THE PARTY AT THE HELM

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THE PARTY AT THE HELM

Novoe Vremya, No. 44, November, 2001, p. 13

At the last parliamentary elections, a quarter of voters chose which party to vote for within a week of voting day, or even at the polling stations; 17% had made their decision two months before the elections; and 52% had known for much longer whom they would vote for – of the latter group, half voted for the Communist Party.

On the other hand, polls indicate that many Russian citizens are undecided, or politically passive. For example, 25% of respondents say they are “completely uninterested in politics”; 36% say they have very little interest in politics, and only 39% say they are interested in politics. In discussing voter support for political parties, it should be noted that 6% of respondents say we don’t need parties at all; 22% say there ought to be only one party in Russia; 9% say there ought to be two parties; 25% are uncertain whether Russia needs parties or not; and only 38% consider that there ought to be several political parties. In consequence, only 1.5% of respondents say they are currently members of a political party; while 10% say they were members of the Communist Party in the past.

While only five major parliamentary parties might now remain in Russia, this doesn’t mean that all other political movements will merge into them. For example, just before the last parliamentary elections, 2% of respondents intended to vote “against all”; 18% couldn’t decide which party to vote for, even on voting day; and 14% didn’t intend to vote at all. And 15% of respondents voted for parties which didn’t make it into the Duma: 3.9% for the Women of Russia party, 1.5% for Our Home is Russia, 1.3% for the Pensioners Party, 0.7% for the For Civic Dignity movement, 0.7% for the In Support of the Army movement. Half a million people voted for the Peace-Labor-May movement. Even such exotic movements as Stalinist Bloc for the USSR and the National Political Party of the People gathered around 100,000 supporters each. So there are plenty of resources in reserve for party-building.

UPPER HOUSE AT THE CROSSROADS AGAIN

Vek, No. 44, November 9, 2001, p. 2

Federation Council Speaker Yegor Stroev is not happy with the performance of his house of parliament. In his opinion, the Senate in its present form is turning out to be ineffective. Stroev believes that the responsibility lies with the leaders of the Federation group, of which most senators are now members. Of course, a number of regional leaders have already criticized the new make-up of the upper house. But this is the first time that Stroev himself has come out with comments this harsh.

According to analysts, the intersection of several influences may be discerned here. Only now have the regional leaders started to understand what they have really lost by agreeing to move out of the upper house in exchange for membership of the State Council. It may be assumed that the experience of State Council membership does not satisfy a number of regional politicians who have become accustomed to greater things in recent years; especially since there has been no change in the Constitution which would transfer any powers from the Federation Council to the State Council.

Other aspects: Russian politicians will inevitably be asking some questions about the heightened activity of the General Prosecutor’s Office and the Auditing Commission, now engaged in some deep audits and investigations across a range of ministries and government bodies. Archives have been requested; information collected some time ago is now being acted upon. To date, the only announcements have involved parts of the executive branch. However, when comprehensive investigations are being done one after another, it’s hard to keep one’s head. Thus, even the most insignificant attempts to explore the details of financial operations may occasionally draw a disproportionate response. In particular, the Senate working group on the expenditures and working conditions of Federation Council members in 2002 had barely convened – when the media started making connections with the possibility of large-scale investigations of the Federation Council’s staff and former leaders. Of course, such a highly-charged atmosphere scarcely facilitates normal operations.

THE SCANDAL: WHO’S OUT TO GET SHOIGU? WHY DOES LUZHKOV REMAIN UNTOUCHED?

Argumenty i Fakty, No. 45, November 7, 2001, p. 2

Sergei Shoigu was hospitalized last week with high blood pressure. It would seem that the health of the emergenicies minister and Unity party leader was undermined by the General Prosecutor’s Office invading the Emergencies Ministry – right on the eve of his party’s congress. Whatever the law enforcement agencies might have been seeking in the ministry’s offices, this affair can hardly be regarded as a coincidence. It looks like someone picked the timing carefully, in order to send a “black mark” at the Unity leader.

