THE FEDERAL ELECTIONS AS REPORTED BY CENTRAL MEDIA
The gaudy kaleidoscope of recent political events is keeping political analysts in constant tension. They are trying to understand what is going on in reality. The number of suppositions equals the number of periodicals. All observers see eye to eye only on one point: what is going on now is just an introduction to the real show of the electoral race. One newspaper has even cited a sinister quotation by Robert Shekley that the real wind is only beginning to blow.
Komsomolskaya Pravda also makes its own conjecture about the current political events: “The scandals surrounding the formation of the government are probably a screen to conceal the formation of electoral headquarters in the Kremlin.”
Listing the names of the giants who are fighting to get their proteges into the government (Berezovsky, Yumashev, Chubais, etc.) and those mentioned in the various scenarios of personnel changes (Malashenko, Lesin, Shabdurasulov, etc.), the newspaper exclaims: “This is practically the whole headquarters for the organization of the 1996 presidential election!” The only thing left for the newspaper to do is suppose that the public fight between Berezovsky and Chubais was nothing but a “tiff of the Nanai boys”. Although disagreements between oligarchs do exist, there is one thing that unites them, as in 1996. That is the desire to preserve the current regime. It turns out that there are several ways to do that. “Komsomolskaya Pravda”, in particular, asserts that the promotion of Sergei Stepashin as the successor of the current president has already been launched. It is based on the principle of juxtaposing an “evil detective” and a “good detective”. The role of the “evil detective”, the unsympathetic character, is played by Nikolai Aksenenko, whose main task is to upgrade Stepashin’s rating.
However, there are some other scenarios. “Komsomolskaya Pravda” writes that all depends on the physical state of the president. “If Yeltsin’s health is all right, a referendum on uniting with Belarus is in store for Russia, and if not Russia will have to face the ‘Stepashin-is-our-president’ campaign.”
The newspaper Tribuna also has no doubt that all thoughts in the president’s circles are concentrated on the preservation of the power, and that the Kremlin heavyweights may take any measures to accomplish that, “including the most extreme”. For instance, the newspaper forecasts that the president may first provoke a dissolution of the Duma and then form a puppet parliament which will introduce whatever amendments to the Constitution that the first family wants. After that Yeltsin will run for president for the third time, since the new laws will let him do that, and then he will win the election. The paper states that “it is naive to doubt Yeltsin’s victory based on his extraordinarily low popularity ratings in the polls. Such a sober forecast is applicable only to an honest game, and the president’s circles are breaking all the rules.”
As if illustrating this assertion, an article in the journal Expert shows how can one get ones desired result in an election by using the widely-touted state automated system called “Election”. According to “Expert”, the creators of the system, enterprises with such insipid names as Kontur (contour), Vympel (pennant), Atlas, etc., are subordinated to the Federal Agency for Governmental Liaison and Information (FAGLI). The fact that the main, and probably the only, achievement of Russian democracy has been given to special services is symbolic, according to “Expert”: “People in epaulettes are to fulfill any order of their authorities up to the Supreme Commander-in-Chief.” Among those orders may be: “To include an additional self-annihilating ‘module’ in the computer program of the Central Electoral Committee (CEC) which would automatically send every fifth vote from, say, the “C” entry to the “A” entry of the final protocol and then disappear with no trace.” It is also noteworthy that it is impossible to prove or disprove this information, since everything concerning the system is top secret. Any attempts to prevent manipulations of votes using technologies widely employed in the banking system cause the aversion of the CEC. Therefore, the newest technologies for counting votes are not an insurance against machinations. On the contrary, they help perform them.
Moskovsky Komsomolets bases its scenario of the probable development of the situation on the fact that the president and his “folks” have different ideas of the future. according to “Moskovsky Komsomolets”, the first family has merely mercenary interests. Their main requirement is that “after the end of Yeltsin’s reign nobody should infringe on their property or try them and take revenge on them.” As for the president himself, he would like to get an honorable place in history, along with confidence in his future and guarantees of his physical security. “Even in retirement, he wants to remain the First and Greatest President, and he wants people to continue to come to him for advice like a guru. He wants to go down in history as a great reformer, in whose honor monuments will be built and odes written.” All this is certainly possible if the next president is an adherent, an apprentice, and “a political son” of the current one.
However, considering the current candidacies for president, “Moskovsky Komsomolets”, like Agafya Tikhonovna (the heroine of Gogol’s comedy “The Marriage”), draws a lugubrious conclusion: all of them are unattractive. Zyuganov and Zhirinovsky are immediately counted out for well-known reasons. Luzhkov is the “head of the competing clan”. Primakov thinks too much of himself. Chernomyrdin is catastrophically unpopular. Lebed is Berezovsky’s protege, let alone the rest of his demerits. Yavlinsky is whimsical. There is practically no one to count on, and therefore the only sensible solution is to prevent the election by any means, “from integration with Belarus to the introduction of a state of emergency.”
