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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Making the Most of a Year

It is perhaps symptomatic of a society in rapid transition that there should be such a preponderance of calendars. Go to any official gathering and there is sure to be some smiling representative of this or that organization, pressing one of these little cards on you, with a nice picture and logo on one side and a handy calendar on the other, just to make sure you know what day it is when something happens. I have a drawerful of these and can check any date over the past couple of years courtesy of Aeroflot, the Border Guards, MMM or a host of other worthy organizations. So no excuse for missing that birthday.

And when election time comes round, the politicians all want to get in on the act. Even a minor by-election is enough to convert trees into tens of thousands of these neat little calendar cards, replete with a color picture of your trustworthy man, or very occasionally woman-of-the-people, posing against a background of idyllic Russian countryside and a suitably uplifting slogan on the lines of "For a Better Tomorrow" or "A Steady Hand" or "Russia for the Russians."

It's a nice publicity device, going a step further than the classic vizitka, and apart from having to update the calendar every year, you can keep doling out the cards from the same batch on any occasion. Doubtless, at this very moment, whole forests are being laid waste to allow the presses to churn out millions more for the December parliamentary elections.

But one faction has had to have a major re-think on this issue. Before the 1993 elections, Russia's Choice clearly decided that calendars were a big vote winner and came up with what they saw as the fail-safe version. On one side was the standard calendar, emblazoned with the simple yet penetrating message that "Russia's Choice is Our Choice." The other side was rather more adventurous, designed as a mock-up picture postcard, addressed to all voters of Russia, postmarked December 12. No problem with this, except that the picture shows an uncharacteristically hirsute Yegor Gaidar being clasped warmly by the hand by a beaming and health-exuding Boris Yeltsin. And just in case you didn't get the point, there it was in big blue capitals: "Russia's Choice -- Yeltsin!"

Back to the drawing board. Even if the two men had not had their falling out over Chechnya, it seems unlikely that Gaidar would be emphasizing his ties with Yeltsin this time round to win the hearts and minds of an increasingly disgruntled electorate. Even Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, who has happily assumed the mantle of the party of power with his Our Home Is Russia bloc, would surely have serious doubts about using the Yeltsin visage -- even taken on a good day -- as a vote booster. He probably lies awake at night, dreading that phone call: "Vitya, I've decided to let you use my picture!" Thanks, but no thanks.

In fact, given the amount of back-stabbing, insult-trading and vigorous rubbing of salt into wounds that has accompanied the start of the election campaign, there seems very little chance of any joint appearances on publicity handouts.

One man who has already made plain his determination to go it alone is Boris Fyodorov, one-time Russia's Choice colleague of Gaidar's, but now leader of the independently minded and irreproachably named "Forward, Russia!" movement. He has already begun calendar distribution. His version has the date February 18 circled, to remind the few of us who might have overlooked the founding date of his movement.

But the best is saved for the other side. Under a color headshot showing his somewhat chubby features to their full advantage, Fyodorov's message is forthright: "Men, let us put our brains together for government."

Evidently, his team of researchers and PR experts have worked out that that is just the sort of no-nonsense slogan that strikes a chord with the voters, despite the fact that it would at first sight seem automatically to alienate at least half of them.

A colleague put that very point to Fyodorov the other day and inquired if he was preparing a similar set of calendars for women and if so, what his message to them would be. He pondered only a short time before coming up with it: "Women, we will love you deeply!"

Whichever way you take it, he is obviously not targeting the feminist vote.