THE UPCOMING FEDERAL ELECTIONS AS REPORTED BY THE CENTRAL MEDIA
Last week one of the most exciting episodes of the electoral saga finally came to an end: Yevgeny Primakov announced his decision to head the Fatherland-All Russia bloc. “The Grand Mute has spoken,” “Primakov breaks the silence,” — reported the media.
This mysterious silence against the background of the unstoppable growth of the former prime minister’s popularity rating produced keen interest in the “Primakov’s phenomenon” from the part of political analysts, psychologists, and even philosophers.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta published an article about Primakov written by the head of the Center of the Institute of Philosophy of the Russian Academy of Science, Valentina Fedotova. Having enumerated all the former prime minister’s traits with which the electorate sympathizes – his hate for populist promises, not coming into conflicts regarding interior policy and supporting “national-state interests” abroad, his self-respect (a rare quality among Russian politicians!) – Fedotova comes to the conclusion that not all of these common impressions can be confirmed by actual events, by the former prime minister’s behavior, or even by his words.
Moreover, it turns out to be not so important what kind of person Primakov really is. The thing that matters is that, as a result of certain circumstances, the electorate sees in him the embodiment of its hopes. “Maybe it is a case of wishful thinking from the part of Russian people, but there is some basis for it. It is not worthwhile arguing that Primakov is 70, that he won’t be able to do much – it means misunderstanding of the phenomenon of Primakov in its social meaning.” Fedotova holds that “the country needs a politician who would be able to restore the dignity of the state power in the eyes of the public. People and competing politicians recognize Primakov as such a person, no matter if they are right or not.” The title of the article is “The Primakov’s Factor.”
Another article on this subject published by another serious newspaper – Izvestia – is subtitled “Longing for Father.” It is written not by a philosopher, but a psychiatrist, President of the Russian Psychoanalytical Society, Aaron Belkin. Writing on the reasons of the “unprecedented trust” which is granted to Primakov by the population, Belkin comes to the conclusion that this feeling is of the same nature as that which orphaned children feel for a person who is able to replace their father. “For half a century already…we have been in a state of “fatherlessness,” in an orphanage.” None of the Russian rulers of this century has justified the trust of the people: Stalin was a cruel stepfather, rather than a father, Khrushchev turned out to be too unpredictable, Brezhnev was “a stranger even in his best times,” Gorbatchev played only a transitory role in the life of the country, Yeltsin “was not a father, but an elder brother who was forced by the circumstances to take on the responsibility for the younger ones.” So, the “orphaned people,” having grown tired of their solitude, look for replacement parents and find them in the figure of Primakov.
This extravagant psychoanalytical solution of “Primakov’s mystery” can be compared with the opinion of Andrei Piontkovsky, a well-known analyst, the leading research assistant of the Institute for Systematized Analysis of the Russian Academy of Science, a correspondent of Svoboda radio. In his interview with Komsomolskaya Pravda Piontkovsky confessed that Primakov’s popularity was a mystery for him for quite a long time, and he managed to solve it only with the help of the results of a poll conducted by KP on the following topic: whom the readers consider the most outstanding political figure of the 20th century. “Paradoxically enough, it was not a charismatic person like Lenin, Stalin, Gorbachev, Sakharov, or Stolypin. Brezhnev was ahead of all of them. Andropov occupied the second position, and all the rest was far behind them.” In Piontkovsky’s opinion, Primakov’s popularity corresponds with the results of this poll: “Didn’t it occur to you that Primakov begins to resemble Brezhnev even in his appearance in the course of time? Brezhnev and his incarnation in Primakov actualize the post-Soviet people’s myth of the Golden Age, stagnation, stability, and cheap sausage… Paraphrasing a well-known formula, Primakov is the most extraordinary mediocrity of our political class. That is why all ordinary mediocrities stake their hopes on him.” However, despite of this merciless condemnation made by the political correspondent of Svoboda, everything is in favor of Primakov’s “continuing his triumphal ascendance” (as Trud put it) to the top position of power. Editor-in-Chief of Nezavisimaya Gazeta Vitaly Tretyakov in trying to define the reasons why Primakov agreed to head Luzhkov-Shaimiev’s bloc after long hesitation, states that the former prime minister took this step having received reliable information from the Kremlin concerning appointing of the elections from July 2000 to December 1999. Otherwise, in Tretyakov’s opinion, it is impossible to explain Primakov’s decision. The favorite of the public would have never consented to be “a spring-board for Luzhkov’s jump to the Kremlin” by winning the parliamentary campaign for the ambitious Moscow mayor and forming an influential Duma fraction for him. But if Yeltsin is transferring presidential elections to December (pretexts may be various – from the president’s state of health to the situation in the country), Luzhkov, who has once combined Duma elections with the Moscow ones, will not be able to participate in the presidential campaign. And in this case Primakov, from the point of view of the public, will be obliged to join the fight for the presidency. Otherwise, as Tretyakov holds, this post may be occupied by someone who is promoted by Yeltsin himself – the current prime minister Vladimir Putin. “In fact, transferring presidential elections to December 19 is the only chance for Yeltsin to pass his position down to a person whom he has chosen himself. Primakov may become an obstacle in this path.”
