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#13 - JRL 7169
Rossiyskaya Gazeta Sees PR Sector Limbering Up for Elections
Rossiyskaya Gazeta
29 April 2003
Report by Anna Zakatnova:
"Political Buffets with a View to the Elections. Parties Mastering New Political Techniques"

Nothing stimulates the PR imagination like the budget for an upcoming election campaign. The season's latest novelties are spamming and party discussion clubs at luxury Moscow hotels.

The current State Duma election year has already started to bear major fruit in terms of creative political technology. The once popular "doubles," that is, people whose first names, surnames, and patronymics were supposed to steal the votes of inattentive voters, are no longer in fashion. There was a case where a double managed to get six percent of the vote, although last year these stooges were finding it difficult to get a mere one percent.

At the sensational St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly elections last December PR people invented a way of mixing individuals and corporate bodies to the benefit of all. Apparently, the law allows the setting up of a small firm, the name of which marches perfectly the name of a candidate. So on the eve of the elections there is nothing to prevent them from advertising the Petr Petrovich Petrov joint-stock company. But compared with the Internet attacks in March, the St. Petersburg technique merely shows a sleight of hand.

On 26 March a letter bearing the United Russia arty letterhead was dispatched to multiple addresses, proposing the immediate "organization of a primary party cell based at your enterprise." United Russia immediately issued a denial and party leader Boris Gryzlov, who is also Internal Affairs Minister, promised to find and "neutralize" the provocateurs. Maybe they were not found or maybe the wrong people were found, but on the same day there was another bout of spamming concerning Yabloko's Sergey Mitrokhin. Internet users found in their mailboxes alleged letters from Mitrokhin seeking "active, communicative people prepared to participate in surveys, signature collection, and distribution of campaigning materials." The Yabloko party and the deputy himself immediately denied this information. But it is unlikely that anyone from United Russia or Yabloko suffered any real harm; probably these two ruses are more like running through a business plan, as if a PR operative was estimating in advance the profitability of such actions against possible competitors. The effect was certainly achieved: Both victims were forced to explain in the press that it was a forgery and the press was forced to explain the content of these forgeries to readers and viewers who do not use the Internet.

The intention to set up political clubs can be regarded as the latest fad among political technologists. The recipe is simple: A good hotel in downtown Moscow, a clutch of political analysts, a modest buffet, tea and coffee, a high-profile theme announced in a press release, and the obligatory special guest -- the politician for whom it has all been organized. You have a meeting led by Igor Bunin in the English Club's Social-Political Box; an "Open Forum" at the Savoy; debates arranged between representatives of all the Duma factions, not forgetting to give more time the Yabloko; the "Success Formula," with its lively enthusiasm for United Russia's problems, meeting at the Balchuga.

These meetings most resemble Anna Pavlovna Scherer's [the Empress' lady-in-waiting in War and Peace] salons. For some reason, even if an interesting debate develops, even if the political analysts' wit and information background are brilliant, and even if the expensive guests speak well, the events are incredibly flat affairs. If you compare how many reactions there were to the meetings of the first club of its kind. "Civil Debates," with the way the debates end now, it is clear that roundtables arranged around political analysts are hopelessly out of date as a PR method. There appears to be only one reason why the political parties are so willing to play at these political analysis salons. Evidently, it is a cheap way of effectively exploiting other people's original ideas. Over some months the campaign headquarters of parties and contenders in single-seat districts have been so busy writing first the programs in general and then the campaign platforms, followed by the slogans for targeted groups of the electorate, that they have simply started to run out of valuable ideas. But if you assemble all the well-known (and there are no more than 30 or so in the whole of Moscow) political analysts, you will immediately get a triumph of the imagination and rush of ideas. I relate one idea from a meeting of this kind to all my friends as a joke. Question: Who might be Putin's best opponent in the presidential election? Answer: Metropolitan Kirill. Typically, having laughed, people set to thinking. Maybe this is the main idea?

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