There are some other articles proving that the first family has enough reasons to worry about its future. For instance, Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznev told a Komsomolskaya Pravda” correspondent during an interview about his attitude towards the bill on guarantees to the president after his retirement: “I would display magnanimity and would not institute legal proceedings… I would allot him an allowance and a state dacha with guards so that he might live there until the end of his life, probably spending this period in prayers and remorse.” However, regarding guarantees to the president’s circle Seleznev’s statement was extremely vague: “In this connection it is important to evaluate the role of each of them.” The scenario of creating a new union between Russia and Belarus does not seem to benefit Yeltsin in the long run, as Seleznev thinks. “Is it worthwhile to test fate? I understand that the first family and the president’s circles need this, since they are currently wondering what will happen to them if their backbone, i.e. the president, disappears. They oughtn’t have been stealing all this time! They had better repent of their crimes and return the millions they have illegally pumped out of Russia. They had better stop this helter-skelter, since their fever is infecting the whole country.”
Kommersant-daily presents one more way for Boris Yeltsin to retain his position without violating the Constitution. This is also connected with integration between Russia and Belarus, but it is even more radical than merely creating a new union. According to the newspaper, there is talk about launching another series of the so-called “Novoye Ogarevo process” (in Novoye Ogarevo, a residence of Mikhail Gorbachev, the Union Treaty, which was supposed to be ratified by nine or ten republics of the Soviet Union, was drafted – translator’s note), “which failed to yield any results for Gorbachev, and which may be repeated.” According to the newspaper, “The alliance with Belarus may lead to a new explosion of the Russian border. Minsk would be only too happy to step up integration efforts if it receives the necessary signal from the Kremlin. If Moscow and Minsk decide to create a confederation, it is unlikely that Russian national entities will not take part in the process of state formation as well. It is not important which republic will lead the sovereignty march, but it is important that the Kremlin does not intend to suppress this process. At his latest meeting with presidents of republics of the Russian Federation, Yeltsin told them, just like in 1991, to take as many powers as they could. In this case, Yeltsin will get the support which he now lacks.” And this is only one of the possible surprises that the president is rumored to be preparing for the country.
Novaya Gazeta proposes a more exotic plan of actions. According to its sources, the first family has finally decided on Yeltsin’s successor. She will be Tatiana Borisovna Dyachenko, the president’s daughter. The newspaper assures that this statement sounds “most idiotic” only at first sight. There is no other choice, according to “Novaya Gazeta”, since any of the probable candidates who are likely to be elected are Yeltsin’s enemies. If the election is unsuccessful for the first family, they will either be put in the Lefortovo prison or “altogether lose the business which was spoiled by Primakov and have beg for political refuge abroad.” Honest, democratic elections are inadmissible for the president’s circle.
Therefore Boris Berezovsky’s radical plan looks rather convincing. He insists on a radical solution to the problem: dissolve the Duma, prohibit the Communist Party, and then give powers to Tatiana Dyachenko. “The fact that none of the aforementioned measures is legitimate does not mean that this scenario should be rejected… Such scenarios are based not on legitimacy but on the benefits for the players.” It is difficult to hold such an action without preparation. According to the sources of Novaya Gazeta, the preparation is already under way. The first resolute step will be a presidential decree on taking Lenin’s body out of the Mausoleum, which will definitely cause the indignation of the left. “As a rule, indignation is followed by disorders, imprisonment of some left leaders, dissolution of the Duma, prohibition of some parties, etc.” In other words, the scenario is ready to go. However, the newspaper holds that the result is not quite clear: “The left forces are still strong.” Furthermore, a coalition may be founded against Berezovsky, and everyone who dislikes him will join it, “even the ultra-right, even Chubais and Gaidar.” The first congress of the right coalition held at the end of May actually exhibited an attempt to unite. However, the central media are skeptical about it. Segodnya notes that everything possible has been done to pass the 5% barrier in the Duma election: “Eleven dwarfish parties and movements have allied with Russia’s Democratic Choice (DVR) led by Gaidar and Chubais, but the first three names on the party list have been yielded to more popular politicians: Boris Nemtsov, Boris Fedorov, and Irina Khakamada. They have become ‘the collective face of the bloc’.” Inasmuch as the “young reformers do not indulge in accounting for the blunders of their bustling youth, the newspaper quotes the “harmful advice” of Grigory Oster, a children’s writer, who also attended the congress: “If you’ve broken a window, don’t apologize at once. Wait a bit, since in a moment a war may suddenly start.”