But the Kremlin has plenty of opportunities to prevent leaders of Fatherland-All Russia not only from realizing their intricate plans, but from mere running in parliamentary elections. These opportunities were granted by the leaders themselves. As Segodnya put it, they were “carried away with formation of unions and division of state posts, not yet gained, that they lost the sense of reality and became a little careless.”
As it is known, the three top politicians from the federal list of the bloc – Yevgeny Primakov, Yury Luzhkov, Vladimir Yakovlev – on the very day of their presentation declared that they are not going to run for the Duma. On the one hand, it elicited a strict warning from the part of Head of the Central Electoral Committee Alexander Veshnyakov to pass three mandates to the “representatives of the opposing side” (Vremya MN), and on the other hand, a storm of indignation in the press concerning manipulating the trust of the electorate. Luzhkov’s explanations that “the first three names on the electoral list are certain symbols and indicators of the intentions of the political organization” did not save the situation (quotation from Segodnya). A paper which opposes Luzhkov (Vremya MN) remarked: “Symbolic figures in the elections are not new. But usually politicians voluntarily resigned their powers after the elections. On the day of publicizing the top three no one ever stated that he is not interested in the senator’s position.”
Novye Izvestia called this situation “political swindling.” “What kind of electorate are we? Our admired politicians openly state from the TV-screen that they are going to cheat us. And they are fully aware that this will be forgiven… Our politicians know that we vote not with our minds but with our hearts. That is why their behavior is so inappropriate.”
Still, these reproaches (which are not groundless, to tell the truth) – are likely not the most significant of the battle episodes which the “megabloc” is to experience in the course of the electoral campaign. It is not a coincidence, as Interfax-Vremya states, that Primakov is so scared of the future electoral campaign which promises to be “extraordinarily violent.” By the way, the first liters of mud may be considered to have been poured out – on Saturday, in the Vremya TV-program Pavel Sheremet has virtually blamed Primakov for giving Kurd leader Abdulla Odgalan out to Turkey in exchange for the Turkish government’s consent to place Russian anti-aircraft missile complexes in Crete (the cost of the complexes is $250 billion). This is a serious attempt to taint the immaculate reputation of the former prime minister and this is, naturally, only the beginning. According to the daily Interfax-Vremya, the next step is to be taken by the right: it is going to “expose the myth that Primakov saved Russia after August 17.” And we are to expect other steps as well…
Interfax-Vremya is sure that Primakov’s popularity rating will not become any higher. “It is one thing to be the main stabilizing factor in society, which Primakov was as a prime minister, and quite another thing is to be head of an electoral bloc, to which everyone is not sympathetic.”
As was expected, the formation of Primakov-Luzhkov-Shaimiev left-centrist bloc made the Kremlin become more active in its attempts to create a right-wing coalition.
