Publication: Prism Volume: 1 Issue: 25

Profiles of Political Parties: Yabloko

by Tamara Zamyatina

Political analysts agree that the Communist Party, "RussiaIs Our Home," the Congress of Russian Communities, and Russia’sWomen will win the most votes in this month’s elections for theRussian State Duma. Yabloko appears to be the only democraticparty able to give them any competition at all.


The Yabloko movement was established in in the summerof 1993 by three eminent politicians: Grigory Yavlinsky, YuriBoldyrev and Vladimir Lukin. Initially, the name "Yabloko"was derived from the first letters of the names of these politicians. After Boldyrev’s departure from the party, the movement’s namehas become associated with a fruit: In Russian, "Yabloko"means "apple."

The Yabloko movement emerged as a democratic alternativeto the course of President Yeltsin and those democratic and liberalmovements which supported the president in 1993, including YegorGaidar and his supporters, united within the "Russia’s Choice."

Yavlinsky’s opposition to Gaidar’s economic program dates backto 1991. Unhappy with some of the economic moves of the governmentat that time, and as a result of the deterioration of his personalrelations with Boris Yeltsin, he became the leader of that partof the electorate which supported democratic and free market reforms,but were opposed to Gaidar’s choice of methods. The Center forEconomic & Political Research (the EPIcenter), which was establishedby Yavlinsky, began developing the basic concepts for an alternativeprogram of economic, political and social reforms. This Centerlater developed into the core of the Yablako organization.

The September and October events of 1993 accelerated the formationof Yabloko. Yavlinsky denounced the presidential decreewhich dissolved the Supreme Soviet. Later that year, he criticizedthe draft of the new Russian Constitution, calling it too authoritarianbecause it curtailed the rights of the legislative branch.

In the 1993 elections, Yabloko received 7.86 percentof votes (by the federal party list) which gave it 20 seats inthe Duma. In addition, 7 candidates from the bloc won in the single-memberdistricts. Yabloko‘s parliamentary bloc has consistentlyopposed Yeltsin and the course of the Chernomyrdin government.

Unlike the other pro-democracy parties, which started fallingapart after the 1993 elections due to political and personal disagreements, Yabloko gathered strength and, in rivalry with Gaidar’sRussia’s Democratic Choice, began moving toward the leading rolein Russia’s democratic flock. But to become the lead party, itwas necessary for Yabloko to gain mass support.

To achieve this goal, the "Yabloko Popular Movement"was established and held its first congress in December 1994. The movement currently has 58 regional branches and embracesa number of regional sociopolitical organizations.

But despite the attempt to establish broad support, it is essentiallya Moscow-centric party. Many of Yabloko‘s regional partylists are topped by Muscovites who are prominent activists ofthe movement. But Yabloko does have a number of strongregional figures, including Ivan Grachev, Candidate of Physics& Mathematics from Kazan and the chairman of the "EqualRights and Legality" regional election bloc; Boris Shaidullin,chief of the Tomsk regional branch of EPIcenter; Georgy Seryuchin,Miners and Metallurgists Trade Union’s Orel regional council chairman.

The Yabloko movement, like all other democraticpolitical associations, is suffering from a shortage of campaignfunds. According to a number of sources, Yabloko receivessome financial support from Most Bank. It also garners supportfrom a number of businessmen who are active in the movement.

Election Strategies

The movement’s strategy for the State Duma elections is infact a strategy for the presidential elections in June 1996. Because the legislature is relatively powerless under the RussianConstitution, Yabloko is more interested in winning powerin the Kremlin than it is in filling the Duma. Yavlinsky hopesto use the current election campaign as a "survival of thefittest" test for the democratic camp. In contrast to theagreements reached, for example, between the Communist and AgrarianParties to consolidate forces in the single-member districts,Yabloko has called on each democratic or liberal movementto act on its own in these elections, so that each can prove itsvalue.

