The shameless battle for money and sinecure

Moscow, Russia
December 11, 1999
TAZ report by Klaus-Helge Donath

In the Russian election battle, the elite are outdoing themselves with mutual smear campaigns. Party programs are playing no role. It is more a matter of the various clans marking out their territories.

From Moscow:
Klaus-Helge Donath

The plumber finds nothing wrong with the toilet and turns to his associate: "Petrovitch, the stink is coming from over there, where the television is turned on." ... A caricature of the latrine politics in the election battle. On December 19, Russia elects a new Parliament. That much is true. The speculations that Boris Yeltsin's entourage could postpone their funeral march because they fear a loss of power have been refuted. That tells the whole happy story right there.

In the Caucusus, while Russian soldiers are wading through blood and muck, the political elite are battling to the point of violence in Moscow. There are no limits to the shame. A civil war rules in Russia. But it is not the oppressed masses who are grabbing the weapons. They are and remain the statistics of circumstance. It is more the reigning elite that carry on a merciless war against each other - using the most effective weapon, the media.

Anyone who watches the only network which is received nationwide gets a clear picture of which rascals in the capitol city are evil incarnate. They are Moscow mayor Juri Luschkov and former Premier Minister Jevgeni Primakov. Both stand before the election block of the fatherland, all of Russia (OVR), which has good intentions of installing the communists as the strongest faction. Since summer, the Kremlin administration has been trying to frustrate the alliance of opportunity between the provincial governors and the republic presidents. The reason: the regional nomenclatura had ostentatiously turned away from Yeltsin. Since then, the Yeltsin clan, his close staff and family members have been afraid of revenge. The parade in the Duma is regarded as a test run for the presidential elections in the summer. Anyone who assures himself a place in the parliamentary elections may campaign successfully for his successor. The voters do not give their vote to a party, but to a person. Russia does not know of parties which are fixed in the social milieu, with the exception of the Communist Party. They will also make the biggest faction in the new Parliament without playing a decisive role. Their functionaries belong to the establishment; their protest is restricted to symbolic politics.

The fixation on a leader figure with the qualities of a savior is a decisive point of the political culture. The mediocre Soviet bureaucrat and negotiator Primakov, during his time as Minister President, succeeded in addressing the nostalgic sentiments of the politically weary citizens. He introduced his list of favorite presidential candidates uncontested.

There is no lack of compromising material

In a joint endeavor with pragmatic mayor Luschkov, nobody seems to be able to touch the duo in the Duma elections. No ideological differences exist between the Kremlin and the OVR. And political accusations do not play a role in the election battle. Only diverse clans are marking off their territory.

For instance, when Luschkov announced a victory, certain decisions of ownership had to then be reviewed again. At the time, Primakov, as premier, had detected shady business deals of oligarch Boris Beresovski. The financial mogul is the main stockholder of ORT broadcasting, which is now launching the campaign of instigation. Seconded by state channel RTR. They discredited Primakov by stating that in 1991, as frustrated chief of the foreign intelligence service, he had secured a fortune in the billions of the Communist Party. Besides that, he is said to be ill and has to get surgery in Switzerland for 100,000 marks.

The Moscow city patron is not being dealt with any less carefully. He is alleged to have put out a murder contract on an American businessman and to be a backer of the Scientology organization in Russia. Every Sunday ORT moderator Sergei Dorenko puts on a new episode in the tragic-comedic Russian soap opera. There is no lack of compromising material - "kompromat" - in Russian politics.

Power serves mainly to guarantee one's own material welfare. The bureaucrat pockets his tithe from all transactions between the state and the citizen. "Kormlenie" - lining [one's pocket] - is what it was called in the days of the czars.

In the meantime, the presidial administration has taken yet another path to supplant the fatherland. Emissaries from the Kremlin are offering campaigners horrific sums of money to withdraw from the candidacy. If enough withdraw, according to election law, the OVR could still be excluded. Campaigner Konstantin Satulin was offered $700,000. Contact was made by banker Mamut, who belongs to the inner circle of the Yeltsin clan. The intimidated Kremlin camarilla is, of course, also participating in the elections.

Boris Beresovski is trying to get a direct mandate in the north Caucasian republic of Karatshaio-Czerkessia. The money of billionaire Roman Abramovitch and his family are campaigning on the Chukotka Peninsula in the Far East for a seat in the Duma. 40,000 poor people waiting for retirement would not want to disappoint him. If nothing else, he came with a basket full of gifts. If his leap to the Duma succeeds, he has reached his goal: immunity.

In September the Kremlin christened another one of its own parties, "Jedinstvo, Medvyed" - "Unit, Bear." In virtual character it resembles its opposing election association, OVR. The backbone of the Union is also composed of provincial governors and representatives of the regional nomenclatura. Disadvantage: the Kremlin could only gather another secondary guard about itself.

Top candidate is the Minister for Catastrophic Events, Sergei Shoigu, who has had the confidence of the television public for years. The second man in the alliance, ringer Alexander Kalenin, was once an Olympic winner in the Greek-Roman style. Since Caucasian demolition expert and Premier Vladimir Putin has told the people that he would only consider "Friend Shoigu," the "Bear" has risen several rungs on the ladder of popularity. That is because Putin, at home, is honored as a national savior.

Perspective: parties and programs have no significance in the elections. Clans which arise from the second ranks of the nomenclatura decide over distribution and guarantees of sinecure with the help of voting ballots. Still a victory of formal democracy, since customarily open questions are clarified in rights free ["rechtsfrei"] spaces.

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