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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

You Can't Judge The Kremlin By Its Red Stars

I happen to like the red stars that crown the Kremlin towers. I know they represent a despised and rejected political system, but I dread the day when driving home at night there will be no more glowing stars floating as if dislocated above the Moskva.

Rumor has it that the stars will be replaced by the cast-iron figures of Russia's new symbol, the double headed eagle. It would be logical to put the new eagles on top of the Kremlin, but to my mind aesthetically unjustified and politically unnecessary.

Like everything else in Russia, the precise meaning of symbols and labels and the degree to which they are offensive is fluid at the moment. Perhaps a more subtly discriminating approach toward them is required.

Take the other end of the political spectrum, Russia's "Democrats". Foremost among them is the president, to whom the world is in debt for accelerating the final collapse of Soviet communism.

Yeltsin, as October's bloodshed proved, is still now engaged in slaying the communist dragon, which cannot be done tidily. But his conduct in the current election campaign, especially his "opinion" that the parties must stop criticizing him or his draft constitution or be taken off television, has been tellingly undemocratic.

In reality, Yeltsin is better described as an anti-communist than a democrat. I suspect he will be remembered as such, and will last in power only for as long as the threat of a backlash from Russia's unholy alliance of communists and nationalists tops the political agenda.

Around him, Yeltsin has collected a group of men who collectively are known to Russians as the demokraty. These include Gennady Burbulis, Mikhail Poltoranin, Sergei Filatov and others. But the name is rarely used in praise. It defines not so much a political orientation as the powerful clique that happens to run the country.

To drive the point home, almost every one was a "democrat" in August 1991. Ruslan Khasbulatov, Alexander Rutskoi, Sergei Baburin - all of them were enthusiastically on the team. Only after the ossified Soviet leadership was defeated did they begin to learn what the democratic label implied, and they rebelled against it.

The process of defining what it is to be a Russian democrat is still very much underway. The Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, for example, regularly describes himself as a "true democrat". Vladimir Zhirinovsky calls himself a liberal democrat, although his policies are closer to fascism.

Even the four parties running for election Dec. 12 that are widely recognized as democratic or reformist - Yegor Gaidar's, Sergei Shakhrai's, Grigory Yavlinsky's and Anatoly Sobchak's - have people on their teams whom it would be hard to call by either name.

The fact is that many of the political labels being used now are imports that are only beginning to bear a relationship to the country's experience and institutions. Russia's politicians might at present be more meaningfully divided, for example, into statists and non-statists, or Slavophites and Westernizers.

Seen in that context, the double-headed eagle, with its resonance of autocratic tsarist Russia, is an honest choice for a new national symbol, but nothing to swoon about. Why not then keep the stars on the Kremlin - just because they look good.