches the threshold of recognizing this when he states, "Yet,
most Russians, especially women, feel that America has gone
overboard on the issue, especially concerning the escapades of
U.S. President Bill Clinton which have lead to his impeachment." 
While Mr. Varoli condescends to make this statement he does
nothing to justify its inclusion in the article.

I would like to at least give Mr. Varoli the support of my first
hand discussions with Russian female executives. On my recent
trip to St. Petersburg I discussed the impeachment trial with top
female executives in a Russian bank. Their unanimous opinion was
that Americans were making absolute fools of themselves, in the
eyes of the international community, by prosecuting/persecuting
their President for what are considered to be private affairs in
the rest of the western world.

These female banking executives did validate Mr. Varoli's
statement, "American feminism and obsession with stamping out
sexual harassment has
poisoned relations between men and women in your country,". These
executives were quick to condemn the attitudes of American women
toward their men. These executives were also in a position to
understand the attitudes they criticized since they are in regular
contact with the wives of their American male counterparts. It
seems they do not encounter many American female bank executives
on assignment in Russia.

The disdain that Russian women hold for the attitudes of American
feminists is not some male generated urban myth. I have had
similar criticisms of American feminists echoed to me by female
legislators, in the St. Petersburg Legislature, and several
Russian female executives in the social services. There seems to
be an almost unanimous attitude among Russian women executives
that American women have committed a gross injustice on American
men and the American family. Only for the sake of clarification,
I will trivialize their statements by observing that none of the
women I spoke to were mini skirted, hip swinging, and alluring
twentyish. They were in fact what you would expect to observe in
any American firm: well dressed, professional, educated, and

To lend some credence to his article Mr. Varoli quotes a local
feminist psychologist saying, 'Many women are afraid of revenge
from their aggressor, the lack of legal basis for defense, or that
they will lose their job if they fight back," said Khodyreva.' 
Apparently neither Mr. Varoli or the psychologist have explored
the subject far enough to strike upon the existence of the Russian
"Krisha". Krisha is a native Russian "Roof", or protection
agency, as it may be called in the west. This is another
component of Russian culture I am certain Mr. Varoli would be
quick to criticize. However, a large percentage of Russian
citizens, including most young attractive women, employ Krisha to
protect themselves and their belongings. All they need to do, if
they encounter sexual harassment on the job, is to call their
Krisha. Their boss will be approached and suffer grave financial,
if not direct physical, loss. This will occur not because of some
workings of the Russian judicial system but because of the Russian
Cultural System.

The crux of the problem Mr. Varoli has is that he fails to
recognize that Russia, like America, is a unique culture. He
seems to believe that he can project American values onto a
culture that is four times older than America. His belief that
Russian Culture is to become nothing more than an extension of
American values is both naive and self righteous. I would suggest
that Mr. Varoli attempt to become more of a part of the culture he
lives and works in. If he does that he will surely come to
understand how it works and to appreciate the way in which it
strives to equalize everyone.


Date: Thu, 11 Mar 1999 
From: Adrian Helleman <> 
Subject: Response to Radley (JRL 3084)

Since Philippe D. Radley (JRL 3084 #7) criticized me on JRL, I want to
respond to him publicly as well. The distinction between public and private
is a valid one. For example, he could have responded to me privately. To
limit religion to the private sphere, however, as he does ("Religion-based
morality is personal, not public"), is a serious mistake, in my opinion.
Radley and I obviously disagree on this.

The main point that I wanted to make in my previous submission was that
Russia needs a new morality, if it is to come out of the economic and
political pit it is now in. Religion plays an important role in developing
morality. I agree with him that religion does not have a regulative task
("Religion can guide us in our personal behavior, but to look to it to
regulate public behavior is to ask of it what it cannot do"), but I never
claimed that it does. Religion does not govern or control public behavior
in a coercive fashion, nor should it. It is formative, however, in the sense
that it helps to shape behavior, public as well as private. Private
behavior can and does have enormous public consequences. In Russia is the
behavior of the so-called "oligarchs" purely private? In the US is
Clinton's behavior only a private matter? I do not want to deal with the
constitutional crisis the US recently faced, but I do want to explain that
this problem is not solved by erecting a wall between what is private and
what is public. Certain types of behavior are inappropriate and
unacceptable in both areas. There is a door which connects them.

