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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Congress and demonstration underline hardliner's weakness

Conservative demonstrators poured onto Manezh Square Tuesday night, brandishing red flags, xenophobic and anti-Semitic slogans. Once again, the protest captured the attention of the press, but not the government. While their chants were familiar, their numbers weren't: It was the largest hardline protest this year. But it was the same old story.


The protestor's pro-Soviet chants barely echoed throughout the square.


The sentiments merely repeated those expressed earlier that day at the Sixth Congress of People's Deputies.


The voice of the once-powerful hardliners has become nothing more than a whimper for the powers that be. The demonstration drew about 15, 000 protestors, although leaders of the Russian Workers Party claim far more attended. and only about 150 deputies out of a potential pool of 2, 240 met earlier in the day in a quixotic attempt to try to resurrect the Soviet Union.


But the story behind the story, however, is the way the Congress was organized. Hardliner's competence proved to be as effective as their influence on the government they want to overthrow.


After a week's worth of botched planning, the day was a disaster. Few showed up Tuesday morning at the Hotel Moskva in a desperate attempt to reconvene the Soviet Congress of People's Deputies.


And that was only one failure. The location of the Congress was so secret -- for fear of government-inspired retaliation -- that even some of the leading deputies didn't know where the meeting was being held.


Journalists, who outnumbered Congress members by more than two to one, hopped in their cars to follow five buses full of deputies, supporters and even more journalists to the secret location in a restricted area one hour outside of Moscow. But only some made it.


Most Journalists wound up on a chaotic field trip to the small town of Podolsk, led by hardliner-turned-tour guide Vladimir Zhirinovsky.


The half-hour get-together eventually took place in a run down building with no working electricity.


The few correspondents to witness the candle-lit meeting, which attracted deputies from almost all of the republics, were privy to the same old rhetoric under the guise of new resolutions: Yeltsin-bashing and restoration of the Fatherland.


Later that day, the same exhausted journalists showed up at the demonstration, only to hear more of the same. Chanting slogans of unity, an eclectic group of fascists, communists and anti-Semites were less restrained than their deputies had been earlier in the day.


"Power should go to the people and not to the Jewish merchants. We have had enough of being deceived and robbed", read the homemade sign carried by Vladimir, an engineer who refused to give his last name because "they might come and get me".


Mikhail, his comrade, went on to blame all of Russia's problems, from the economy to Chernobyl, on the Jewish people.


The nationalist bile spewing out from the crowd seemed more bitter -- and pathetic -- then usual. But even the leaders were hard to believe.


The demonstration gained visibility and notoriety not from the numbers who attended, but instead from the scores of journalists who weaved thir way through the crowd in search of the ultimate quote.


While the day's events were turned into a story, the real significance was that it demonstrated the deputies bungling ineptness and, at least for the moment, their political impotence.


Even the Congres's leaders seem chastened. "When a million people come out to the streets in support of the Union and not bread, we will hold our next Congress", said Viktor Alksnis, at a news conference Thursday.