Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 232

Yesterday’s demonstration in support of Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov went off more or less without a hitch, despite rumors of plots to provoke violence. Police estimated that 75,000 people showed up. Many of these, though, were connected to the rally’s sponsor, the Moscow Federation of Independent Trade Unions, and were reportedly given time off from work to attend. Luzhkov, who in tandem with former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov heads the Fatherland-All Russia (OVR) coalition, spoke to the crowd, hitting such now-traditional anti-Kremlin themes as the “lawlessness” and “stealing of all the country’s property and money” which has taken place during the year’s of President Boris Yeltsin’s rule (Russian agencies, December 14; Moscow Times, December 15).

Meanwhile, members of the Moscow OMON riot police were sent to break up a rally outside the Ostankino television center in northern Moscow, which was organized by the Union of Right-wing Forces and the pro-Kremlin Unity bloc. Some 500 people, apparently mostly students, showed up outside the television center to defend “freedom of speech.” The building houses the studios of Russian Public Television (ORT), the 51-percent state-controlled television channel reportedly controlled by Kremlin insider Boris Berezovsky which has been carrying out a relentless anti-Luzhkov, anti-Fatherland-All Russia campaign. The demonstrators had not been granted a permit to demonstrate, and thirty-nine of them were arrested, but later released (NTV, December 14; Vremya-MN, December 15).

Despite the large turnout for Luzhkov, the latest polls suggest that OVR is falling further and further behind as the State Duma elections, set for this Sunday (December 19) draw near. Indeed, the results of a poll taken by the ROMIR polling agency on December 4 and 5 and released yesterday put Unity, the pro-Kremlin bloc headed by Minister of Emergency Situations Sergei Shoigu, in first place, ahead of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF). Unity got the support of 21.9 percent of the respondents. The KPRF garnered 17.7 percent. OVR came in third, with 9 percent (Russian agencies, December 14).

Meanwhile, a poll commissioned by The Moscow Times and carried out by the CESSI Sociological Institute found that 62 percent of respondents thought ORT was presenting the news fairly or somewhat fairly (only 24 percent said they saw ORT’s coverage as unfair in any way). Forty-five percent said they trusted ORT more than any of Russia’s national television channels. Twenty-eight percent said they most trusted NTV, which is part of Media-Most and more sympathetic to Luzhkov, while 11 percent said they most trusted RTR state television, which, like ORT, has been actively hostile to the Moscow mayor while giving Unity unreservedly favorable (and ample) coverage (Moscow Times, December 15). Given that ORT reaches 99 percent of all Russian households while NTV reaches only 60 percent, the CESSI poll results go a long way in explaining why Unity’s rating has been rising while Fatherland-All Russia’s has been falling.