I disagree with Radley's claim ("I have no doubt that there are moral people
in Russia today, but their personal morality cannot provide public
standards, unless those standards are codified into laws and regulations,
that have both juridical and executive strength") on several grounds.
Personal morality does not have to provide a public standard, but it can be
a model for others. Morality does not need to be codified to have an
enormous public influence. A system of morality underlies any legal code,
which makes we wonder why Radley sees law as the solution to Russia's
problems ("Russia will have a working economy, when it has a working legal
system, not before"). Without a morality, both public and private, there
will not be a viable legal system here. Russia already has laws; only they
are applied in an uneven fashion. Thus even in law there is a need for

Adrian A. Helleman, Ph.D.
Moscow State University
Faculty of Philosophy


Date: Wed, 10 Mar 1999 
From: Vladimir Shlapentokh <> 
Subject: Will Russia Pass the Democratic Test in 2000? 

Will Russia Pass the Democratic Test in 2000?
By Vladimir Shlapentokh
Professor of Sociology at Michigan State University. 

New democratic societies face a critical test during the transition of
power from one leader to the next. Some post Communist regimes have passed
this test and some have not. In Kazakhstan, for instance, the January 1999
presidential election could scarcely be distinguished from the procedures
held in the Soviet past. Nursultan Nazarbaiev ("the father of the nation")
easily removed his most serious rival from the election. While maintaining
complete control over the media, Nazarbaiev captured 82 percent of the vote.
With the historic test of democratic stability now impending in Russia,
tension and despondency marks the political climate and the people's
impressions of the December 1999 parliamentary elections and particularly
the June 2000 presidential election. Considering the gravity of Yeltsin's
protracted illness, the timetable of presidential transition remains
uncertain. Regardless of Yeltsin's bill of health, however, the chances for
a smooth conversion are moderate at best. Premier Minister Evgenii Primakov
recently initiated the "Non Aggression Pre-election Pact" between the
executive power and legislators in hopes of stabilizing the shaky political
and economic landscape for the coming elections. Another sign of the
advancing storm is the deep concern of Russian politicians about the
reliability of the current election laws.
The August financial crisis sharpened the public's pessimistic mood.
According to the All-Russian Center of Public Opinion, 37 percent of the
population evaluated 1997 as a "very difficult" year; in 1998, this
percentage rose to 83 percent. Objective data on the declining Russian
economy show that the gloomy attitude of the population is not
media-induced, but a real component of everyday life. The number of
Russians living below the poverty line increased from 18 percent in late
1996, to 30 percent at the end of 1998. There is a consensus among Russians
that without Western aid, vulnerable groups in several regions will face
hunger. Food lines have reemerged in the province. Rumors have circulated
about an anticipated shortage of grain and potatoes in the spring, a few
months prior to the harvest. Western humanitarian aid has become the only
hope for an increasing number of Russians.
If there is a faint strain of optimism running through the people, it
derives from the prospect of change in the Kremlin. Most Russians (no less
than two-thirds) expect the new leader to undertake a radical revision of
privatization and send dozens of corrupt officials and businesspeople
(particularly those in Yeltsin's inner circles) to prison. The prospective
master of the Kremlin is also expected to shift his attention to the
millions of people living in poverty.
With the Russian economy showing no sign of immediate recovery, the
Communist and nationalist opposition see the upcoming elections as a
favorable opportunity to seize power. Clearly the opposition is determined
to force major transformations in Russian life. At a press conference in
early February 1999, Communist Party leader Genadii Ziuganov spoke of the
changes he would make after he assumed power. Ziuganov openly threatened
his enemies, particularly journalists, with future repressions "if they fail
to reach international airports in time." The State Duma's aggressive
attack on President Yeltsin continues despite his inclusion of Communists in
the government. The ongoing process of impeachment generates anxiety among
Yeltsin and his advisors, even if impeachment, itself, is unlikely given the
constitutional hurdles involved with reaching such a verdict. While the
opposition advances, the Kremlin is far from backing down. Oleg Sysuev,
first deputy of the head of the presidential administration, vowed to use
the might of his office, evidently without regard to law, to counter the
