Two Russians on a park bench.”Terrible news,” says one. “What’s that?” says the other.”Primakov,” says the first. “It says here he told the Duma,’Today Russia has taken a great step forward.'” “So, nu?” “Don’tyou remember? Yesterday he said, ‘Today Russia stands on thebrink of a great abyss.'”

With the country sunk in depression and still not bottomed out,one might think politicians would be reluctant to assert a claimto leadership. One would be wrong. The competition forparliamentary elections in December 1999, and presidentialelections in June 2000, is vigorous.

The old “party of power,” the loose aggregation of politiciansaround President Boris Yeltsin and former Prime Minister ViktorChernomyrdin, has collapsed with the economy and Chernomyrdin’sdismissal from government last March. The people are stillaround, but like iron filings which have lost their magnet theyhave lost all sense of organization.