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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Apocalyptic Rhetoric Is Threat Itself

The assassination attempt last week on Valery Shantsev, who is running for next weekend's mayoral elections on a winning ticket with Yury Luzhkov, ought to have a salutary effect on all the candidates running for president.

This is not because it is clear there was a political motive behind the detonation of a kilo of TNT as Shantsev was leaving his apartment building last Friday morning. It isn't. The fact that Luzhkov might have had to quit the race had Shantsev died is intriguing, but proof of nothing.

But in an election campaign that is characterized by warlike and apocalyptic rhetoric from all sides, Shantsev's fate should give pause.

Several candidates have warned of "civil war" if they are not elected to power. President Boris Yeltsin's campaign team is busy pushing lurid stories about fighting units which the Communists are allegedly preparing to send onto the streets in the event of a Yeltsin victory. Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov has accused the president of already staging an abortive armed seizure of the State Duma earlier this year and of planning more bloody solutions for the elections.

As the campaign enters its last week, the rhetorical pitch of these accusations has reached a worrying crescendo.

Of course, campaign rhetoric is just that. These are not declarations of war, but efforts by each side to scare voters into their camps. But in a country still all too familiar with the use of violence as a tool of internal policy, this is a reckless strategy.

As recently as 1993, a similar war of words ended in bloodshed. The then Congress of People's Deputies warned repeatedly that Yeltsin was about to resort to force to crush the legislature, while the Kremlin warned darkly of a coup attempt being cooked up in the White House.

The rest, of course, is history. Yeltsin did use force and the legislature did attempt a coup. The differences between the situation in October 1993 and today are, of course, legion, but it does not pay to forget such precedents.

And in one important aspect, the present election does resemble the stand-off of 1993. Real power was at stake in the summer of 1993, just as it is now. Then it was because the Congress claimed that, as the constitutionally appointed highest "soviet" in the land, it was Russia's highest power -- not the president. Now, real power is at stake because the all-powerful presidency is up for election.

But if such high stakes explain the current level of rhetoric, they do not justify it. Prophesies of this kind have a nasty habit of fulfilling themselves.