Publication: Prism Volume: 2 Issue: 13

How Yeltsin Pulled it Off

By Yelena Dikun

When Boris Yeltsin officially announced last February that hewould participate in the presidential elections, political scientistsand pollsters took a rather dim view of his chances: they predictedthat he would get no more than ten percent of the vote. And itseemed that even the candidate was not firmly convinced of hisstrength. In any case, he frankly confessed to his fellow-countrymenthat his decision to run for a second term "did not, of course,mean that his re-election was a sure thing."

But Yeltsin did win — and by a substantial margin. He was ableto pull ahead of his rivals primarily due to his super-activity:in three months, he criss-crossed the country, winning over millionsof voters with his sincerity and simplicity.

But the lion’s share of his success was guaranteed by his cleverly-managedadvertising (propaganda) campaign, which was organized by thehead of his campaign headquarters, senior presidential aide ViktorIlyushin, NTV (Independent Television) president Igor Malashenko,and the head of the All-Russian Public Movement to Support BorisYeltsin’s Reelection, Sergei Filatov. In scale, and in the amountof money spent, none of the president’s rivals could match it.

The "Brain Trust" in Volynskoe

In early February, a group of experts was formed. The group washeaded by Georgi Satarov, the assistant to the president for politicalaffairs. The team included members of the Presidential councilEmil Pain and Leonid Smirnyagin, Mark Urnov, (now already theformer) head of the Presidential Analytical Department, MikhailDelyagin, the head of the economic branch of the same department,Oleg Vite, a consultant from the President’s Working Center onEconomic Reforms, Aleksei Kara-Murza, the director of the Centeron Theoretical Problems of Russian Reform, sector chief of theRussian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Philosophy, AleksandrRubtsov, and Vyacheslav Nikonov, the president of the PoliticsFoundation.

With the exception of the last three, all these people were ingovernment service and consequently were not allowed to participatein the election campaign during working hours or at governmentexpense.

This "creative collective" was, nonetheless, put upat one of the state dachas in Volynskoe. This resort complexnear Moscow was built for the party nomenklatura back inthe Brezhnev days. According to Aleksei Kara-Murza, the only memberof the group to agree to meet with this journalist, the expertgroup’s main job was to think through the political processesand the strategies of reform, and to work out arguments whichthe president could use to respond to his rivals.

Expanded meetings were held in Volynskoe twice a week. PresidentialCouncil members Aleksei Salmin and Andranik Migranyan, Assistantto the President for Economic Affairs Aleksandr Livshits, andpresidential speechwriter Lyudmila Pikhoya usually attended thesemeetings.

The creative process took place in a relaxed atmosphere. Satarovraised a theme for discussion: for example, the balance of politicalforces in Russia, the country’s future, what the Communists woulddo if they came to power, how to make elections more predictable,which forces in society the president could rely on, how to combinereforms and democracy, what the incumbent president could do tomaintain the course of reforms after the election, etc.

Each expert then examined the theme from the standpoint of hisarea of specialization. The final product of the Volynskoe authorswas a set of analytical notes which were stored in a computerto be used later by people on the president’s staff for writingspeech texts and preparing "impromptu" speeches forthe candidate.

At first glance, it would seem that the Kremlin speechwritersand image-makers could have used the work of scientific researchinstitutes and analytical centers with the same success. Why didthey need to set up a special "creative collective"?The fact is that the Volynskoe group was set up to work towardsa concrete goal — victory in the elections, for a concrete candidate– Boris Yeltsin. Its task was to prepare the "customer"intellectually for future fights with his rivals and to help himwin over the voters.

Made-to-Order Philippics

According to informed sources, a large share of Boris Yeltsin’scampaign spending was used for covert political advertising. Amajor role here was played by the newspaper, "God Forbid!",which was put out by the Kommersant publishing house. Withan enormous circulation — 10 million copies — "God Forbid!"was delivered free to voters. It was designed to reach ordinarypeople, and was vehemently anti-Communist. It is known that 10million dollars were spent on this project.

