Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 36

In a sure sign that the campaign for the next State Duma elections is underway, several political movements held congresses over the weekend. Democratic Russia, which was headed by State Duma Deputy Galina Starovoitova until her murder last November 20, held its sixth annual national conference in Moscow. The party chose Yuli Rybakov to replace Starovoitova as the party’s chairman. Rybakov, a deputy in the State Duma representing St. Petersburg, is a long-time human rights campaigner who played a particularly active role in opposing the war in Chechnya.

Yesterday, Democratic Russia voted to join Pravoe delo (Just Cause), the center-right coalition formed late last year by Russia’s Democratic Choice leader Yegor Gaidar, privatization architect Anatoly Chubais and former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov. Party leaders said they would work with Just Cause on a single ticket of candidates to contest the Duma elections, scheduled for this December. In a statement, Democratic Russia declared itself opposed to “the government of communist trust led by [Prime Minister Yevgeny] Primakov.” It charged that Primakov’s government is under the sway of “national-communists” and “its own immediate mercenary interests,” and was leading the country toward “complete impoverishment, collapse, another historical dead-end and another revolution” (Russian agencies, February 21-22).

Among the other groups which held meetings in Moscow was the Russian Socialist Party, headed by Vladimir Bryntsalov, the pharmaceuticals tycoon who ran for president in 1996. The party’s symbol is a triangle with the slogan: “Government, Capital, the People.” Another group of socialists–social democrats, to be exact–also met this weekend. Their leader, former Moscow Mayor Gavril Popov, gave a speech which sounded distinctly un-social-democratic. He called for “a massive purge of the law enforcement organs” which would include the use of “tribunals” and the death penalty (Russian agencies, February 22).

In Nizhny Novgorod, meanwhile, former Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko held the founding congress of his new political movement Novaya sila (New Force). In his keynote address, Kirienko said the movement would be a vehicle “of the newly formed independent class”–those who maintain and value their independence from the state and the government. He also stressed that the movement was based in the regions, not in Moscow (NTV, February 20).

Kirienko, who began the congress with an international Internet chat-session, is clearly trying to appeal to the young and to members of Russia’s proto-middle class. After his speech, delegates and supporters outside the conference hall burned an effigy representing Russian corruption. Surprisingly, however, Kirienko said in a press conference that New Force might back Primakov in a presidential bid, should the prime minister decide to run in 2000. Kirienko called Primakov a “competent” politician. He repeated his criticism, however, that the government lacks an economic policy, but said he hoped Primakov would make “the right choice” in terms of its economic direction (Russian agencies, February 22).

Kirienko was involved in the founding late last year of Just Cause, and both Chubais and Nemtsov stated that Kirienko’s participation would be key to the new coalition’s success, given that he had the highest popularity rating among the so-called “young reformers.” In recent interviews, however, Kirienko, while not rejecting Just Cause, has stressed that he sees Grigory Yavlinsky’s Yabloko, Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov’s Fatherland and Krasnoyarsk Governor Aleksandr Lebed as potential allies for his new movement. All three have been very critical of the “young reformers.”