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Yakovlev Takes a Populist Approach to Governing St. Petersburg

  • Brian Whitmore



St Petersburg, July 30 (RFE/RL) -- In his first 50 days in office after Russia's first democratic change in government, St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev is stamping a mark on the city.

He has peopled a new administration, initiated a new atmosphere of cooperation among local political elites, mended fences with Moscow and introduced a series of populist measures.

The governor has moved boldly, even though he inherited vague legislation on power transition that leaves the structure of his government in question until the legislative assembly returns from recess in September.

Alexei Kedrin, city hall press secretary, says that 60 percent of the personnel has changed at the highest levels of city government. But at the lower levels, the number is less than 10 percent.

The contours of Yakovlev's government have been known since the second round of presidential balloting. Kedrin says the rush to form a government had a specific purpose.

"It was in the governor's interest to have a team in place prior to the presidential elections, in case there was a President Zyuganov," he said.

When Yakovlev took the oath of office on June 5, he promised to strive for unity and to make St. Petersburg a positive example for a politically divided nation.

"We do not need to divide the city into Reds and Whites," he said. "We need civil accord."

He appears to have brought a more cooperative style to city hall. Alexander Belyayev, a former Federation Council deputy and a failed candidate for governor, provides some insight.

"Yakovlev's emphasis on professional experience rather than party affiliation makes it possible for him to build coalitions," he said.

Tatyana Dorutina, local chairwoman of the Free Democratic Party, disputes the new governor's claim to be reaching beyond his own political base. She said that Yakovlev's staff appointments are drawn from his own professional contacts and people who supported his campaign.

"By all appearances, Yakovlev's cadre policy is neither open or democratic," she said.

Immediately after taking office, Yakovlev all but disappeared from public view until the first round of presidential elections on June 16. He appeared with President Boris Yeltsin during Yeltsin's June 14 campaign stop in St. Peterburg.

After the first round of the presidential election, however, Yakovlev appeared to explode into action. It was impossible to tune into local television without seeing some report of the new governor getting down to work.

Leaving issues of official administration aside, Yakovlev has brought a new brand of grass roots populism to Russia's second city. In most of his public appearances, the governor is preceded by a platoon of hose-bearing, broom-toting street sweepers. He wears a hard-hat that has become the new idiom of gubernatorial fashion. He descends metro shafts and visits factories. Just one of the guys, who just happens to run the city.
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