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Analysis: A New National Ideology for Russia?

  • Paul Goble

Washington, July 22 (RFE/FL) -- Boris Yeltsin recently proposed that Russians should begin to think about the formulation of a new Russian ideology. The Russian president did not say what he thought that ideology should contain, but his suggestion that it could help sort out Russian politics offers an intriguing idea.

Yeltsin's proposal, which he made to a meeting of his campaign associates, may have very little to do with coming up with new ideas about where Russia should be heading. Rather, it may have a great deal to do with the formation of a political movement designed to solidify Yeltsin's hold on power and to carry on his reform program.

The Russian president, despite his recent victory at the polls, continues to be criticized in Russia and the West for his failure to build or base himself in a political party. One of the reasons that Yeltsin has had so many problems with the parliament is that he is explicitly not the leader of any one party.

Yeltsin's efforts to create a party and his backing of Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's "Russia is Our Home" bloc were not entirely successful, in part because Yeltsin himself was unwilling to commit himself to be a leader of the group.

At the meeting with his campaign aides, Yeltsin felt compelled to justify himself on this point yet again. He said that while there are so many parties and movements in the country--he suggested there were "about 40"--it would be a mistake for the president to be a member of any one of them.

But the Russian president added: "When there are just two or three of them, the president will have to make his choice." And he noted that Russia might reach that stage by the next presidential poll in the year 2000.

Consequently, what Yeltsin appears to have in mind when he speaks of a "national ideology" is not a set of ideas but rather an organization. Indeed, whether he is aware of the parallels or not, the Russian president seems ready to follow in the footsteps of French leader Charles de Gaulle, who set up a movement to overcome the party divisions of the French Fourth Republic.

And that movement, which was launched as an alternative to political parties, became the dominant political force in the French Fifth Republic.

Sergei Filatov, a senior Yeltsin advisor, provided some additional support for this interpretation when he told Russian journalists that the Popular-Patriotic Bloc that had been set up to help re-elect Yeltsin would not turn its attention to making sure pro-Yeltsin candidates won in local and regional elections later this year.

And other Yeltsin aides who attended the meeting suggested that the people involved in this bloc could provide an important "direct link" between Yeltsin and the electorate.

Such a strategy--the creation of a party in the guise of defining an ideology for Russia--would be quintessentially Yeltsin in method and goals.

To a remarkable extent, it would allow him to have his cake and eat it too. He could continue to present himself to Russians still suspicious of party labels as uniquely standing above all parties, while at the same time building one that could quickly become the strongest party in Russia since the demise of the Soviet Union.