opposition in the future elections.
The Russian elite have the most to lose from a dramatic shift in
leadership. The personality of the new leader will determine the winners
and losers of the new regime. Serious presidential candidates include
Evgenii Primakov, Gennadii Ziuganov, Yurii Luzhkov and Alexander Lebed.
Primakov, in his capacity as chairman of the government, delivered a warning
to the political and economic elite when he launched a crackdown on
corruption. Among other things, the former minister of justice, Valentin
Kovalev, was arrested; security forces raided several firms of Boris
Berezovsky (a financial mogul, considered the "cashier" of the Yeltsin
family); and a criminal case was brought against Abel Aganbegian, the
"untouchable" academician known for his feverish illegal activities.
Primakov's threat to the elite escalated when he announced, at the meeting
of the government in February 1999, that ninety thousand criminals will be
given amnesty so that the vacant cells can be filled with "economic
Another important factor which exacerbates the nervous political and
economic climate is the clear and undeniable emergence of Nazism in the
country. Antisemitic graffiti has become commonplace in subways and other
public areas throughout Russia. In late 1998, antisemitic statements
resounded from the halls of the State Duma when both General Albert Makashov
and Victor Iliukhin (chairman of a leading committee in the Duma) made rude,
antisemitic remarks, which were practically endorsed by the left majority of
the parliament. Only adding to the problem, the intensity of xenophobia
reached new heights in several articles published by the well-circulated,
Communist newspaper, Sovietskaia Rossia. In the past, unlike the extremist
publication Zavtra, Sovietskaia Rossia was less abusive toward Jews and
Azerbaijans (another group despised by many Russians). Alexander
Barkashov's party, "Russian National Unity," with its Nazi ideology, has
many regional branches and numerous sympathizers in the army, security
agencies, police forces, courts and attorney generals' offices. A growing
concern is the party's strong appeal to young people, who are attracted by
its collectivistic power, Nazi uniforms, military discipline and organized
sports leagues. On January 31, 1999, 200 members of this party brandished
their Nazi insignias and marched through the northern district of Moscow
without permission from city officials. The police not only allowed the
procession, but a highly ranked officer made a public apology when a few of
his subordinates tried to check the demonstrators for documentation. What
is more disturbing, according to the December 1998 survey conducted by the
All Russian Center of Public Opinion Studies, 43 percent of the Russians
supported the slogan, "Russia for Russians"; a February 1999 survey by the
Fund of Public Opinion found that 25 percent expressed direct or indirect
sympathy for Russian Nazis.
Amidst the deteriorating economic conditions, the constant struggle between
the Kremlin and the parliament, the political uncertainties surrounding the
future head of state, and the rise of extremist groups and xenophobia, there
has been an evident regression from the observance of democratic rules in
Russia. As the political journalist, Vitalii Tretiakov noted, "democratic
institutions in Russia started degenerating before they began to mature."
Increasingly, the power holders in Moscow and in the province mimic
democracy rather than enforcing it. The imitation of democracy is cemented
in the Soviet past. The members of the Soviet nomenclature were the
virtuosi of democratic mimicry; for instance, they carried out "free"
elections with only one candidate on the ballot. At the same time, there
are many politicians who reject even mimicry and suggest that some
democratic institutions simply do not work in Russia. Among other things,
they cite the "mistake" of holding gubernatorial elections and call for a
return to the old bureaucratic order which provided governors by the
center's appointment. Many ordinary Russians also believe that Russia is
unfit for democracy, so long as it remains economically weak and controlled
by a corrupt bureaucracy. Another public concern with respect to Russia's
fledgling democracy is the prospect of a Communist or nationalist takeover
through either a fair, or rigged election.
The first and most dramatic sign of democratic erosion befell in October
1993 with Yeltsin's bombing of the parliament building as a solution to his
political disputes. In the same year, a controversy emerged over the
December referendum of the new constitution. For the referendum to go
through, it required the participation of at least 50 percent of the voting
public. Several respected experts suspected that the number of participants
was inflated by the Kremlin in order to propel the constitution's
endorsement. In any case, the Kremlin clearly violated the law when it