Our sources within Unity say the General Prosecutor’s Office did have its reasons for going after Shoigu. Not long before these events, the Unity faction in the Duma unanimously voted in favor of abolishing the extra-budgetary fund of the General Prosecutor’s Office – which had supplied money to buy apartments for staff and resolve some of their other lifestyle problems. Apparently, “certain people” dropped clear hints in private conversations with Unity members that this Duma vote would have consequences for them.

It’s also worth noting that the Fatherland – All Russia faction was more far-sighted: its members either voted against abolishing the fund, or abstained. No doubt, the General Prosecutor’s Office could have found plenty of pretexts for investigating Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov. But for the time being, Luzhkov remains untouched.

COMING AND GOING

Versty, November 6, 2001, p. 1

Polls indicate that wages are the main source of income for 67% of Russian citizens. But the average wage is such that most have a hard time getting by from pay-day to pay-day. In consequence, 15% of respondents say they are forced to take on extra work; and 16% don’t pass up any chance to earn some extra money. Almost 50% of respondents try to grow as much as possible of their own food supplies for the winter – potatoes, carrots, beets and other vegetables. Another 6% sell food they produce at home; 2% rent out rooms or apartments; and 2% live on dividends from securities and interest from bank deposits.

AN ARMORED VOLGA CAR FOR CHECHNYA

Versty, November 6, 2001, p. 4

The Gorky Automotive Plant (GAZ) is working on some bullet-proof cars for state officials in Chechnya.

A total of 25 GAZ-3110 cars will be sent to Chechnya. Of these, 18 will go to heads of district administrations, while the others will go to certain agencies and other government bodies.

The vehicles which will be keeping Chechnya’s officials safe provide guaranteed protection against 7.62 millimeter bullets. More powerful engines are required to drive these reinforced-chassis Volga cars.

Armored Volga cars are not the first special vehicles produced by the Gorky Automotive Plant for Chechnya. Chechnya already has two armored GAZelle vehicles.

AFGHANISTAN VETERANS BEING MOBILIZED AGAIN?

Versty, November 6, 2001, p. 4

Some Afghanistan veterans in Nizhny Novgorod claim to have received an offer to particpate once more in military operations in Afghanistan.

The Nizhny Novgorod veterans received emails containing such a request. The source of the letter was unknown; the email was sent anonymously. The writer claims to need commandos and pilots, and offers $5-7,000 a month – enquiries to be directed to the US Consulate. The Afghanistan veterans don’t deny the possibility that some people might be interested in such an offer, but the Veterans Union has no intention of assisting the Americans in this; the Union considers that such communications ought to be handed over to the military commandants for investigation.

NINE MILLION MORE ILLEGAL ALIENS IN RUSSIA

Inostranets, November 6, 2001, p. 4

Deputy Interior Minister Vladimir Vasiliev said last week that there are almost 10 million illegal immigrants in Russia.

The Ministry for Federation Affairs and Ethnic and Migration Policy (abolished in October) had previously put the number of illegal aliens at an order of magnitude less – around one million. Apparently, understatement of the scale of illegal immigration became one of the reasons why that ministry was abolished and its migration-related tasks transferred to the Interior Ministry.

Now the law enforcement agencies have “comprehensively” looked at the problem of illegal aliens. Vasiliev was quick to give a reason for illegal immigration: “Russia has no physical state borders with other CIS countries. What’s more, procedures for obtaining visas for Russia and other CIS countries have remained undemanding for many years.”

Mikhail Tkachev, head of the Federal Security Service for Moscow and the Moscow region, complained that “from the legal point of view” there is no such thing as illegal immigration. Russia has no law on the status of foreign citizens, so “any foreigner basically has the same rights as a Russian citizen”.

An illegal alien only faces a fine of 50 rubles for being on Russian territory without valid ID papers. According to Tkachev, of the one million foreigners in Moscow, “around 100,000 have reported to police stations voluntarily and registered their presence”. Another 50,000 foreigners have received proper invitations to live and work in Moscow. The remaining 850,000 – mostly from India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, China, Vietnam, Iraq, and Iran – are in Moscow illegally.

