Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 231

A demonstration in support of Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov is set to begin today at 5 PM, Moscow time, near Red Square, where some 100,000 people–according to the organizers of the rally, the Moscow Federation of Trade Unions–are expected to show up. In the words of an official of Fatherland-All Russia (OVR), the political coalition in which Luzhkov is one of the leaders, the purpose of the demonstration is to “stand up” for Luzhkov “amidst all the lies and dirt poured all over him” (Moscow Times, December 14).

Some of Luzhkov’s foes, including the Union of Right-wing Forces (SPS), have charged that the city government is planning to stack the rally with municipal workers, who–Luzhkov’s opponents claim–have been ordered to attend on the threat of losing their jobs. Last night, Russian Public Television (ORT) featured a segment on its nightly news in which officials in SPS’s headquarters were shown fielding calls from city workers who complained of pressure from their bosses to attend the rally (ORT, December 13). ORT, Russia’s 51-percent state-owned main television channel, is controlled by Kremlin insider Boris Berezovsky and has been openly attacking Luzhkov for months.

The city authorities, of course, have denied the charge, and some of Luzhkov’s allies have countered with charges of their own. Georgy Boos, the former tax minister who now heads Fatherland-All Russia’s election headquarters, yesterday accused “right-wing forces”–an apparent reference to the SPS–of deliberately trying to whip up fear that the pro-Luzhkov demonstrators will march on ORT. Boos charged that SPS leaders Anatoly Chubais and Sergei Kirienko, along with ORT anchor Sergei Dorenko, were insinuating that Luzhkov’s supporters would repeat what pro-Communist rioters did in October 1993 when they tried to take over the Ostankino television center in Moscow (from which ORT broadcasts today, as did its forerunner, the state’s first channel). The October 1993 confrontation at Ostankino wound up in a shoot-out which left dozens dead. Boos categorically denied that today’s demonstration would take such a turn, but added that he and other OVR officials had information that “provocations” aimed at causing violence were planned for today’s rally. Boos did not say who was behind the “provocations” (Radio Ekho Moskvy, December 13).

Fears of violence have preceded other elections in Russia–particularly the 1996 presidential contest–but fortunately have not materialized, at least on a large-scale. Some of Russia’s less responsible politicians (to put it euphemistically), however, are openly predicting bloodshed. For example, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, head of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, predicted that today’s demonstration would turn violent, and said that Luzhkov should immediately afterwards be removed as mayor and the capital placed under direct federal control (ORT, December 13). SPS leaders, meanwhile, have promised to hold a counter-demonstration in support of “free speech” (see the Monitor, December 13). One of the coalition’s leaders, former Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko, is challenging Luzhkov in the race for Moscow mayor, which will be held next Sunday, December 19–the same day as the State Duma election.