Yeltsin’s campaign headquarters spent another 15 million dollarson winning over the regional press. The Fund for Effective Policy,headed by journalist Andrei Vinogradov, a commentator on foreignpolicy, was entrusted with supervising this project. The Fund’sheadquarters was in Moscow, on Lyusinovskaya Street, No. 36. Itstask was not so much to praise Yeltsin as to "expose"Zyuganov.

The Fund operated as follows: experienced Moscow journalists wererecruited to write articles (under a pseudonym) on specified subjects.These were simplified anti-Communist texts, intended for the massreader. For example, a journalist could be assigned the task ofexposing the fictitious nature of the "Popular-PatrioticBloc" (which supported Gennady Zyuganov.) After that, theFund for Effective Policy, using its long-standing connections,got the article printed in the regional press, and sometimes evenin the Moscow press. In this way, "campaign literature"supporting Boris Yeltsin was ostensibly independent journalistsand is paid for out of funds which did not come from the candidate’sofficial campaign account.

Give the President a Call

Starting in April, there began to be announcements in the centralpress and on the radio: "What do you think the future willbe like for you and your children? Please call the president’sconfidential line, and tell him. Your answer will be recordedand given to Boris Yeltsin personally."

Who was the author of this idea and how did it take shape? Therewas no way to tell from calling the number given in the ads: itwasn’t the president who answered, but an unidentified male voicespeaking on an answering machine. In Boris Yeltsin’s press service,in his reception office, in Presidential Chief of AdministrationNikolai Yegorov’s staff, and at the headquarters of the PublicMovement to Support Boris Yeltsin’s Reelection — everyone disclaimedany knowledge of this operation.

Mikhail Mironov, the chairman the presidential administration’sHuman Rights Department, through which all appeals addressed tothe head of state pass, said, "I found out about the president’s’confidential telephone line’ from the newspapers. I have heardthat this was the work of ‘Video International.’"

Indeed, it has come to light that "Video International"is one of the main contractors for the Yeltsin campaign. MikhailMargelov, the firm’s director for new business, said that theidea of setting up a telephone line originated in the Kremlin,and he got the order from presidential aide Anatoly Korabelshchikov.The president’s administration paid for the firm’s services directly.Margelov said that "all the announcements in the papers andon the radio about the confidential telephone line were publishedfree of charge, since these were public service announcementswhich had nothing to do with the election campaign. "Thepresident simply wanted to establish a direct dialogue with thepeople," he said.

But here, Margelov is being disingenuous, to say the least: afterall, the telephone line was set up at the very height of the electionrace. And moreover, employees in the advertising departments ofthe publications which published the telephone number did nothide the fact that they were paid — and paid well — to run theseannouncements.

Mr. Margelov asserts that more than 30,000 average citizens calledBoris Yeltsin in the six weeks since the number was established.But the press always cites the same five calls, particularly,that of pensioner Aleksandra Matveevna Chelyushkina, who recalledhow she used to have to stand in line to get 200 grams of butterback in Brezhnev’s time, and will therefore vote for Yeltsin.

According to Margelov’s rough estimates, elderly people, defraudeddepositors, and servicemen are most likely to call the president.Almost half of the callers favor Yeltsin and wish to express theirrespect for him. One third, on the contrary, give him a good tongue-lashing,and another 20 percent are calling to get their day-to-day problemsresolved: to get their elevator fixed, to placate their boorishneighbors, to get back their lost money, etc. Margelov said thetapes were passed on to the president through the head of theHuman Rights Department, Mikhail Mironov. We work in close contactwith him."

But Mironov said, "We don’t have anything to do with ‘VideoInternational.’" It seems that the ones who invented thisgame don’t intend to play it themselves. This was a game designedexclusively for the voters. To pacify them — anything to keepthem quiet.

All the Stars Shine on One Candidate

On June 12th, Russia’s independence day, a grandiose concert washeld at Vasilievsky Spusk (at Red Square in Moscow) to supportPresident Yeltsin. The stars of the Russian pop-music stage pulledout all the stops and called on the crowd of half a million togive their votes to Boris Nikolaevich in the elections. This holidayevening was the grand finale of the extensive publicity campaign"Vote or You Lose!"

