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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Land Petition Nears Target

Parliament's radical democrats have collected 900, 000 of the million signatures they need to call a referendum that would enshrine the right to own land in Russia's constitution.

According to officials from the Democratic Russia movement, the coalition that formed Boris Yeltsin's base support before he became president, they have only 100, 000 signatures still to collect before their deadline expires on Nov. 18.

Yelisin has collided several times with parliament already over passage of a land reform law. But when parliament shelved the issue last summer, radical members began collecting signatures to bypass the legislature altogether.

The petition's organizers have mailed signature forms to Russian citizens around the country and expect to meet the deadline, according to Yelena Sokolovskaya, a member of Democratic Russia's coordinating committee for Moscow.

"The referendum will begin the real process of privatization", said Sokolovskaya, though she added that its aims were also political. "It will be a stick to beat the Congress with", she said, referring to the powerful Congress of People's Deputies which is due to convene on Dec. 1.

The drive for signatures was stepped up recently with a slick television advertizing campaign. To the sound of emotive music, the advert shows weathered Russian peasants tilling the soil and promises that a land law would finally deliver Russians from slavery.

Democratic Russia is at the same time trying to organize a referendum in the Congress of People's Deputies, where they would need 330 votes from legislators, according to Lev Ponomaryov, himself a legislator and leader of Democratic Russia. Right now, they have 200.

"I am sure that the majority of Russians would support the referendum, maybe 70, 80 percent", said Ponomaryov.

"Naturally, there is a large lobby from the collective farms, which do not want to lose their property", he added.

A recent issue of the right wing daily Den led its front page with the banner headline: "The Sale of Land is Swinery". But most opposition to private land ownership is more subtle.

"No one wants to say they oppose the right to ownership of land", said Ponomaryov. "This is a very unpopular position".

Instead, opponents of land reform warn that by amending the constitution to allow the sale of land, Russia would open the way for foreigners to buy up the country.