Economic Platform

Yabloko entered the election campaign with a well-elaboratedand well-thought out program. This program contains manyof the ideas which he has advanced between 1991-1995, though somewhatrevised to meet the current challenges.

In the area of economics, Yabloko‘s program containsa number of conceptional differences from Gaidar’s program andgovernment’s program. As Yavlinsky puts it, one of the distinguishingfeatures of Yabloko‘s program is the order of priorities."As far as economic policy is concerned," Yavlinskyargues, "the most important task for us is to create a singleeconomic space embracing the entire CIS, to demonopolize the economy,to promote the development of a competitive medium, to make itso that proper ownership relations established in the country(in the sphere of land ownership first of all), to make it sothat economic reforms develop from grass roots, not from top down.With regard to the majority of issues our colleagues (other democraticparties) suggest a different order of priorities."

Another member of Yabloko leadership and Humanitarianand Political Studies Institute Director Vyacheslav Igrunov hasbeen even more critical of the economic policies of Yabloko‘sopponents from the democratic and government flocks. "Thosewho favor the course towards building a country for bureaucratswill vote for a certain group of parties, while those who wantour country to develop into a country for the people will supportanother group of parties in these elections. Gaidar’s party doesnot put the interests of ordinary person on the head of the list.He implemented his reforms in order to create a market and tomake enterprises efficient. For him it did not matter much howthese reforms would affect people’s standards of living. We areopposed to the policy of building an efficient economy if it servesto reduce the people to misery. Gaidar has never fought againstmonopolists. He transferred the state property to the bureaucratswho are monopolists. In the former times the state controlledeverything and put a stop to bureaucratic abuses. Now these bureaucratscan do whatever they want with impunity. Therefore, acting underdemocratic slogans, Gaidar and his team have eventually createda new system which is worse than the old one. Bureaucrats ownnearly 90 percent of national property today. It must not be thatway. National income should be shared between the citizens inequal proportions. There should not be such a huge gap betweenthe income enjoyed by the majority and that enjoyed by a narrowcircle of those who have become so rich that even surprise Westernmagnates. Yabloko advocate reforms and free market, butwe cannot approve of the current order of things."

Igrunovy’s statements, as well as those made by other membersof Yabloko‘s leadership, testify to the fact that Yablokodoes not strictly adhere to classical liberal market economics,but is somewhat socialist. Its present program includes manystatements reflecting the ideas of social justice and a strongstate which cares for the weak and subsidizes social protectionmeasures.

While meeting with students of Moscow State University in NovemberGrigory Yavlinsky said: "The state should control the followingthree areas: Education, health care and security. Any policy whichserves to undermine these areas is in fact a subversive policy.We understand democracy as the right for the people to enjoy free access to first class education, health care and security.We see our task as providing everything necessary for these areasto develop."

Thus, despite his complaints about monopolistic ownership, Yavlinskyin fact deviates from the classicl liberal idea of an unhindered developmentof a free market economy. However, it is difficult to say to whatextent statements such as these are indicative of a change in Yabloko‘s ideology or justan act of populism on Yavlinsky’s part aimed at attracting additionalvoter support.

Foreign Policy

Just as Yavlinsky is the father of Yabloko‘s economicprogram, Vladimir Lukin, chairman of the State Duma Foreign AffairsCommittee, is essentially the faction’s spokesman on foreign relationsissues.

