Russian parliamentary elections take place in less than two weeks (December 19), and the campaign ads are in full swing. RFE/RL contributor Laura Belin looks at how the reformist Yabloko party is trying to recast its image.
Moscow, 6 December 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Perhaps the biggest problem facing Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky is his image as a talker who is unable or unwilling to take responsibility for running the country.
During a heated television debate recently (November 25), former Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais repeatedly invoked that image. "You cannot imagine how I envy you," Chubais taunted the Yabloko leader at one point. He said Yavlinsky stood on the sidelines for years, criticizing those in power but never shaping his own policy. Chubais also talked of Yavlinsky's rejection of several offers of high government posts, painting a picture of a party that is all talk and no action.
During the last week, Yabloko has begun to air television commercials that seek to dispel that image. The new ads, which appear regularly during both free and paid air time, emphasize that candidates on the Yabloko ticket have solid policy achievements and are ready to put their plans into action.
One commercial alludes to the benefits of the law on production-sharing agreements, which is designed to attract foreign investment in projects to extract natural resources. The Yabloko faction drafted that law and worked hard to secure its passage. But the campaign ad does not mention "production-sharing agreements," a term which would be unfamiliar to most Russians, nor does it make any reference to foreign investment.
Instead, it shows Yavlinsky talking with a group of voters. One man asks, "Grigory Alekseevich, will we live better than we do now?" Yavlinsky replies, "In our country we have everything we need in order to live better. On 30 July the Sakhalin-2 [oil well] project started to operate. That provided jobs for 2,500 people. Two schools and a hospital have been built. Those people have already begun to live better, thanks to just one of Yabloko's laws. We have many laws like that. Everything we've thought up will work." At the end of the commercial, a voice-over says, "Yabloko -- for a decent life."
A similar commercial shows an elderly man asking, "When will you start to think about pensions?" Yavlinsky replies that thanks to Aleksei Arbatov, deputy chairman of the Duma Defense Committee, the parliament passed a law to increase pension payments to veterans. But the current authorities are not implementing that law, Yavlinsky noted. "That's why we need to be in power [...] so that our laws can start to work, so that we can prove that there is money in the country, and it's possible to give it to the people. So that we can manage to help you."
Yet another new commercial shows a woman asking, "Grigory Alekseevich, when will things get better?" Yavlinsky replies that if his party gets into power, they will reduce expenditures on the presidential administration in the very first month, which will free up money for health expenditures, student stipends, and soldiers' pay. Yavlinsky also promises that Yabloko would strengthen the state and the borders and would not allow stolen money to be spirited abroad. "Paradise won't arrive right away," he concludes. "But every day we will try to achieve stability and calm, and it will be better."
Three other new advertisements feature former Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin, the number two candidate on Yabloko's party list. One shows Stepashin speaking to the camera: "The time has come when decent and honest people should be together." It concludes with a voice-over: "Honesty in the organs of power, order in the country. Yabloko."
The other two new commercials end with the same slogan, but include more information about Stepashin's accomplishments during his brief stint as prime minister this past summer. An interviewer asks, "Sergei Vadimovich, you were prime minister for three months. Was it possible to achieve anything in that time?"
Stepashin replies, "It was possible, and we managed to do it. We paid salaries on time. We fully settled pension arrears, and the defense industry commission was created. The war waged by NATO and the U.S. against Yugoslavia, as well as what's happening today in Chechnya and Dagestan, allow us to draw one conclusion: our country will be respected when it is strong. I think that reviving the military-industrial complex is one of the main tasks facing the country today."
In another commercial, the interviewer asks Stepashin when order will be restored in the country. Stepashin answers that it will happen only when "professionals" are in power." Criminals have not yet been destroyed," he says. "They are straining to get into power, and our task is to get in their way. Because 'order' is not just a calling. Order and law are professions."
In the last parliamentary elections, in 1995, Yabloko received just under 7 percent of the vote. The new commercials suggest that the party's leaders are using their campaign resources to directly confront their weak points and aim for a larger share on December 19.