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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Civic Union: No Longer a Contender for Power

Before a single vote has been cast in the upcoming parliamentary elections, some observers are already calling Civic Union the party of "has-beens".


A year ago, this alliance of self-styled social democrats seemed poised to play the decisive role in brokering peace between President Boris Yeltsin and his opponents in the old legislature.


It was to Civic Union's alliance of factory directors and other centrists that Yeltsin turned to cut deals ahead of a crucial December 1992 session of the Congress of People's Deputies - but they failed to deliver.


The broad coalition of influential centrists that Civic Union sought to unite proved elusive then and has remained so ever since.


Now, party leaders have scaled back their ambitions, and they are just hoping to surpass the 5 percent necessary for the party to claim seats in the new Duma.


"The campaign has not turned out well for Civic Union", said Vasily Lipitsky, one of the party leaders. "Still, without any special difficulties we should be able to break the 5 percent barrier".


Several factors have led to a diminished role for the party, which recently renamed itself the Civic Union in the name of Stability, Justice and Progress.


The biggest blow was the imprisonment of their leading voice, former Vice President Alexander Rutskoi, for his role in the October uprising. During one of his last interviews inside the White House, Rutskoi told The Moscow Times that his former Civic Union allies were not "real men" and he swore at them repeatedly.


Rutskoi's actions were "a mistake, the result of insufficient, incorrect information on the mood of the people in Moscow and Russia", Lipitsky said in an interview. "Of course this is a problem for the party although we notice that Rutskoi's authority remains high in Russia".


The tense period leading to October's showdown also split the movement when party heavyweight Arkady Volsky backed Yeltsin and the Democratic Party of Russia headed by Nikolai Travkin left altogether.


But if some of the faces have changed, Civic Union's strong opposition to economic "shock therapy" has remained in tact.


This go-slow approach to reform is consistent with the background of Civic Union's candidates, most of whom served as Soviet-era factory and business managers who see output, not profit, as the ultimate determinant of a factory's success.


"We have hundreds of thousands of enterprises which are the only means of existence for entire cities and regions", said Lipitsky, a former teacher at the Communist Party's Marxist-Leninist Institute.


"To close them down means to put people out of the game of life altogether, there are no other sources of income".


"You've got to understand the national psychology; mass unemployment is very dangerous for Russia because it will result in extraordinary social tension", he added.


To avoid these dangers, Civic Union feels the government must subsidize inefficient industry during "a transitionary period", a prescription that runs against the thinking of most Western economists and of Russia's Choice, currently the favorite for the Dec. 12 polls.


Civic Union's leading lights include Volsky, the president of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs; Oleg Ryumantsev, once the chief voice on constitutional reform who was largely discredited for his stubborn support of the parliament in October; Alexander Vladislavlev, a former people's deputy of the U. S. S. R. , whose slicked-back hairstyle twins him with Volsky; and Pavel Voshchanov, Yeltsin's former press secretary.


If it turns out that Civic Union does win enough votes at the December polls to take seats in the new parliament, the party plans to ally with the Agrarian Party, which also derives support from the former Soviet nomenklatura - the heads of collective and state farms.


Yet even if Civic Union scores an unexpected victory and gets a significant number of the 184 candidates on its list elected, party leaders caution that may not be able to force any dramatic changes in the course of government due to the dominant position that the president will enjoy under Yeltsin's proposed constitution.


"The State Duma is a legislative organ with limited functions, so it is unlikely that we can initiate any sharp changes", Lipitsky acknowledged.