ETHNIC VIOLENCE: NOT ONLY AGAINST PEOPLE FROM THE CAUCASUS

Inostranets, November 6, 2001, p. 5

The recent ethnic violence incident near the Tsaritsyno metro station indicates the need for urgent action on ethnic issues in Russia. This was the overall message from a news conference in Moscow on November 1, called by leaders of ethnic associations and diasporas.

David Beritashvili, vice president of the Georgian Association, described the Tsaritsyno incident as not only “an outburst against people from the Caucasus”, but a “deeply anti-Russian provocation”. According to Beritashvili, “this is a heavy blow against Russia’s reputation”, since in any country, “only that occurs which is permitted by society to occur”.

Ethnic association leaders proposed to set up representative offices for ethnic and religious groups within government bodies. They believe it’s essential to introduce such institutions, especially since the government hasn’t proposed any replacement for the recently-abolished Ministry for Federation Affairs and Ethnic and Migration Policy. However, most of those at the news conference did not protest against the abolition of the ministry. Alexei Grigorovich, vice president of the Congress of Ethnic Associations and deputy head of the Ukrainians in Russia Union, summed up the opinion of his colleagues: the ministry’s “ineffective and misguided policies” had been the cause of its abolition.

OPINION POLL ON THE AFGHANISTAN OPERATION

Profil, November 5, 2001, p. 2

In a recent poll, the Public Opinion Foundation asked why many nations are supporting the actions of the United States in Afghanistan.

(It turned out that 83% of respondents were aware that such an operation is in progress.)

Around a third of respondents (36%) are firmly convinced that “the battle against terrorism is in the interests of all states”.

But 16% of respondents consider that in this case the deciding factors have been the power and authority of the United States. In other words, those nations which are supporting the United States are simply afraid of it, or dependent on it, or want to take advantage of the situation in order to draw closer to the United States.

Another 3% of respondents say the United States is only supported by NATO member nations, since this is part of their obligations as allies. And 3% believe this to be “an initial wave of solidarity”: there is sympathy for the United States, and approval for its actions is a manifestation of that sympathy.

Meanwhile, 3% of respondents say that what the Americans are doing is justified vengeance – “their cause is right”.

However, 2% of respondents are convinced that the nations supporting the United States are doing so for material gain (“they’re being paid for it, they’re doing it for money”).

There has recently been much talk of the differences between civilizations, and the existence of a “civilized world” and an “uncivilized world”. The poll asked whether people believe in categorizing nations as “civilized” or “uncivilized”; and if so, what criteria ought to be used?

Results indicate that 49% of respondents accept a distinction between civilized and uncivilized nations. These respondents were then asked to explain where the distinctions lie.

Around 21% believe it’s a matter of the level of economic development and living standards; 18% see differences in the level of culture, science, and education; 4% say the difference lies in state legislation and law-abiding behavior by citizens. Another 4% believe it’s a matter of civil rights and civil liberties, and 4% say it’s the overall level of development of societies. Around 2% see the distinction in stability, and 2% see it in the methods used to resolve conflicts (“the uncivilized world has wars”).

Respondents named certain nations as being “civilized”: the United States (33%), Germany (21%), France (16%), Japan (15%), Britain (14%), and some others. And 19% of respondents say that “all the developed capitalist nations” should be on the list.

Nations described as “uncivilized” include: Afghanistan (15%), Russia – strangely enough (14%), Pakistan (4%), Iran (2%), Iraq (2%), China (2%). Around 13% of respondents say that “all African nations” should be considered uncivilized; 3% named nations in Asia, 3% named CIS nations, 2% named nations in the Middle East, and 2% named nations in the Americas.

Interestingly, Russia appeared on both lists; but twice as many respondents (14%) classified it as “uncivilized”, rather than “civilized” (6%).

Only 17% of respondents said they objected to the very idea of dividing nations into “civilized” and “uncivilized”.

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