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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Luzhkov Steals Plumber's 'Fatherland'

A simple man from Tula -- a bespectacled politically active plumber - is accusing Yury Luzhkov - Moscow's omnipresent mayor and a big man of Russian politics with even bigger ambitions - of trying to steal his Fatherland.

Two weeks ago, Luzhkov announced the creation of a new political movement called Otechestvo, or Fatherland, to try to gather centrist forces behind him and make a run at parliament in 1999 and the presidency in 2000.

But Nikolai Matveyev, 50, a foreman for a team of plumbers in Tula, a city of 500,000 about 200 kilometers south of Moscow, says he got there first.

In 1991, he registered a political organization called Fatherland. Now, he says, Luzhkov's supporters are trying to take it away from him.

As Luzhkov was putting together his new party, about 85 people in Tula - directors of depressed military factories, local bankers, businessmen and politicians - formed a regional group to join forces with the party of Moscow's powerful mayor.

Soon after Luzhkov's supporters tried to register their Fatherland with Tula's justice department, but found the place on the books already taken, Matveyev was called into the district prosecutor's office.

"They had all the mechanics of un-registering me worked out," Matveyev said. The justice department asked the prosecutor's office to investigate his party to determine whether it had broken any laws and whether there was any legal basis for revoking its registration.

Matveyev said an official in the regional prosecutor's office told him his organization did not generate enough paperwork to provide proof of its existence and justify keeping it registered. Matveyev said he also was told that he failed to re-register the party under new rules set forth in a new federal law, and was tardy in informing the appropriate office about the organization's address change.

Matveyev, who since he got into politics in 1991 has earned a law degree from a Moscow university, said the prosecutor's office is wrong. The new law on political parties gives him until mid-1999 to re-register, he said.

"I told them, there is room for negotiation," said Matveyev, who is well-known in Tula and has run for numerous offices, once winning a seat in a local legislature. "But if they are going to be arrogant, we will file a lawsuit as soon as they try using our name here."

Tula's Fatherland started as a patriotic organization focused on educating teenagers in the spirit of Russian traditions and working on resurrecting Russian culture. It went on to organize traditional Russian martial arts and wrestling clubs, but later prominent democrats left it for more prominent political groups and it shrank to just 30 core members.

For Tula, whose Soviet-era weapons plants are depressed, much depends on its economic and political ties to the Moscow region. Tula region Governor Vasily Starodubtsev has good business relationships with Luzhkov and recently signed several contracts on economic cooperation with Moscow, his spokesman said.

The effort to push Matveyev's Fatherland out of the way came from forces in Tula, not from Moscow, said Stepan Sulakshin, one of the organizers of the Luzhkov-led movement and a deputy in the State Duma, parliament's lower house. "This is some sort of stupid local initiative," he said.

The Tula governor's office denied it was behind the investigation into Matveyev's group. "It is nonsense," said Yevgeny Nazarov, a spokesman for the governor.

Other regional organizations called Fatherland - and not connected to Luzhkov's party - are registered in Krasnodar, Tambov, Saratov and other cities, Sulakshin said.

They should not cause a problem for the national organization, which does not need to be registered separately in a region for its candidates to appear on ballots there.

And a regional group linked to Luzhkov's Fatherland can form in Tula and other regions without having to officially register, Sulakshin said.

Yet the concerns of Tula's Luzhkov supporters are at least somewhat understandable, because the co-existence of candidates from different Fatherlands on the same ballot could baffle voters.

Many prominent politicians, including former defense and interior ministers, about 20 governors and a multitude of Duma deputies, turned up at the first formal meeting of Luzhkov's party Nov. 19. Many other prominent politicians, including Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov and former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, have expressed an interest in joining forces with Luzhkov.

The Tula governor did not attend the meeting in Moscow, Sulakshin said.

With growing patriotic and often nationalistic sentiments in Russia, Fatherland has become a popular term to incorporate into the name of political organizations, insurance companies and real estate offices. For most Russians, lines like "I sing of my Fatherland, my Republic" from a famous Revolution-era poems have been branded into their memory since they learned them by heart in school.

"We tried several combinations: My Fatherland, Our Fatherland," Sulakshin said in describing the search for a name for Luzhkov's party. The mayor finally settled on plain Fatherland. "It turned out laconic, immortal and all-uniting."