The negotiations took the whole week, and the important part of them was held in Prime minister Putin’s study (this fact caused Parlamentskaya Gazeta to remark that the White House is turning into the right’s electoral headquarters). Among those who took part in the meeting there were head of RJES Anatoly Chubais, Head of the Presidential Administration Alexander Voloshin, and the former Prime Ministers Viktor Chernomyrdin, Sergei Kirienko, and Sergei Stepashin. The latter was the central figure in the plot designed around the right-wing bloc. According to the official version of the events, the meeting was arranged in order to discuss the new cabinet and the situation in Dagestan; in reality, however, as Segodnya reported, the meeting was about creating a right-wing coalition on the basis of NDR. “Voloshin and Putin were insisting that Chernomyrdin submit his first position on the electoral list to Stepashin, retaining his leadership in NDR.” According to Segodnya at this stage, Chernomyrdin’s consent was achieved, but with considerable efforts. As Chernomyrdin remarked in a private conversation with one of his companions: “I’m sick and tired of these elections. They have not even begun, but I’m already bored to death of them.” It is true, according to Parlamentskaya Gazeta, that Chernomyrdin was promised leadership in Gazprom as a kind of compensation.
However, Stepashin did not turn out to be so simple-minded as Kremlin politicians were had thought. As Vremya MN reported, Stepashin came to the meeting in the White House directly from negotiations with Grigory Yavlinsky, having arranged a preliminary agreement with the leader of Yabloko concerning the second position on the central list of the bloc. “This is unprecedented generosity on the part of Yavlinsky and his old companions.” (Vremya MN)
But then a catastrophe broke out: “It is rumored that the right and the new prime minister strongly advised the former prime minister to refuse cooperating with Yabloko. Stepashin was offered the leading position in NDR in a coalition with the right.” (Segodnya) As a result, Stepashin saluted and told Yavlinsky that “he knows the Kremlin’s tortures and cannot guarantee anything.”
Yavlinsky, as Nezavisimaya Gazeta reports, interpreted it in the following way: “Stepashin is a general, an officer, and, in case serious pressure is put on him from the part of Yeltsin, he won’t be able to resist it, and this will mean that Yabloko will be isolated from the elections.” NG explains that, according the new law on the elections, if anyone from the top three of the central list of the party resigns right before the elections the whole of the bloc loses the opportunity of running in the elections. The newspaper holds that Stepashin “does not want to quarrel with Yeltsin who “introduced him to big-scale politics.”
Kommersant-Daily commented on the situation in the following way: “If Stepashin refuses to cooperate, it won’t be a tragedy for Yabloko… As for Stepashin himself, his confession as regards the “Kremlin’s tortures” can cost him much. Now any bloc, before inviting the former prime minister to join it will have to think properly if it is possible that the views of its leaders will disagree with the Kremlin’s views to such an extent that the latter will want to use the mentioned above methods of convincing.”
Maxim Sokolov, a correspondent of Segodnya”, even suspects Yavlinsky of hypocrisy: “If Stepashin is a real general and officer, he should know that it does not behoove a general to lump the blame on his authorities and reveal secrets of his stuff to a person who will immediately blurt them out. So, either Stepashin is not a real officer, or Yavlinsky is a liar.” In Sokolov’s opinion, the latter looks more true-to-life “since it is not logical to emphasize one’s devotion to the principles of an officer’s duty while trying to expose the cruel methods of one’s Commander-in-Chief through an indiscreet interlocutor.”
