KONSTANTIN BOROVOI is a multimillionaire turned politician, but during most of his visit to this provincial city he acts like a teacher.
Dressed in a pin-stripe suit and red power tie, Mr. Borovoi meets with local factory directors, journalists, and government officials. At each encounter he repeats the mantra of market economics: "Buy low and sell high. It's the only stimulus for a normal economy."
Most factory directors have a hard time buying into Borovoi's ideas. Many view radical reform as the cause for the drastic drop in industrial production, and still consider speculation to be a dirty word.
"We understand his positions, but in the context of our economic conditions it's all very abstract," says Anatoly Druzhinin, chief of Rossvyazinform, a communications components-making plant.
The Tambov industrial bosses' resistance to reforms does not surprise Borovoi, who is not looking to win converts as much as to defend current democratic and market reforms. Indeed, this trip marks the start of Borovoi's effort to become a standard bearer for a radical move to a market economy in the impending battle against conservatives over the course of reforms.
"The romantic period for democrats is over. Now we have to move quickly, unifying our forces and mobilizing our money," he says. "The communists, meanwhile, are very organized. Their organization may have been banned, but they have experience and connections. At any moment they could regenerate." Conservative backlash
Borovoi decided to start taking his message to the countryside during the recent Congress of People's Deputies, at which conservatives smashed the democratic opposition and engineered the ouster of Acting Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar. Their moves endanger the continuation of the reforms that Mr. Gaidar set in motion. New Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin has said he wants to alter reforms to halt falling industrial production.
Borovoi's tool in preventing the evisceration of Gaidar's reforms is the Economic Freedom Party, which he leads. The party, founded on the ideas of Russia's emerging entrepreneurial class, is establishing grass-roots organizations throughout Russia. By building support in the provinces, the party hopes to exert greater pressure on opponents in Moscow, says Eduard Lorkh-Sheiko, a Borovoi adviser.
"The trip to Tambov was designed to boost the image of the party and of Borovoi," says Mr. Lorkh-Sheiko, adding that future trips are scheduled to other provincial cities. Tambov, a city about 250 miles southeast of Moscow, was the first city selected because it has the party's strongest local organization.
With Gaidar's authority eclipsed by the Congress, and disarray widespread among other democratic forces, the 44-year-old Borovoi may be the rising star among radical reformers. His success in business has created a political following. Last November, he finished a strong second out of 18 candidates in a parliamentary by-election in the southern Krasnodar region. A runoff election is pending.
Whether Borovoi's new mission will be successful remains to be seen. Tambov is a typical provincial city, where conservatism is deeply entrenched. Alternative to Chernomyrdin
Yet Borovoi's effort may produce results. While factory directors and many city officials are critical of Gaidar's reforms, they are undecided on Mr. Chernomyrdin. If a viable alternative arises, such as Borovoi's party, it could win followers, Tambov Mayor Valery Koval says.
"We have a strong feeling for social justice in the heartland. It was a characteristic that prevailed before the October [Bolshevik] Revolution," Mr. Koval says.
"The factor of social justice - that everyone should be more or less equally poor - has a great influence on people," he adds. "I don't think Gaidar understood the social factor. Borovoi probably understands it better."