The organizers of this nationwide program were the big shots ofRussian show business: the firms "LIS,S.," "BizTV," "APC," the "Premier-SV" advertisingagency, the Stas Namin Center, and the leadership of Russian PublicTelevision [ORT], Russian Television [RTR], St. Petersburg Channel5, "Fresh Wind," "Muz TV," and the Associationof Regional Television Stations. According to the project’s director-coordinator,Konstantin Likutov, this action was primarily directed at theyouth. "Our main task is to persuade the younger generation,which skipped the December elections, to go to the polls on June16th. We’re not plugging a particular candidate, but democraticelections in general. But, of course, the organizers and artistsdon’t conceal their own political sympathies."

According to Likutov, the idea of setting up this project camefrom Boris Zosimov, the president of "Biz TV," and SergeiLisovsky, the president of "LIS,S." In early February,they took their idea to Boris Yeltsin’s campaign staff and gottheir approval. The project’s authors had no contact with theheadquarters of any other candidates.

The cultural program which so stirred the young electorate wasbroad-based. Thus, a "Vote or You Lose!" motor rallythrough Russia’s southern regions was held. Musicians and journalistssent along the rally’s path organized discos, lectures, and concertsat each stop, and gave out souvenirs (T-shirts, badges, posters,and postcards, all with the campaign logo on them) to the public.

And two super-marathons were also organized. Pop stars traveledacross nearly half the country — from Voronezh to Vladivostok– giving 23 concerts in 24 days. At the same time, there wasa "rock-music invasion" of the northern regions, inwhich the leading groups participated. Famous movie stars andshowmen performed in this program, and the group "Bravo"gave concerts.

Television held a prominent place in the project. Every night,during prime time, a ten-minute special program "Vote orYou Lose" was shown on RTR there was another ten-hour broadcaston "Muz TV," and special politicized "Hit Parade"shows were aired on ORT.

To organize something on that large a scale, you have to havepowerful administrative support. And in addition, you have tohave money — a lot of money. It is clear that the project’s organizersthemselves, no matter how big they were, did not have that kindof money. How could they pay for such a large advertising campaign?

"Most of the artists and musicians performed free of chargeor at a reduced rate," Likutov replied. "We didn’t makeany money from this project. And we didn’t take any money fromanyone either."

If a business takes in no money, you can say that it operatesat a loss. And tickets to these political concerts were sold atfabulous discounts. For example, if a Filipp Kirkorov solo concertcosts 300,000 to 500,000 rubles, here, you could enjoy the performancesof a whole "constellation" of pop stars for 40,000 to50,000 rubles. And almost a third of the tickets were handed outfor free.

One can believe that the pop stars themselves decided, out ofa sense of civic duty, to please their admirers for free justthis once. But it is impossible to believe that all the otherexpenses — renting the arenas, travel, freight, hotel, and perdiem — came out of their own pockets as well. And it was alsonecessary to print and post tons of signs and posters, and purchasethousands of T-shirts and other presents. Who paid for it?

As a rule, he who pays the piper calls the tune. The organizersof the advertising campaign assert that they did not support anyparticular presidential candidate, but their insincerity is tooobvious. The concert at Vasilievsky Spusk, and the concert tourswere held under the slogan "Yeltsin is Our President."And even the songs written especially for the election campaign,with lyrics like, "Go, Boris! Fight, Boris! Go higher andhigher! You’ll get the chance to sing your presidential song,"indicate unmistakably who the customer was.

As regards money, to judge from indirect information, it was raised,using the same scheme which was worked out so successfully inthe last elections by the "Russia is Our Home" bloc.At that time, all of the "Russia is Our Home Cultural Initiative"concerts were paid for by "patrons," thus bypassingthe campaign’s official books. As a result, these "voluntarycontributions" were successfully concealed from any controlor accounting.

Informed sources claim that 10 million dollars was collected forthe "Vote or You Lose" campaign. Obviously, this moneydid not come out of the official campaign treasury. In any case,according to official figures, Boris Yeltsin did not spend muchon his campaign, having withdrawn only about 7 billion rublesfrom his campaign account as of May 27th. As we can see, thereis an enormous difference between the official data and the amountof money actually spent.

Yelena Dikun is a political commentator for "Obshchayagazeta."