Meanwhile, Kommersant-Vlast is of the opinion that the right has a chance for victory, since it has a real, indubitable charismatic leader. He is Anatoly Chubais. Maxim Boiko, head of the Video International public relations company, asserts that it is Chubais who is to become the leader of Right Cause, since he is allegedly “the only person able to get the party out of its current stupor and start an active electoral campaign.” Of course, the people’s “love” for Chubais is a byword, but, as the saying goes, it’s a thin line between love and hate. The main point is that no one is indifferent to him. It is also noteworthy that, in 1996, Boris Yeltsin started the electoral campaign with the support of only 3% of Russians.
Along with such extraordinary candidates for president as Tatiana Dyachenko and Anatoly Chubais, the media do not forget their permanent minions. Nezavisimaya Gazeta returns to the problem it has been tackling for a long time. It wonders whether Yevgeny Primakov will dare get back into “great politics”. On the one hand, the newspaper does not see any indications that Primakov is cherishing any hopes connected with the presidency. But, on the other, his rating is still extremely high. According to the newspaper, “The person who managed to gain political stability and a hint of economic progress in a country worn by crises is doomed to be the object of political speculation, the attention of the press, and great projects.”
Ingushetian President Ruslan Aushev, one of the leaders of the All Russia bloc, has announced that his bloc is ready to support the candidacy of Yevgeny Primakov in the presidential election. “Nezavisimaya Gazeta” is apparently concerned about Primakov. It states that “under some circumstances, Primakov’s candidacy may satisfy both voters and the basic political forces of Russia in the presidential election.” By the way, the article dedicated to the possibility of Primakov returning to politics has a conspicuous title: “An Offer that Cannot be Refused”.
As for the situation with Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov following Primakov’s dismissal, the media describe it gloomily. Kommersant-Vlast states that the position of the Kremlin’s main enemy was vacant, but that this did not last long, because the Moscow mayor took it in no time. As has turns out, Yeltsin has not forgiven Luzhkov for attempting to “jump the gun” (i.e. his too-early announcement of his intention to participate in the presidential race). And now “the Kremlin will not only hate Luzhkov but also try to annihilate him as Moscow mayor, as the leader of the Fatherland movement, and as a politician.” Luzhkov’s most vulnerable spot is apparently his status as mayor. “Kommersant-Vlast” asserts that Luzhkov’s adversaries have ways to precipitate Moscow’s default. The anti-Luzhkov campaign started by Sergei Kirienko also may destroy his image as a paragon of an administrator. In his scandalous interview to Nezavisimaya Gazeta Kirienko accused the Moscow economic system of inefficiency, Moscow officials of bribery, and the Moscow media of servility. “We are beginning to lose one of the main liberties: freedom of the press. This is happening gradually before the citizens’ eyes. The only alternative is to put an end to the reticence about the problems of Moscow and start a real discussion about what is going on in the city.”
The attack on Luzhkov is coming from all directions. Tatarstan President Mentimer Shaimiev, the informal leader of the All Russia movement, has been made to understand that his alliance with Luzhkov is not advisable. Of course, Shaimiev has taken the president’s advice into account. All supporters of Luzhkov have been fired from both the Kremlin and the White House. Moreover, Kommersant-Vlast states that Luzhkov’s supporters fear lest the reputation of the Moscow mayor be spoiled in the West: “Outside of Russia, the attitude towards Luzhkov is hesitant, and there is no doubt that the Presidential Administration will do its best to intensify the prejudices of the West regarding Luzhkov’s corruption, nationalism, and dictatorial ambitions. The weekly notes that “Kremlin officials do not understand only one thing: Luzhkov’s political death will ease life not only for the first family but also for the left.”
As has been already said, Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin has joined the list of notable political figures. Vek resorts to a flattering analogy characterizing his political prospects: “The role of the ‘new Gorbachev’ is being given to Stepashin.” To all appearances, this comparison is caused by the gloomy situation in Russian politics, which can only be compared with winter 1984: “The people’s apathy and non-confidence in the authorities is the same, as is the insipid existence of the population. And the assurance about the upcoming end of this situation, which was typical of the late stagnation era, is also the same.” “Vek” holds that Gorbachev was not the author of perestroika, he was only capable in that situation. Therefore, it is relatively easy to guess what is in store for the country after 2000: “It is just necessary to find another figure like Gorbachev for whom the current coat of Yeltsin will be too tight.” According to “Vek”, Stepashin suits this role. “After all, did many people know in 1984 who the leader of perestroika would be?”