In any case, the intricate situation around the electoral destiny of Stepashin and the creation of an unfortunate right-centrist bloc does not consist of this alone. This is no wonder: on August 21 Izvestia described the interrelations between the right in the following way: “The right-wing coalition of Chubais, Kirienko, and Fyodorov does not cherish any warm feelings for Chernomyrdin and, as for Ryzhkov, he merely annoys them; but Stepashin will not agree to unification without them. Without Stepashin it is almost unreal for them to cross the 5% threshold. Chernomyrdin and Ryzhkov do not want to see Boris Nemtsov, Yegor Gaidar, and all of his DVR by their side; but they are eager to see Stepashin. The radical wing of DVR does not want to associate with Ryzhkov and Chernomyrdin. Gaidar said: “NDR and we have different physiological qualities: Sergei Kovalev’s spine’s ability to bend differs from that of Vladimir Ryzhkov’s.” All these contradictions made Segodnya remark maliciously: “It is possible that the Kremlin’s order for a bloc — a counterbalance to Fatherland-All Russia will be unfulfilled.” The newspaper thinks that the true reason for NDR’s refusal to cooperate with Right Cause is the “Chubais’ syndrome”: “NDR understands that if they accept Right Cause as a member of the coalition, then all resources and management of the campaign will fall into the hands of Chubais… It will have the most unpredictable consequences for the present (sponsorship relations with Gazprom) and for the future (good-bye to the Duma!)”. The leader of New Force Sergei Kirienko did not agree to the negotiations on the separate peace treaty with NDR without the participation of Right Cause. He made a public statement concerning his unwillingness to create a new “party of power” and in a private talk alluded to certain “interests which do not allow us to accept the suggestion.” Segodnya presumes that the reference here is to the sponsorship of Transneft (which is connected with Nemtsov).
As a result, the person for whose sake the whole thing was brought about – Sergei Stepashin – refused to cooperate with the right. “It’s better to become a monk than to marry such a bride! – this thought seems to have occurred to Stepashin during the last weekend.” – writes Moskovsky Komsomolets. “Quite unexpectedly, the former prime minister abandoned all the right-wing leaders and decided to fight for the votes in a single mandate district of St. Petersburg.” As MK states, NDR is sure that the bloc could have been created in spite of all this – a strong leader was necessary. Stepashin has missed his opportunity to become such a leader: during the negotiations he “behaved like a person who does not know what he wants and was constantly changing his decisions.” Now Stepashin’s prospects in the Duma (if he manages to get there) are quite vague: “Those who run in single mandate districts have no authority in the Duma.” Vladimir Ryzhkov holds that as a result of his refusal to head the right-wing bloc Stepashin “voluntarily left the “top ten” of Russian politicians.” (Segodnya) Still, “according to well-informed sources, on August 27 Stepashin in person will attend a Yabloko meeting and ask Grigory Yavlinsky to include him in the movement.”
NDR is drowning, as Moskovsky Komsomolets puts it: “Its leaders try to put on a brave face in public, but in private talks they sound absolutely hopeless.” The movement can count on only 2 or 3% of the vote in the elections.
As Segodnya reports, after parting with NDR, Chubais and Kirienko announced the formation of a new coalition of right-wing forces. Next Sunday they plan to conduct a certain “uniting meeting” in Moscow. “We wonder what it will be – Right Force or New Cause?” The unification of the right is inevitable: as Nezavisimaya Gazeta remarked, it is urgent to create a counterbalance for Fatherland-All Russia.
There is no doubt that the electoral fight will continue, and the further it progresses the hotter it will become. The media are its active participants. The end of the week has brought about another sensation. Nezavisimaya Gazeta published an interview with the head of the electoral headquarters of Fatherland-All Russia Georgy Boos. Not long ago he considered it possible to remind the president’s circles of the destiny of the family of the Romanian dictator Ceaucescu. Answering NG’s question as to whether he thinks it is possible to improve relations between Yeltsin and Luzhkov, Boos said: “In fact, today there is a confrontation between Luzhkov and the group which rules the country on behalf of Yeltsin which is pursuing its own interests. Under such circumstances any progress in relations between the president and the Moscow mayor are impossible.” And the question is: who will win? “Either they will exterminate us, or we will make them refuse from using these actions, roles, powers… But there is a third option – they will be dethroned, as a result of the elections or simply by the indignant populace. And in this case they will envy Ceaucescu’s destiny.”
It is significant that, in Boos’ opinion, violence can threaten the president’s circles not only as a result of a social outburst, which is hardly to be expected, but also in case of a democratic procedure of the “people’s will.” It seems that the only thing left is to agree with the head of Luzhkov’s electoral headquarters: there is a war going on. And this is a war to the death.