International issues do not matter much to the average Russianvoter. Only extremist organizations are trying to attract votersby promising to immediately restore the Soviet Union or to createsomething like a Russian empire. All parties and movements considerit obligatory to mention in their foreign policy programs thereintegration of the former USSR territory, but most are morecautious in their statements than the extremist groups. Mostparties and blocs call for cooperation between Russia and foreignstates, while simultaneously ensuring that Russia is capable of resisting any outside threat. In this sense Yabloko‘sprogram is not an exception, however, it definitely bears theimprint of Vladimir Lukin’s personality and his professionalism.The following are the main points of Yabloko‘s foreignpolicy program:

— Russia’s foreign policy shall be based on absolute priorityof Russia’s national interests; –A strong foreign policy shouledbe used (to the extent possible) to compensate for the current military and economic disparity between Russia andthe leading countries of the world;

— Russia’s foreign policy should be active, consistent, realisticand to a certain extent rigid; — Russia should actively lookfor friends and partners in every direction and proceeding fromher own national interests, while avoiding any serious conflictswith the world community;

— While maintaining partnership relations with the US and otherleading countries of the West, Russia at the same time shouldnot lose her traditional friends and partners and should activelyassert her interests in those areas of the globe where the USSR(and now Russia) had traditional ties (including China, EasternEurope in general and the Balkans in particular, and the MiddleEast).


What are Yabloko‘s chances at the polls?

Numerous recent polls conducted by various sociological services,although differ somewhat in their results, come to the same conclusion: Yavlinsky’s popularity is steadily increasing.

Of those voters who were asked whom they would like to seeas president of Russia, Yavlinsky’s ratings were as follows: August1994, 7 percent supported Yavlinksy; in January 1995, his supportwas 9 percent; and in February 1995 his support rose to14 percent. Significantly, in these polls, which were conducted by the "PublicOpinion" foundation, Yavlinsky won the plurality among allthe social groups covered by the polls.

In theory the rise of Yavlinsky’s popularity should translateinto greater gains for Yabloko in this month’s Duma election,but it is not clear that this is happening. According to the pollsconducted by the All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center, 7percent of the respondents were willing to vote for Yablokoas of July 1995; in September, the figure had dropped to 6 percent. Other surveys have also found that while Yabloko is likelyto pass the 5 percent threshold which is required to enter theDuma in the federal district elections, it will not make anydramatic breakthrough.

A common problem for all the democratic movements, includingYabloko, is that they are unable to expand the basic pro-democraticpart of the electorate. The recent strong showing of a numberof new political structures,especially, of Viktor Chernomyrdin’s"Russia Is Our Home" party, has hurt the democrats. This party has a number of serious advantages over Yabloko,including a strong financial basis and the prestige, (althoughsomewhat undermined recently) of being the "party of power."

The question is who is willing today to vote for a continuationof democratic and free market reforms. In assessing the potentialconstituency for his movement, Grigory Yavlinsky remarked: "Weappeal, in the first place, to those who have suffered the mostfrom the reforms, however, have not lost the faith and believethat there exists a way out of the current predicament. We appealto the middle class, primarily to those who receive their wagesfrom the state budget."

According to this approach, Yabloko ought to have a numericallystrong and socially versatile constituency. However, the resultsof the polls conducted by the All-Russian Public Opinion ResearchCenter show this is not so. Yabloko‘s supporters are primarily white collar males ranging in age from 40 to 55; people withhigher education, with medium and high incomes, and who live inMoscow, St. Petersburg and other big cities.

Yabloko has kept only 37 percent of its supporters from1993 but has won over to its side 9 percent of the voters whosupport Zhirinovsky’s Liberal Democratic Party in the last elections.

Do the voters, in general, and Yabloko supporters inparticular, understand Yabloko‘s goals? According to polls conducted by the "PublicOpinion" foundation 13 percent of the public thinks Yablokois a pro-democracy party; 6 percent think Yabloko asa party stands for social justice and another 6 percent viewit as a party of bosses. As for Yabloko supporters, 25percent of them consider Yabloko to be a party for socialjustice, 22 percent characterize it as a party of proponents ofdemocracy and 11 percent say Yabloko is a party that advocatesorder and security.

Thus it appears that Yabloko’s main trump cards are theideas of order and security, and social justice. It is no longeradvantageous for Russian political parties to make "democracy" a key word in their rhetoric.

Tamara Zamyatina is a political analyst for ITAR-TASS.