Learning Democracy in Russia

December 12, 1993|By LORI CIDYLO

MOSCOW — Moscow. -- The students listened attentively as the tall, lanky professor with a grizzled goatee leaned over the lectern and opened the morning lecture with an irreverent quip about the protean nature of Russian politics.

"In any civilized society," he began, "free elections are the most important instrument for the legitimization of power and the functioning of democracy as a whole. But we, comrades, friends, ladies, are living in a completely different situation. Just a few weeks ago, our parliament was blown up by tanks. And now, with the smoke cleared, so to speak, we find ourselves facing new elections in less than two months.

"The election campaign is, in principle, something new," he continued, noting that, for many years, voting someone out of office was not an option. "Those were the easy days," he said. "Candidates could sit around and drink vodka and not have to worry about things like persuading people to vote for them. Now things are a bit more complex. Of course, candidates still sit around drinking vodka, but now they must also worry about getting votes."

Vladimir Savyelevich Komarovsky, a professor with a doctorate in philosophy, was kicking off a three-week course offered recently at the Political Center of the Russian Academy of Administration designed to offer practical advice on the how-to's of running an election campaign for women hoping to win seats in Russia's new parliament, the Federal Assembly, in today's elections.

"Talk with your constituents, get to know them," advised Anatoly Ivanovich Kovler, an expert in "political marketing" who took over the floor as co-lecturer. "Shake hands with them," Mr. Kovler said. "And remember, be polite, don't be rude."

Pens raced furiously across notebooks as the aspiring politicians bent over their desks taking copious notes. But when Mr. Kovler, who looked like an apparatchik-turned-hip-professor in his no-nonsense red tie, starched white shirt and jaunty Western-style leather jacket, suggested that they visit their constituents at home, the women balked.

"They won't bite you," Mr. Kovler said. "Drop off a flier a week in advance saying that you'll be visiting."

"But with all the killing and robbing that goes on now, people won't open the door," protested one woman.

"That's no excuse," he shot back cheerfully. "Then go to the metro, get on a trolley, talk to babushkas sitting on park benches."

Hailing from over 30 regions and republics, the students, approximately 100 teachers, doctors, lawyers and professionals from many other fields, were a portrait of the diverse palette of facial features and accents which reflect the colorful ethnic quilt that is Russia.

Some wore smart suits. Others displayed the glaring sartorial faux pas made by many professional Russian women that often shock Western visitors. One middle-aged woman with strawberry blond hair piled high in a towering cascade of carefully lacquered curls -- a member of parliament in the northern republic of Komi -- wore a tight pink dress with plunging decolletage.

But if the women had any doubts about their power to transform themselves into smiling, hand-pumping politicians in less than two months, they might have drawn inspiration from their mentors.

Both men are self-styled chameleons -- former Communists who have repackaged themselves as energetic political gurus. Except for their telltale names and the fact that they speak Russian, the two men, who seem poised and at home in front of an audience, might easily have been transported from an American self-improvement-through-positive-thinking seminar.

But Mr. Komarovsky, who injected a dose of Russian-style realism into the class, warned the women that their task would not be an easy one. Like great lumbering bears that have decided to hibernate through the winter, many Russian voters, he said, may choose to stay in the comfort of their homes rather than come out and vote.

"Russians have become allergic to politics," Mr. Komarovsky said. "You must wake them up. How? Let's talk about campaign strategy. What is a strategy? A strategy is a plan designed to win votes. The essence of a good strategy is to get people to vote for the right person -- you.

"The first phase," he continued, "is serious analytical work. Know your demographics. How many pensioners are there in your region? How many unemployed? How many single mothers? Is there a budget deficit? Concentrate on a specific set of problems and make those issues the focus of your campaign. You should always be thinking: Why should people vote for me? What can I promise them that will make me a more attractive choice than my rival?"

Mr. Kovler bounced up from his seat and took over the floor. "The next thing you need is an image," he said. "When you go to the theater, you wear special kinds of clothes, you are in a certain kind of mood and you carry yourself a certain way. It's the same whenever you make a public appearance during an election campaign.

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