refused to publish the regional data on the number of people who
participated in the referendum.
In 1996, while the breaches of democracy were less theatrical, the end
results were equally destructive to Russia's democratic development. By
spring, the Kremlin feared that a dissatisfied populace would elect the
Communist leader, Ziuganov, as president. Many liberal politicians,
intellectuals, and leading businesspeople shared this concern. Individuals
within the Yeltsin milieu (such as the presidential bodyguard and confidant
Alexander Korzhakov and Premier Minister Victor Chernomyrdin) insisted on
canceling the election by any means necessary. The progovernment media
published one article after another, spouting advise to the Kremlin on how
to cancel the election. Thirteen Russian oligarches, including Boris
Berezovsky, Vladimir Gusinsky, and Mikhail Khodorkovsky, published a letter
addressed to Yeltsin and his rival, Ziuganov, which made a weakly veiled
recommendation to cancel the election for the sake of social peace in the
An important, yet largely unknown event transpired in March 1996 when the
special police force OMON seized the State Duma for the weekend.
Considering the tragic events surrounding the parliament takeover in 1993,
Yeltsin apparently wanted to suppress a second takeover before it occurred.
Yeltsin's seizure of the parliament building provided a clear approximation
of how imminently close he was from disbanding the Duma and canceling the
election. In the end, a group of the president's advisors, headed by
Anatolii Chubais, convinced Yeltsin that he could win the election.
Rather than canceling the election, Yeltsin's staff manipulated its
executive power in blatant violation of democratic laws and procedures.
Chubais's people amassed a fantastic election fund, exhausting an estimated
one billion dollars during the campaign. Compare this to President
Clinton's reelection campaign expenditures of 113 million dollars, and the
legally-prescribed, 2.9 million dollar expenditure cap on Yeltsin's 1996
campaign, and it becomes obvious that gross violations of law were
committed. During the campaign, Yeltsin exercised his almost complete
monopoly over the TV media. What is more, the Kremlin secretly supported
the candidacy of General Alexander Lebed in order to shave votes from
Ziuganov. With Lebed's endorsement, Yeltsin would capture his votes in the
second round.
The Yeltsin campaign made other illegal maneuvers to ensure its victory.
With Ziuganov trailing Yeltsin by a slim margin (3 percent) after the first
round, the Kremlin ordered the regional leaders to guarantee a favorable
vote. As a result, several voting peculiarities transpired at the regional
level. For example, both candidates who enter the second round of an
election should invariably receive more votes than they had in the first.
As is true for any election, the two top candidates amass additional votes
as losing candidates drop from the election platform. Ziuganov, however,
received fewer votes in the second round in several republics (Tatarstan,
Bashkorstan and Dagestan, among others). This voting irregularity can be
contributed to the Kremlin's sharp demands on the regional leadership, the
regional leaders' direct pressure on the population, and likely the
falsification of voting outcomes. As the Moscow journalist, Yulia Kalinina,
noted a few years later, "The leaders of the regions were taken to task
after the first round and they did everything possible and impossible to
guarantee Yeltsin's victory." Unable to provide Yeltsin with the same
number of votes as his counterparts in the neighboring republics of
Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, the president of the Republic of Chuvashia,
Nikolai Fedorov, extended his resignation to the Kremlin shortly after the
Yeltsin's ability to manipulate regional leaders made a decisive impression
on the contemporary political scene. With the 2000 elections in mind,
today's Russian politicians recall the 1996 election experience and
acknowledge, in the words of a Moscow political analyst, that "without the
local barons, a presidential election victory is impossible."
Since 1996, several similar degradations of election procedure occurred
throughout the Russian political landscape. The December 1997 elections of
the Moscow Duma practically duplicated the tenor of the 1996 presidential
election. Mayor Luzhkov's control over city officials, his media monopoly
and vast financial resources, literally preordained the results of the
elections. Luzhkov assembled a local parliament comprised almost entirely
of puppet deputies.
The 1998 presidential election in Bashkortostan was conducted in a
quasi-Soviet style. Murtaz Rakhmonov, the incumbent president of this
republic, went so far as to mobilize the local police to dissuade
presidential contenders along with their adherents. His people harassed and
in some cases physically harmed journalists from the opposition's newspapers
