Learning Law From the Rules of Zakazukha

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The color revolution that the Kremlin has feared for years seems to have finally taken place. And, strangely enough, it was the country's leaders who carried it out themselves.

Rumors circulated all last week that Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov might withdraw his name from the race for the March 2008 presidential election. One of the Communist's main complaints to election campaign organizers has been the lack of television and other media coverage given to opposition candidates in comparison to that lavished on the pro-Kremlin candidate, First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

The threat of losing the only viable, albeit symbolic, rival to President Vladimir Putin's chosen successor worked like a charm. By the end of the week, Zyuganov's trip to China became one of the top stories on television news, and we can be certain that his face will be appearing on television screens with greater frequency from now on. That is, even without outside pressure, the Kremlin is apparently fulfilling one of the basic demands that originally prompted color revolutions in, for example, Georgia and Ukraine -- providing media access to the opposition.

The Kremlin's willingness to compromise is understandable. Were Medvedev to have been elected after competing against only Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who is generally viewed as little more than a political clown, and the obviously trumped-up Andrei Bogdanov without the participation of the Communist Party -- the one party that is remotely considered oppositional -- the future president would have come off looking like a comical figure. In the end, Putin's succession plan would have been viewed as a farce by both the Russian and international public.

My optimistic voice said, "It turns out that, notwithstanding their enormous administrative resources, in their heart of hearts, our authorities are afraid of looking foolish, and this is the only thing that is capable of prompting them to concede the most elementary requirements of democracy."

But then the voice of pessimism, which has been growing louder lately, responded, "How is it possible to understand this act of common sense given the pointless and stupid hassling of the other opposition candidate, former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, who did not represent even a theoretical threat to Medvedev's chances?"

If you regularly read a few different newspapers, you couldn't have helped noticing that throughout January, Komsomolskaya Pravda, Moskovsky Komsomolets, Nezavisimaya Gazeta and Izvestia ran articles so similar to one another that they all referred to the same facts and quoted the same statements from the same set of experts, all referring to the problems Kasyanov was having in collecting signatures. The whole thing smacks of zakazukha, or newspaper articles written to order.

We can only be happy for the Kremlin's public relations people who are producing these packaged-to-sell stories and for the newspaper editors publishing them, both of whom are undoubtedly enjoying a cash windfall.

In the end, it is actually the beneficiary of this PR campaign who suffers the biggest blow to his reputation. Just one year ago, when addressing a meeting of The Council for Civil Society Institutions and Human Rights, Putin sharply criticized the practice of journalism to order. But it appears that Putin's own subordinates hold his words in contempt. And how should we react to Medvedev's pronouncements about the need to strengthen the Russian public's awareness of the law and legal rights if the stories covering this event are printed in newspapers right alongside these articles, which are themselves in violation of the law?

All we can do is hope that after Medvedev comes to power he'll deal with those people who helped get him to the Kremlin through such questionable methods in the same way that Putin settled scores with Boris Berezovsky.

Alexei Pankin is the editor of Strategii i Praktika Izdatelskogo Biznesa, a magazine for publishing business professionals.