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
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
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
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