and radio stations. 
The election campaigns in several other Russian regions in 1998 were
similar to the circumstances in Moscow and Bashkortostan. The incumbent
leaders in the Orel region, Kabardino-Balkaria and Mordovia all enjoyed
"landslide" victories, capturing the "Soviet-style" majority with 90 percent
of the votes.
In the cities of Leninsk-Kuznetsk and Nizhnii Novgorod, the results of the
1998 mayoral elections were nullified by an order sent down from Moscow. As
it turned out, the victorious candidates had criminal pasts. However, the
people were far less distraught over the unscrupulous histories of the
candidates than they were over the Kremlin's blatant and effortless
intervention in the election process. In January 1999, the results of the
local Duma elections in Vladivostok were also proclaimed invalid. The
governor of the Maritime Territory, Evgenii Nazdratenko, nullified the
results after his arch rival, Victor Cherepkov (the former mayor of
Vladivostok), led his election block to victory.
The December 1998 elections of the local Duma in St. Petersburg (the city
with the highest devotion to democracy) were replete with corrupt candidates
vying for power with shameless "election technologies." Candidates bought
votes (an easy task in a country filled with millions of homeless and hungry
people), confused the electorate by doubling the names of their rivals on
the ballot (this divided the opponent's votes), organized crude provocations
(a candidate hired someone to make an appalling public impersonation of his
opponent distributing gifts only to non Russian children), and maligned
their opponents with various unfounded insinuations (for instance, charges
of collusion between the opponent and foreign special services). The major
instigator of campaign corruption was one Vladimir Yakovlev, mayor of St.
Petersburg. Similar to Mayor Luzhkov's shady performance during the
December 1997 elections of the Moscow Duma, Mayor Yakovlev utilized the
political and financial might of the city authorities in his attempt to
eliminate oppositional candidates from the Duma. Criminal organizations
were also involved in the election campaign, rendering aid to those
candidates who promised a variety of benefits in return. Despite the
blatant violations of law, neither the Central Election Commission, nor the
local courts punished those candidates who made the second Russian capital
look like a criminal bacchanalia.
The official endorsement of the sham election in Kazakhstan, with Primakov
attending Nursultan Nazarbayev's inauguration, illuminated, once again, the
Russian leaders' deep indifference toward democratic procedures. As the
Moscow newspaper, Novaia Gazeta, reported, "only those with a very cynical
conscience can describe the Nazarbayev reelection as democratic."
The general political climate in Russia can be described in short by the
Latin adage, "bellum omnium contra omnes" (war of every man against every
man). The people see the political establishment as a hodgepodge of
unscrupulous individuals fighting among themselves for money and power.
Sixty-three percent of the Russians labeled the political establishment
"corrupt and criminal" (only 13 percent characterized Soviet politicians
with the same terms). President Yeltsin, himself, has only solidified this
general perspective. His perfidious behavior toward his closest allies and
his readiness to betray anyone who lacks an immediate value has contributed
to the virulent political climate. A deeply suspicious and uneasy political
atmosphere explains why politicians cannot strike an alliance. Considering
the already severe political fragmentation in Russia, this universal
mistrust between politicians and their complete inability to establish
amiable concessions forebode instability in the 1999 and 2000 elections.
Indeed, there are almost 300 political parties and organizations in Russia,
but not a single political party can claim more than 15 percent of the
voting public, and no one presidential candidate enjoys the support of more
than 20 percent of the population. The January 1999 survey conducted by the
Fund of Public Opinion assigns the national popularity of the major
political parties as follows: Communist Party, 22 percent; Luzhkov's
"Fatherland," 15 percent; Yavlinsky's "Yabloko," 15 percent. Other parties
garnered fewer votes, including Egor Gaidar's party, which is supported by 1
percent of the population, and the new liberal party known as "Right Cause,"
also supported by 1 percent. Within the current political makeup, no party,
including the Communist Party, has even a remote chance of winning the
majority of votes in the parliamentary elections.
At the same time, the January 1999 survey conducted by the Fund of Public
Opinion found that the most popular individual candidate, Premier Minister
Evgenii Primakov, is only supported by 16 percent of the population.
Ziuganov enjoys second place in the popularity polls with a 15 percent
