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Russia: Nationalist Party Barred From Moscow Election

A shot from Rodina's campaign advertisement (RFE/RL) A Moscow court has banned Rodina (Motherland), a nationalist opposition party, from running in the election to Moscow's City Duma next weekend. Judges ruled that the party's campaign advertisement incited racial hatred. The decision has incensed Rodina's leader, who has accused the authorities of trying to get rid of a powerful opposition force.

Moscow, 28 November 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Rodina's electoral campaign advertisement sparked widespread outrage when it first aired on Russian television in early November.

The 30-second clip shows dark-skinned men dropping watermelon rinds on the ground as a blonde woman walks past with a pram. Rodina leaders -- including party leader Dmitrii Rogozin -- then appear and ask the men to pick up the litter. The ad ends with the slogan: "Let's clean up Moscow of rubbish."

However, when the Moscow City Court on 26 November ruled that the party was inciting racial hatred and banned it from standing in the 4 December Moscow City Duma elections, it was Rodina's turn to cry foul.

The party immediately released a statement saying the court was "controlled by Moscow authorities" and accusing the local government of seeking to monopolize power.

Rogozin told RFE/RL's Russian Service that the court had committed several violations in sentencing his party and called the ruling a "farce."

But he said the decision only highlighted what he described as the authorities' fears over Rodina's political clout.

"The problem here does not at all lie in the clip [campaign advertisement]. In fact, it lies in the very tough questions that the Rodina party has raised in the Moscow City Duma elections, particularly in relation to corruption, to the disgrace surrounding the migration policy in which the authorities are interested," Rogozin said. "This is why they were simply afraid of us and have got rid of a leading rival in the elections."

Political Threat

Rodina is the third biggest party in parliament. Opinion polls have predicted it would take second place in the city Duma elections, far behind the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party.

This has led a number of observers -- irrespective of their opinion on the campaign advertisement -- to agree that the authorities may indeed be seeking to get rid of a growing political force.

Nikolai Petrov, a political analyst at the Carnegie Center in Moscow, says Rodina is a solid political force and suggests that the unfolding scandal might even add to its popularity.

"Despite the somewhat exaggerated position of its leaders, it [Rodina] is absolutely solid. If it is not banned from the elections, it can expect [to win] 10 to 12 percent of votes, and maybe more if it attracts more attention as a result of the scandal surrounding the court's decision and subsequent appeals," Petrov said.

The story becomes more complicated. The Moscow court's ruling followed a complaint by the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) -- another nationalist party with similar slogans. This has cast further doubt on the motives behind the decision to ban Rodina from the December ballot.

LDPR tends to see Rodina as a rival. Ideologically, the two parties have some similarities -- particularly in their verbal attacks against migrants. Petrov says that a large number of Rodina votes would go to the LDPR if the party was pushed out of the electoral race.

Even human rights campaigners who slam Rodina for what they say is an explicitly xenophobic electoral advertisement are expressing some uneasiness about the circumstances in which the court issued its ruling.

Lev Ponomarev, a prominent human rights activist and the executive director of the All-Russian Movement For Human Rights, is one of them.

"I think that the clip [advertisement] was disgraceful and that the court's decision was fair. The only thing that upsets me is that the complaint was from the LDPR," Ponomarev said. "Of course, it would have been better if it [Rodina] had been banned following a complaint from a democratic party, because LDPR is also a provocative organization and also exploits nationalism."

Rogozin told RFE/RL that his party will appeal the court's decision and that Rodina's candidates will continue to run until a new judgment is passed. He also warned that, if all appeals are rejected, the party would consider resorting to "non-parliamentarian" methods to fight against the authorities.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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