Yeltsin blankets TV with ads even presidential rivals envy Ordinary Russians star in film clips warning against voting Communist

June 06, 1996|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

MOSCOW -- The film clips open with a trip down memory lane. As ordinary Russians -- a farmer, babushka, factory worker or schoolteacher -- talk about growing up under the Communist system, the camera flips through their old photos, like a family album.

They share the stories of how forced collectivization, purges, shortages and other Soviet-era deprivations affected their lives, and of the new struggles and successes their families have experienced under Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin.

Then, speaking to the camera from a field, living room, office or classroom, they explain in salt-of-the-earth language why they will vote for Yeltsin in the June 16 presidential election.

"I want order in the country so the factories would work again," a fiftysomething lathe operator tells millions of viewers across Russia. "If the Communists come to power, there will be disorder. They will again issue ration coupons."

The one-minute spots -- which close with the words "I believe, I love, I hope" and Yeltsin's signature -- are the foundation of a sophisticated political ad campaign the likes of which Russians have never seen.

These Everyman defenders of Yeltsin appear on all the major television stations throughout the day, with air time costs of up to $30,000 per minute.

The candidates are allotted 10-minute slots of free air time; in Yeltsin's segments, the short commercials alternate with longer testimonials about the president by beloved Russian celebrities. Nowhere does Yeltsin's face appear.

The packages are so compelling that even members of the campaign team of Yeltsin's toughest opponent fail to hide their envy.

"They're extremely slick," said Alexander A. Prokhanov, editor of the newspaper Zavtra, mouthpiece for the campaign of Communist candidate Gennady A. Zyuganov. "Communists cannot afford to hire brilliant image-makers like Yeltsin did."

Yeltsin has raised almost $3 million -- the maximum allowed -- for his ad campaign and has spent a little less than half that. Zyuganov has spent less than $75,000, Russia's Central Election Committee told the Interfax news service.

Most of the other 10 candidates, including Zyuganov, use their 10 minutes to sit in front of a camera, talking in monotonous tones. In Zyuganov's 10-minute clip, he sits on a park bench with an interviewer and rambles about his platform and Yeltsin's failures. The piece closes with Soviet-style footage of Zyuganov marching in a large parade of military veterans. Former Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev, whose presidential bid has almost no support, holds a stack of papers and delivers a droning speech, like the ones he was famous for when he was in charge.

Pub Date: 6/06/96

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