What's in a Party Name? Less Than You'd Think

If you are doing something just because somebody told you to, you've got to feel some sympathy for State Duma speaker Ivan Rybkin.

Rybkin is under fire from his old buddies in the Communist and Agrarian parties for forming his own Levy-tsentr (left-of-center) political bloc.

It all started several months ago, when President Boris Yeltsin announced that Rybkin would form a levy-tsentr bloc.

Then everybody -- television, newspapers, the 1995 Russian Farmer's Almanac -- predicted Rybkin would form a levy-tsentr bloc. Rybkin originally denied it, but in his sleep, he would hear a voice saying, "You will form a levy-tsentr bloc."

His wife would greet him after work: "Honey, did you form a levy tsentr bloc today?"

His children would come home from school in tears because they were the only kids whose dad hadn't yet formed a levy-tsentr bloc.

So one day, without any particular reason, popular backing, or hope of forming a political machine comparable to what the Communists and Agrarians have in time for December elections, Rybkin formed himself a levy-tsentr bloc.

Happens all the time. I do sincerely feel for the guy.

What do Russian electoral bloc names mean? Like that voice in the night that drove Ivan Petrovich to political madness, they mean nothing.

This is no surprise.

In a land where, when you say demokrat, many voters imagine a wild-eyed former dissident, fascist and probably Jewish supporter of Western immorality and American economic interests, who most likely never loved Russia and would sell his mother to support the Chechens. But when you say liberal'ny demokrat, they think "Zhirinovsky."

The only party name signifying anything electable is Kommunisticheskaya Partiya.

To certain people, the name means free apartments and cheap food, making sure the Communists are prohibitive favorites until someone else comes along and names a bloc that translates as "You'll get a Volvo."

All other party names are either:

?Irrelevant -- Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's Nash Dom -- Rossiya (Our Home Is Russia) fits this description, since any Russian party can say that;

?Boring -- The Vybory '95 (Elections '95) bloc is sure to shake even the most apathetic of voters out of their torpor;

?Obscure -- Sorry, Partiya Agrariyev (Agrarian Party), but the most-asked question at the rural polling stations during the 1993 vote was "What's an Agrarian?"