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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Luzhkov Capitalizes on Patriotic Fervor




Knowing that most Russians still have a soft spot in their hearts for the Soviet holidays, Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov's political movement has enthusiastically embraced the patriotic celebrations of May in an attempt to broaden its popular appeal.


In doing so, Luzhkov's calendar has become increasingly similar to that of his political rival - Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov. This makes their rivalry look something like a competition for best patriot.


On May 1, Luzhkov and the official trade union leader, Mikhail Shmakov, brought out more people under blue flags on central Tverskaya Ulitsa than the Communists managed to rally under their red flags on Oktyabrskaya Ploshchad. Their slogans were similar: protests against the impoverishment of Russians and against NATO's war in Yugoslavia, differing only in the degree of ferocity directed at the Kremlin.


As Victory Day approaches, Luzhkov meets every day with World War II veterans, and television has meticulously covered the moving encounters.


Such events appealing to Soviet nostalgia have been staples of the Communist Party in recent years. In the early 1990s, the Westernized liberal democrats freely left the Soviet patriotic traditions to the Communists, who capitalized on people's genuine regard for the May 1 and May 9 holidays.


President Boris Yeltsin's government eventually realized it was missing out, and by the mid-1990s had taken over some of the initiative, by glorifying the World War II victory and transforming May Day into a vague Day of Spring and Labor.


Now Luzhkov's movement Otechestvo, or Fatherland, is enthusiastically jumping on the bandwagon.


On Sunday, Luzhkov plans to see off an antique World War II-era plane that will fly over the next several days to Hero Cities, carrying an appeal "Yes to Peace" to the mayors of these cities singled out by the Soviet government as having played a special role in World War II - Murmansk, Smolensk, Tula and Novorossiisk.


The appeal from Luzhkov, which refers to the current military actions in the Balkans, but without naming either Washington or Belgrade as its culprit, is reminiscent of the Soviet "struggle for peace" and does not forget to mark Hero City Volgograd in parenthesis as Stalingrad and St. Petersburg as Leningrad. Popular television personality Leonid Yakubovich is to fly on the plane, just as he did on another plane in June 1996 as part of Yeltsin's re-election campaign.


Political commentator Boris Kagarlitsky said that in the late Soviet period, World War II was the sole source of legitimacy for the Soviet regime, whose ideology had transformed from Marxist into "imperial patriotic."


Today, Fatherland employs the old Communist approaches because, as a "party of bosses," it has the same nomenklatura mind-set as the Communist and Kremlin leaders, he said Friday.


"They have taken over the initiative from the Communists because they can't act differently," said Kagarlitsky, of the Institute of Comparative Political Science.


Vladimir Pribylovsky of the Panorama research center said Luzhkov is trying to use the same "revival of old values in people's minds" that accounts for Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov's popularity.


But although people yearn for paternalism, stability and social guarantees from the government, they don't want to give up civil liberties, he said.


"One can clearly see [Luzhkov's] attempt to play on the Communists' field, but I am skeptical whether it will be effective," Pribylovsky said.