rating; Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov has a 13 percent popularity rating; all
other potential candidates maintain considerably smaller shares of the vote.
The elite's contempt for the masses also bears significance with respect to
the coming elections. Major political actors from all camps (liberal,
Communist and nationalist) lack sincere respect for the voice of the people.
Unable to attain support from the "vox populi," politicians on all sides
turn their heads in disgust, claiming that the ordinary Russian simply does
not understand his own interests, that he is a coward who will not step
forward against the "enemy." Such an attitude only justifies unfair and
illegal means for achieving political ends. Most politicians believe that
big money is the only "quality" needed for a successful election campaign.
They are certain that anyone can be elected for any position if they have
sufficient financial resources.
The cynicism of the mass media is a powerful factor which downgrades the
election process in the eyes of the public. According to a January 1999
survey conducted by the Fund of Public Opinion, less than one third of the
Russians "trusted" the media. No one in Russia disputes the fact that the
media is completely and unscrupulously manipulated by the owners of media
corporations. Financial moguls decide who will be supported, and who will
be criticized in the spheres of business and politics. They also determine
how newspapers and television present the current news. The recent
publication of the taped conversation between Boris Berezovsky and the
leading anchorman for ORT, Sergei Dorenko, revealed how decisively
oligarches control the news. Berezovsky, the owner of the media corporation
under which Dorenko serves, literally dictated the text of a news program
that would be aired on the following day.
From the ordinary citizen to the most experienced expert, the Russians do
not believe that honest elections are possible. The former deputy premier
minister and governor, Boris Nemtsov, who is well-versed in the "political
technologies" employed in both Moscow and the province, predicts that the
presidential election "will inevitably be dishonest."
To accurately predict what will happen before, during and after the
elections, is as difficult as it is risky. There are several major factors
which will have a direct influence on the election outcome including: the
magnitude of economic development; the public's tolerance of economic
hardships; Yeltsin's health; the political activity and health of the
seventy-year-old Primakov; Yeltsin's relationship with Primakov and other
leading Russian politicians; the activity of the State Duma with its leftist
majority; the power struggle among the various presidential candidates; the
activity of regional leaders and major oligarches; and the attitudes of the
masses toward politicians and their readiness to defend democracy.
Within the existing political climate, the chances for a smooth transition
and honest elections in 1999 and 2000 are indeed slim. However, a calm,
honest, and undisputed election should not be excluded as one of the
potential scenarios of Russia's democratic development. A more probable
course of events would include a sort of debauched election, harking back to
1996. Following a shadowy campaign and an election tainted with numerous
irregularities, the public would reluctantly accept the winning candidate
and the country would move forward having avoided major disturbances.
Another scenario supposes the postponement of the presidential and
parliamentary elections ad infinitum. This is considered a possible
development by the former President Mikhail Gorbachev. Such a scenario
could occur if Yeltsin was still in power in the spring of 2000. A new
economic crisis or public disturbance would enhance Yeltsin's opportunity to
cancel the election. He might decide that the best thing for him and his
family is a sort of constitutional coup and the installation of emergency
rule. As a Moscow journalist noted, "Yeltsin's major preoccupation is his
own political and physical security and not at all the numerous economic and
political problems in his country." None of the potential candidates,
including Primakov, are friendly to Yeltsin or his family. Considering his
extremely low prestige (less than 3 percent "trusted" Yeltsin in February
1999), the president is worthless as a political asset in the coming
elections. As Yuri Levada, the prominent sociologist remarked, "Yeltsin's
blessing would prove fateful for any candidate." Meanwhile, following the
power-transition, Yeltsin and his family could face criminal charges for the
litany of their illegal activities. It was no accident when the opposition
media made references to the conviction of former South Korean Presidents
Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo on corruption charges in 1996. 
If Nikolai Bordiuzha, a strong-willed general and former member of the KGB,
