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Yavlinsky Campaign Reveals Personal Life

By Sarah Karush

Staff Write

The Moscow Times, March 22, 2000

The voters have known Grigory Yavlinsky for a decade, but certain crucial facts about the Yabloko leader are only being revealed to them now.

Few knew, for instance, that his wife had to help him tie his tie every morning. Or about his aversion to frankfurters (a result of eating too many in his student days, says his wife).

As part of a new campaign strategy, Yavlinsky is giving the nation a peek at his human side appearing with his wife, Yelena, on talk shows, in jeans and a leather jacket at a rock concert, and even on a cooking show hosted by an aging pop star.

Olga Beklemishcheva, a former State Duma deputy who is working on Yavlinsky's campaign, said Yavlinsky has long been resistant to the idea of using his personal life to appeal to voters.

"We decided that it is absolutely necessary to show his personality through his family life," she said in an interview Tuesday. "We were able to convince him."

Yavlinsky may be ready to try new techniques in this election because of its crucial significance for his languishing party. While few expect him to come close to acting President Vladimir Putin, analysts say he needs a respectable showing to keep his party afloat.

"Yavlinsky is saving his party," said Vladimir Pribylovsky, head of the Panorama think tank and a Yabloko sympathizer.

At a minimum, Yavlinsky needs to do better than he did at the Dec. 19 parliamentary elections, when Yabloko took sixth place with 5.9 percent of the vote.

A Moscow Times poll conducted by the Institute for Comparative Social Research, or CESSI, showed Yavlinsky a distant third with 5 percent of the vote.

CESSI director Vladimir Andreyenkov said that while more voters may drift Yavlinsky's way by Sunday, he is unlikely to get more than 10 percent.

For his part, Yavlinsky says he is aiming much higher.

"We're waiting for the second round," he has been telling journalists for the past few weeks.

After Yabloko's poor showing at the Duma elections, the party was on the verge of collapse, Beklemishcheva said.

"At the first meeting of the coordinating council after the elections, the mood that we should behave quietly and make a deal was prominent," she said. "He [Yavlinsky] wasn't even sure the coordinating council would support his candidacy."

But, she said, Yavlinsky's determination "the fact that he threw himself into the fight" kept the party together.

In his seven years at the helm of his own party, Yavlinsky, 47, has become a staple of political life.

"His electorate is stable. About 5 to 8 percent vote for him, but it doesn't get any higher," Andreyenkov said.

But even for his most loyal supporters, the idea of Yavlinsky actually becoming president remains in the realm of fantasy.

"If only they would elect him, if only. Unfortunately, they won't," said Khoma Polonskaya, 85, who was waiting to shake Yavlinsky's hand at the opening of his public reception center last week.

In the 1996 presidential election, Yavlinsky came in fourth with 7.34 percent.

Yavlinsky's social democratic platform which champions human rights but also insists on the importance of a social safety net typically appeals to members of the urban intelligentsia, in particular people like teachers and doctors, who have seen their standard of living fall since perestroika.

But many voters remain wary of putting Yavlinsky in power because he lacks experience in the executive branch, Andreyenkov said.

Highly regarded as an economist, Yavlinsky drew up the much-hailed but never implemented 500 Days plan. He also worked out an experimental reform plan for the Nizhny Novgorod region, but that has come to be more closely associated with former Governor Boris Nemtsov, who carried it out.

Yavlinsky has staunchly refused to join Yeltsin-era Cabinets, and party members have been excluded for doing so. He has also refused to team up with other liberal parties allied with Anatoly Chubais and Yegor Gaidar.

Before the Duma elections, Yavlinsky attempted to change his image as a man unable to compromise when he teamed up with former Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin, who ran as the No. 2 candidate on Yabloko's list.

While Stepashin is a popular figure, his loyalty to Yeltsin and his involvement in the first Chechen war, of which Yavlinsky was an ardent critic, made him a strange choice of partner.

And Stepashin has proved an unreliable ally declaring his support for Putin in the elections and backing out of the St. Petersburg governor's race in favor of the Kremlin's candidate, Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matviyenko.

"I personally think it was a tactical mistake. That was my opinion from the beginning," said Beklemishcheva. "And he didn't really bring us any votes."

The strategy of showing Yavlinsky's human side may prove more fruitful.

Andreyenkov said that many Putin supporters may decide to vote for another candidate on the assumption that their support is not needed to clinch the presidency for Putin, leaving them the luxury of favoring an underdog second choice.

"Such reverse voting could well be based on personality traits," he said.

On Saturday's "Geroi Dnya Bez Galtsuka," which visits famous people at home, Yavlinsky revealed everything from his philosophy of life to his eating habits.

"I also like potatoes. And herring. And vodka," he told NTV's Irina Zaitseva, "because you're going to ask me whether I drink vodka."