A Nationalist Woos St. Petersburg
As democrats in this Russian city bicker over parliament seat, an extremist takes the lead
ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA
DOWN a linoleum hallway at the studios of St. Petersburg Television lies the lair of the original bad boy of Russian journalism, Alexander Nevzorov. His crew lounges in an outer office, all clad in the favorite apparel of their leader, black leather jackets, as they await the call to action. Trophies of battle adorn the walls - a Lithuanian customs sign, police truncheons, a Cossack whip.Skip to next paragraph
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Mr. Nevzorov gained fame in late glasnost years as an innovative investigative television journalist, exposing minor mafiosi and political malfeasance on all sides. But he moved beyond that into political propaganda, using his popular ``600 Seconds'' news program to promote an abrasive vision of the restoration of the Russian Empire.
The darling of what the liberals call the ``Red-Brown'' alliance of Communists and Russian neo-fascists, Nevzorov has been a thorn in the side of the powers-that-be for several years. Four times his program has been taken off the air, most recently after the October storming of the Russian parliament, whose defenders Nevzorov embraces as loyalists to the ``motherland.''
Now Nevzorov is about to become the representative to the State Duma, the lower house of the new Russian parliament, from election District 210, encompassing the center of this great city. It is a prospect that delights him and horrifies at least some of his reformist opponents.
``With the means I have now, it is difficult for me to hinder reforms,'' says Nevzovrov, wearing his characteristic stubble and boyish grin. ``But I'll make enough noise there,'' he says of the parliament, which he freely admits he has no plans to attend regularly.
``It'll be a shame that the center of St. Petersburg will be represented in parliament by such an odious figure,'' laments Yuri Vdovin, the human rights activist who is his main opponent. ``If Nevzorov is elected, it will demonstrate the unacceptance by the people of St. Petersburg of the trend of democratic reforms in society.''
For the democrats, the pain of this election is about more than simply having an extremist in the halls of the new parliament - it is the fact that the divisions within their own ranks are largely responsible for giving him that opportunity.
Indeed, the battle in the central election district of St. Petersburg is only the most dramatic example of a phenomenon that is occurring widely across Russia in the parliament elections set to take place on Sunday. While pro-reform parties appear to have the support of the majority of the electorate, the often bitter rivalry among them is making it possible for extremists of all stripes, from Communists to outright fascists, to win seats.
There are seven candidates in the central district - divided between three open extremists including Nevzorov and four men loosely identified here as ``democrats,'' referring to representatives of various pro-reform parties. According to two different polls, Nevzorov is firmly in the lead, garnering anywhere from a fifth to a third of the vote. Another neo-fascist, the representative of Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party, is also running strongly.
But the extremists could be beaten easily if the reformist vote were united around a single candidate. Instead they are splintered, with the two strongest reform choices - Mr. Vdovin, the candidate of Russia's Choice, led by Vice Premier Yegor Gaidar, and Yuri Nesterov, the nominee of the bloc led by reform economist Grigory Yavlinsky - virtually neck and neck.
``I think I should be the one to stay on the list,'' Vdovin says, ``but my task is to do everything possible to stop Nevzorov.'' Last week the four reformers met and agreed in principle that they would withdraw in favor of the strongest candidate. But translating that into reality proved impossible.