Bogdanov Campaigns With Grandmother

MTBogdanov, second from right, visiting a cemetery in his hometown of Mozhaisk in the Moscow region while campaigning Saturday with his grandmother, left.
MOZHAISK, Moscow Region -- The vodka had been flowing for about 30 minutes when Andrei Bogdanov poured another shot for the plump, elderly woman in a green beret.

"Grandma, will you debate [Vladimir] Zhirinovsky in my place next time?" the curly-haired presidential candidate asked Klavdia Bogdanova, 85, with a wink.

Bogdanova is a proud member of the staff at her grandson's campaign headquarters in Mozhaisk, a crumbling town some 100 kilometers west of Moscow, where the candidate commemorated the Defender of the Fatherland holiday in a sparsely attended media trip.

Bogdanov, a 38-year-old Freemason whom President Vladimir Putin has called "an ambitious young man with progressive views," is expected to be trounced in Sunday's presidential election against Putin's preferred successor, Dmitry Medvedev, Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov and Zhirinovsky, the Liberal Democratic Party leader.

While Zyuganov and Zhirinovsky spent Saturday rallying hundreds of voters in central Moscow, Bogdanov's retinue of potential voters as he laid flowers at military monuments on Saturday consisted of his father, two younger brothers and three campaign workers.

They, along with a small group of reporters, trudged through slush and ice to watch Bogdanov place wreaths at monuments on the spot where the battle of Borodino, involving one-quarter of a million soldiers, was fought between the French and Russian armies in 1812.

"You know, Kutuzov and Napoleon were Freemasons," Bogdanov said at a monument to Mikhail Kutuzov, who commanded the Russian army against Napoleon's forces. After placing the flowers, Bogdanov pressed his palms together in front of his chest and bowed.

Bogdanov, who heads up the country's largest Masonic Lodge in addition to the tiny Democratic Party of Russia, brightens up when broaching the topic of Freemasonry.

"Do you remember a church we passed on the way here, built by the architect Vasily Bazhenov? He was also a Freemason," he said. "There are Masonic symbols inside, and legend has it that not a single piece of glass was broken there when the church was captured by the French troops and then retaken by the Russians."

Next up was a T-34 tank -- a monument to Soviet soldiers who died in Mozhaisk, where Nazi troops were stopped from pushing toward Moscow in late 1941.

Oksana Onipko / MT
Bogdanov holding up a certificate identifying his grandmother Klavdia as a campaign representative on Saturday.
After laying flowers there, Bogdanov braved a chilly wind to outline his campaign platform for several minutes to a German television crew while standing on the monument's marble pedestal.

State involvement in the economy must be reduced, and younger, more cosmopolitan people must replace hawks with a Cold War-era mindset in the government, he said.

"Russia also needs to join NATO or, rather, merge with a new military block in which only European countries will participate," Bogdanov said. Russia's integration into European institutions has been a major theme of his long-shot campaign.

Bogdanov also promised that Russia would win the World Cup should he be elected. He declined to elaborate on how Russia could conquer the football world.

But it was Bogdanov's grandmother who was the real star Saturday. A card-carrying Communist Party member since 1940, Klavdia Bogdanova is now a cautious cheerleader for her grandson in his hometown.

"Tell the journalists not to film anything in our courtyard because I don't want anyone coming to tell me that I am demonstrating Mozhaisk's misery," she told Bogdanov as she emerged from her decrepit two-story apartment building.

Followed by a small procession, the two battled through knee-high snow to lay flowers at the graves of Bogdanov's grandfather and great-grandfather.

"My great-grandfather, Kolya Anfilonov, fought in every war Russia fought in the 20th century except the one in Afghanistan," Bogdanov said at the grave, which is marked by a simple, weatherworn iron cross.

Following the day's commemorations, the small group headed off to a local restaurant for food and strong drink. On the way, Bogdanov's campaign workers joked about Zhirinovsky's attack on Bogdanov aide Nikolai Gotsa during the recording of a television debate last week.

Zhirinovsky showered Gotsa with obscenities, calling him a "complete idiot" and an "insane person." After debates, Zhirinovsky pushed Gotsa violently in the back and told security guards to take him into the hallway and "shoot him."

Klavdia Bogdanova politely declined her grandson's offer to debate Zhirinovsky.

"He will tear my hair out," she said.