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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Where Russian voters are not wooed

When President George Bush stuffed a jam-filled "panczi" into his mouth, and his Democratic challenger Bill Clinton began chewing on a meaty "pirogi", one of the abiding difficulties of Russia's declining influence in American politics became so pungently obvious you could taste it.


Both men, who are likely to be battling for the White House in the November elections, were campaigning in the great ethnic city of Chicago this week. The Illinois and Michigan primaries sealed George Bush's defeat of his right-wing challenger Pat Buchanan and established Clinton as the likely opponent. Part of their campaign strategy was the Polish vote, in the Chicago suburb known as Mala Polonia, little Poland.


President Bush ate his panczi at the headquarters of the Polish National alliance. He was introduced by a Polish priest who gave a blessing, and Bush talked of his friendship with Lech Walensa. He also made a point of attacking the isolationist views of his Republican challenger by telling the Poles "you of all people know the dangers of being isolated and alone".


Still Clinton's trip to Mala Polonia was less formal. He addressed a rally of Polish Democrats, and then strolled through the restaurants, eating pirogi and sausages and talking about the way the U. S. trade unions had backed Poland's Solidarnosz.


Meanwhile, the other Democrat, Paul Tsongas, was in the part of Chicago known as Greektown, campaigning in that very restaurant where his Democratic predecessor Michael Dukakis has lunched and pretended to sip ouzo four years ago.


And the Republican challenger Pat Buchanan was speaking in the Cafe Dubrovnik, telling Chicago's Croatian community that George Bush was making a dreadful mistake in continu-ing to recognize the state of Yugoslavia. Justice and the rights of self-determination required the United States to recognize it had to support Croatia's struggle for independence.


At the building where George Bush spoke, vendors were pushing through the crowd, selling a weekly magazine called Polonia. Its headline read "Poles suffer at Lithuanian hands", with photographs of desecrated Polish graves near the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius. Just over a mile away, in the Lithuanian quarter, Clinton's campaign manager, David Wilhelm, was listening patiently as local Democrats explained why those dreadful people in Mala Polonia should not be trusted. One hour later another Clinton strategist met the Ukrainian community to appeal for their votes. The city of Chicago, like a close-up photo of the American electorate, zooms in upon the ethnic mosaic. Italians, Croats, Irish, Hispauics, Blacks, Poles and Czechs and Lithuanians and a dozen other nationalities all jostle their way into the presidential process. Only one of the great European nationalities is missing. There is no Russian community to impose its demands and rally its tribal loyalties upon the political parties and the election campaigns.


The case for Russians goes by default. For 50 years, this has not mattered. The Cold War and Soviet military power thrust the issue of Moscow to the top of the White House agenda. But now the strategic fear is eroding. Russia has no demographic base in the American ethnic mix on which can force the politicians to pay attention.


Each morning as I take my children to school, I can see some evidence of a community which traces its roots back to Russia. We pass a synagogue, and a large sign on the grass proclaims "Free Soviet Jews".


In San Francisco, I attended a Russian Orthodox church service. But the Russian community which traces its roots back to the 18th century when the Tsars ruled Alaska, has little interest with modern Russian affairs.


Apart from the Jews, the Ukrainians and the Baltic nations, the subjects of the Tsars in the 19th century did not join the great flood of European immigration to America. There is no Russian vote, and thus no Russian lobby. Throughout the Cold War, Washington's ideological confrontation with Moscow was spurred on by the political influence of the East European, Baltic, Jewish and Armenian communities. Their votes and their lobbies and the congressmen they elect and then abilities to raise campaign funds all remain to exert their influence upon American democracy.


Russia has no congressmen like the proud Pole "Rusty" Rostenkowski, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee which writes America's tax code. Russia has no Senator Teddy Kennedy, who looks out for the Irish community, no Governor Mario Cuomo to bridle at attacks on Italian-Americans, and no Zbigniew Bzrezenksi. Russian diplomats and politicians have to argue Moscow's , case without the support of an ethnic fifth column of American voters.


To understand why U. S. taxpayers are financing a zloty currency stabilization fund for Poland, but not for the ruble, you only had to watch President Bush and Governor Clinton eating and campaigning their way though Mala Polonia this week.