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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Politics of 93: Better Than Kremlinology

The pre-referendum campaign has shifted into overdrive. Banners span the major thoroughfares, clever television ads use celebrities to get out the vote, flyers are pushed into mailboxes with sample ballots and desired answers: "Yes! Yes! No! Yes! " "No! No! Yes! No! " and other formulations.

It's not pretty, but it's politics. Mudslinging, hard-stumping, pork-barrel politics. Complete with slickly produced, "candid" television interviews with members of President Boris Yeltsin's family. Meetings with students, to announce an increase in stipends. Speeches to veterans, with a convenient widening of benefits. Even a rock concert.

Alexander Rutskoi, the rebellious vice president, has lifted political back-stabbing to new heights. He is actively campaigning against his boss, using dark hints of corruption in high places to further his case.

It is easy to look on all of this with a cynical or indulgent smile, shaking one's head over the more outrageous rhetoric and charges. Is Yeltsin building a huge private estate with government funds? Will a negative vote for the president mean civil war, massacres, the end of the world?

But it should not be forgotten that a few short years ago, the world was enmeshed in the dubious science of Kremlinology, trying to divine the latest movements in internal politics by subtle signs and symbols.

"Collective Rasputin" and "Chechen sphinx", while not exactly professional epithets, are at least more indicative of current political alignments than who is standing next to whom on the mausoleum on May Day, or whether or not they are all in matching headgear.

The West, with several centuries of experience behind it, should not be too judgmental about this primitive, rough, but recognizably democratic campaign process. It has only been two years, after all, since the first campaign, where candidate Vladimir Zhirinovsky promised that his election would bring "vodka on every street corner, with babushki alongside hawking meat pies" - a peculiarly Russian variation on "A chicken in every pot".

Russia's first democratically elected president is fighting for his political survival. It is a dirty game, without gloves and without rules - minus even the rudimentary safeguards in the West. There are no party structures to impose discipline, the law on the press does not make clear what can and cannot be responsibly reported, and there is no tried and true campaign strategy to go by.

The participants in this political drama can be forgiven for sometimes looking as if they are making it up as they go along.