#14 - JRL 7172
Russian Parties' May Day Demonstrations, Electioneering Viewed
6 May 2003
Report by Anna Zakatnova:
"May Day PR"
The parties went out onto the street. On May Day all the main participants in the election race -- United Russia, the CPRF [Communist Party of the Russian Federation], the SPS [Union of Right-Wing Forces] and Yabloko -- staged demonstrations. And the festival of spring and labor somehow imperceptibly turned into a demonstration of spin doctoring.
But even the day before no one could have supposed that the parties would make such active use of May Day for their own purposes. The most cursory glance at news reports shows that the United Russia members were competing in earnest with the Communists, as it were anticipating the struggle for the voters in the fall, at the duma elections. In almost all major cities members of the centrist party merged with the trade union columns and that simple ploy ensured not only a mass turnout but also pushed their main adversaries from the CPRF off the TV screens. However, they did not manage to share out the information space "between the two of them" entirely. The SPS was unusually vigorous in celebrating May Day, suggesting to everyone the original catch phrase "Peace, May, SPS." It looks as though the word "labor" was redundant for the right-wingers. The right-wingers' "sworn friends," the Yabloko people, who usually take part only in purely human rights demonstrations, were also able to bring their supporters out onto the streets in several regions.
Of the political parties represented in the Duma it was the LDPR [Liberal Democratic Party of Russia] which celebrated May Day most quietly. Vladimir Zhirinovskiy's associates confined themselves to a small meeting in Sokolniki although it is true that the party leader for his part did everything to undermine even that modest event. Zhirinovskiy said that Husayn would yet wreak revenge on the Americans in the summer, comparing the surrender of Baghdad to the surrender of Moscow to Napoleon in 1812.
The struggle for young voters will seemingly be a key element of the election campaign for all political parties including even the CPRF. Although the Communists can always count on pensioners' votes it is clear that you cannot win solely by relying on your traditional electorate and this is clearly why the CPRF organized a rock concert on Lubyanskaya Square. Although their traditional opponents were not to be caught napping: Young people of student age accounted for almost all the participants in the SPS march, while "Young Unity" assembled its supporters on Vasilyevskiy Spusk. Of course, given such total party mobilization in Moscow there was no room for "Marching Together," renowned for their showy theatrical PR ploys. This year they did not march anywhere. Although there were plenty of theatrical moments. Thus, the right-wingers staged a modern version of the picture "The Boatmen and the BMWs" [allusion to "the Volga Boatmen" painting by famous 19th century Russian painter Ilya Repin] and at the same time demonstrated how representatives of small business are caught up in the round of "checks" and "excise duty." And the Communists dragged a papier-mache effigy of Bush through the streets. Although the representatives of the trade unions in the regions distinguished themselves the most. The march in Moscow was headed by Mikhail Shmakov, leader of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia, and the meeting was addressed by Mayor Yuriy Luzhkov, and it was evidently for that reason that they insulted their common "enemy" -- the government -- only verbally. On the other hand in two Federation components the trade unionists' dissatisfaction with the Ministry of Labor's initiatives to raise wages reached such a level that two cardboard effigies of Aleksandr Pochinok [Labor Minister] had to be burned to indulge the activists. On the other hand the trade unionists made their own contribution to the celebration of spring: Usually the activists go to the May Day demonstrations with banners, carnations, and flags but the Moscow activists appeared en masse with bouquets of plastic Chinese orchids.
One more curious distinguishing feature of the May demonstration was the abundance of brand new banners literally smelling of fresh paint. "We've had enough rubbish, we want kasha!" "For labor, wages, and social guarantees!" "No to the Enforced Implementation of Reforms!" "First a Wages Rise then a Rent Rise!" "The Social Tax is a Crime" -- these were the banners under which the trade union demonstration proceeded in the capital. The Communists marked May Day in a rather un-Christian manner: There were almost no banners with Christ and the demand to protect the Orthodox. On the other hand the participants in the demonstration exuded an ill-concealed glee at the tragic death of Sergey Yushenkov: As they marched through the Moscow streets they shouted into spectators' faces, inviting the democrats to take turns exterminating each other. Compared with these over-excited bloodthirsty cries the scandalous [TV] series "The Brigade" looked like a Winnie The Pooh cartoon. However, there were also the traditional protest banners: "The judge's cloak should be in clean hands!" "Communism is the future of mankind!" "Army, regain the USSR's territory" and "down with the rule of money!"
New banners were also prepared for the demonstration at the Moscow city [communist party] committee: On ordinary pieces of cardboard like those carried by indigents in the subway, they painted inscriptions reading: "I am an officer, I have nowhere to live!" or "I can't find a job!" In addition the Communists yet again, and since spring 2001 this has been their usual demand, brought banners demanding the resignation of Putin and Kasyanov. But it looks as thought the list of the CPRF's main enemies had been amplified and detailed in time for the election season and the Communists set about fulminating against specific oligarchs: Potanin, Khodorkovskiy, Shvidler, and Abramovich. In general these May Day events form an entertaining pre-election picture. Nothing unites people more closely than being footsore after a march. From that viewpoint the joint column of trade unionists, United Russia, Yabloko, and social democrats shows that the centrists have already formed a very solid coalition both on the left and on the right (the People's Party and the Party of Life) for the elections. And to judge by the SPS's powerful demonstration, the right-wingers are not only not short of money but are also prepared to compete in earnest with the Communists and United Russia in the struggle for the Duma.