remains the head of Yeltsin's administration, he could invoke a national
emergency and cancel the election. The same enterprise could be initiated
by any general (perhaps General Leded) who is able to secure the Kremlin's
confidence. Under temporary, military rule, the general would become the
regent of the country. A careful consideration of the Roman and Byzantine
empires reminds us that anyone close to the head of state during a time of
power-transition is a serious candidate for the throne.
If Primakov were ousted by Yeltsin, cancellation would become more likely.
The parliament would vigorously protest, Yeltsin would counter with a
complete dismissal of the parliament, turmoil would ensue, giving Yeltsin
provocation for canceling the election. It should be duly noted that even
if Yeltsin fails to complete his term (due to poor health, or a new economic
catastrophe), any succeeding leader may also be inclined to cancel the
election, considering the uncertainties of a free election.
A different scenario portends a change of election procedure. The idea of
altering election procedures has floated around Russia for some time,
another sign of the country's gradual departure from the democratic model.
Mikhail Prusak, a prominent liberal politician and governor of Novgorod,
bluntly declared that "the masses do not have the ability to control power."
He contends that the national election should be rejected, and that the
responsibility of electing officials should be left solely "to
businesspeople." Interestingly enough, Ziuganov, a fierce enemy of Prusak's
party, agrees with Prusak that the national election should be replaced with
an alternative selection process. Ziuganov, however, believes the process
should be conducted by a political body such as the Federal Council, or a
sort of constituent assembly.
The last scenario supposes that regardless of who wins the presidential
election, the victors would constitute the only group that acknowledges the
results. With such a wide dispersion of political interests, each losing
candidate would maintain the support of some section of the voting public.
The supporters on the losing sides would quickly declare the election
results a fraud, triggering mass political unrest and further fragmentation.
For this reason, the leading Moscow journalist, Leonid Krutakov, believes
the most critical events will transpire not before, but after the election
results are declared, in the hub of the society's reaction. In the
aftermath of a rigged election, or a complete annulment, the country would
slip gradually into a turbulent political environment that would make the
current circumstances in Russia look calm. Under these conditions, mass
chaos would ensue along with anarchic tendencies in the province and the
installation of a xenophobic, military dictatorship, which would be accepted
by a population yearning for order.
The West's ability to influence the political and economic processes in
Russia is a subject of intense debate. The opinions range from the idea
that the West is the main engine of liberal capitalism and democracy in
Russia, to the belief that Western governments have no effect whatsoever on
Russian life due to the people's disappointment in the liberal reforms and
deepening anti-Western sentiments. Taking either extreme, in this case,
would be erroneous. In fact, the economic and moral authority of the West
continues to play a moderate role in post Communist Russian development.
At the same time, Western governments have an asymmetrical impact on the
different elements of the emerging liberal society. Western countries and
international economic institutions regularly interfere in the Russian
economy, dispensing advices on various issues including the structure of the
budget. However, Western politicians remain silent when it comes to the
myriad of the Kremlin's democratic transgressions. Western governments also
remain indifferent toward the dictatorial behavior of the rulers in the
national republics, where honest elections are completely out of the question.
The West has good reason to worry about the failure of the economy, but it
should be no less concerned about the dangers of democratic bankruptcy in
Russia. In the past, the West reserved its critiques of the political
process to avoid undermining Yeltsin's authority and his political struggle
against the Communists. As it turned out, this shortsighted policy
contributed very little to Yeltsin's position in the country, while
acquiescing to Russia's retreat from democratic principles.
In the coming years, as the country nears the test of democratic stability,
the West should do everything in its power to ensure a free and honest
election. At the same time, Western governments, while supporting Russian
democracy, must be ready for the impetuous developments that may be
triggered by a canceled, altered, or disputed election in 2000.


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