Homosexual-rights activist brings zest to campaign

May 09, 1991|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,Moscow Bureau of The Sun

MOSCOW -- Attention, Russian voters: Tired of the endless squabbles of Communists and democrats? Looking for a candidate for the Russian presidency who has some fresh ideas?

Roman Kalinin, 25, pioneer of gay activism in the Soviet Union, leader of the Libertarian Party and candidate in the Russian Federation's June 12 presidential vote, has them in spades.

"What shocks today will be considered normal tomorrow," declared the oft-arrested Mr. Kalinin, whose freedom to walk the streets these days is living proof that Soviet totalitarianism isn't what it used to be.

Mr. Kalinin on the economic crisis: "Sell the republic to foreign monopolies. We might as well -- Russian economists aren't having any luck, and who cares what language the executives speak if there's something in the stores?"

On wages: "In dollars at the current rate, a lot of Soviet workers get $5 a month. Would any American work for that? Well, we don't either."

On prices: "Cut the price of vodka by 80 percent. It's the only thing people have left."

On the military threat: "Disband the army. Nobody wants to attack us. I don't think the United States wants to defeat us simply to spend billions of dollars fixing our ruined economy. Sell all our arms to Saddam Hussein, then even Kuwait won't be afraid of him."

Mr. Kalinin says he seeks to shock people. Yesterday it was his turn to be shocked. He was at home working on the newspaper he edits, Tema (Theme), which he says is this country's only newspaper for gays, when reporters began to call him.

The Telegraph Agency of the Soviet Union, better known by its Russian initials as Tass, had run a big story on his candidacy.

It was, in fact, probably the biggest story Tass has run on the Russian presidential campaign. At least it matched any stories the official news agency has run on the campaigns of such better-known candidates as Boris N. Yeltsin, leader of the Russian parliament, or Nikolai I. Ryzhkov, the former Soviet prime minister.

The story carried the bylines of two Tass reporters and was written in the deadly serious tone for which Tass is known: "The chairman of the republican electoral commission, Vasily Kazakov, however, told Tass that Kalinin is not yet an official candidate in the presidential race because the Libertarian Party and the Association of Sexual Minorities, which nominated him, have not been formally registered."

Tut-tut, said Mr. Kalinin. He said his party's principles don't permit it to submit to registration. "We don't really recognize Soviet laws," he said.

But there's a way out: Anyone can become an official candidate bycollecting signatures of support from 100,000 voters.

"We plan to buy people's votes," he said. Russian millionaires, who for some reason wish to remain anonymous, have donated 100,000 rubles to the cause, he said. They are soliciting nominating postcards, and they say all the postcards will be automatically entered into a lottery.

"Ten people will win 10,000 rubles each," Mr. Kalinin said. "I think that will get people's attention."

Getting people's attention is getting harder here with every passing week, but Mr. Kalinin seems to have succeeded more than once in the past. His party, which drew 700 people to its Second Congress last month, specializes in public actions that might be summed up as humor against communism.

The Libertarians made a splash last summer by handing out condoms to delegates to the 28th Communist Party Congress -- until the paddy wagon arrived.

"Condoms Will Stop Any Infection: AIDS, Syphilis or Communism," their poster said.

Last September they demonstrated at the Moscow Zoo for animal liberation. "Freedom to the Animals -- Communists into the Cages," the poster said.

"This society is infected with the virus of Communist ideology," he said. "That ideology killed millions of people and convinced millions more that the killings were necessary."

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