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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Theft, Drink and Sex Taint Duma

Behind the somber stone facade of the state Duma, where colorless Soviet bureaucrats once pondered tractor output and egg consumption, the image of the new Russia is being besmirched with bacchanalia.

Just when it seemed possible to include Russian politicians in polite company -- after all, ultranationalist bad boy Vladimir Zhirinovsky hasn't punched out a democrat for ages -- tales of depravity and excess have come to light and cast the congress as a den of barbarians at civilization's gate.

In an article Tuesday, Moskovsky Komsomolets detailed all-night sessions of sex and drinking at the Duma and complaints from the building administration of massive theft and public defecation.

"Door knobs, locks, toilet paper, soap, towels, glasses, cups, electrical hand dryers, telephones, mirrors -- all disappear with horrible rapidity," the newspaper reported, printing excerpts from cleaning women's letters of complaint and an outraged appeal by the administration to President Boris Yeltsin.

The Duma is now in recess, yet lights burn through the night in the 12-story building across from the Kremlin where more than 10,000 aides have unhindered access to the parliament. That is an average of more than 22 aides for each of the 450 elected lawmakers.

Swaths of leather have been cut from the seats and backs of sofas, "as if someone were making a jacket," the newspaper reported. Piles of excrement were found on couches in an eighth-floor hall after one particularly calamitous night in the party place that never closes.

MK has been known to take liberties with stories before, but on this occasion, it appears not.

"Unfortunately, all this is true," conceded Duma deputy Konstantin Borovoi of the reform-minded Party of Economic Freedom, when asked about the allegations. "The problem isn't so much with the quantity of the aides but in the quality of the deputies."

He blamed most of the misbehavior on the 99-member communist faction of the Duma, accusing them of retaining "the Soviet era's deeply rooted propensity for petty kleptomania."

Irina Makaveyeva, a spokeswoman for the communist deputies, confirmed that "such deplorable things are common in the Duma." But she assigned blame to reformist lawmakers and Zhirinovsky's misnamed Liberal Democrats.

The lawmakers' proclivity for drama and indulgence probably detracts little from their performance, as the country's strong presidency gives the Duma limited powers.

Deputies earn monthly salaries between $650 and $800, or about four times the average wage for an industrial worker here. They can also enjoy state-supplied apartments and "relocation subsidies" of $60,000, chauffeured cars, paid spa vacations, free medical services in exclusive clinics and broad access to transport and communications. Many are ostensibly working as volunteers, but they are seldom motivated by altruism. Opportunities abound for the well-connected to legislate themselves tax exemptions, duty-free import privileges, property acquisition and free travel.

With a knee-jerk of the Soviet era, the Duma administration reacted to the expos? by banning foreign reporters from the premises until the deputies return to session Oct. 1.

"This is all gross slander and outright lies," fumed Yelizaveta Vlasova, an aide to Liberal Democratic Party member Mikhail Gutseriyev, outside whose office the revolting calling cards of the overnight revelers allegedly had been discovered.

Zhirinovsky's party won only 50 seats in last December's parliamentary elections. But it has the largest contingent of aides, MK reported, adding that accreditations to the Duma are openly for sale at prices upward of $2,000.

"This is only a temporary restriction," Yulia N. Lukashenko of the Duma press office explained by telephone. "We don't want foreign correspondents to come to the Duma and waste their precious time in search of people who might be away on vacation."

Russia's road to parliamentary democracy has been riddled with conflict and scandal, from the 1993 shootout before the world's cameras between the Communist-controlled Supreme Soviet and Yeltsin's army to fisticuffs that have stooped so low as to draw in women deputies and priests.