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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Political Parties Have a Holiday

For MTCommunists marching on Lubyanskaya Ploshchad on Friday, the anniversary of the 1917 October Revolution. The day is now known as the Day of Accord and Reconciliation.
The hammer-and-sickle flag fluttered briefly on top of the State Duma on Friday, replacing the Russian tricolor, which floated down to Okhotny Ryad where thousands of Communist supporters marched by.

But 20 minutes later, the Duma's new colors had been hauled down again by police, reminding marchers that the event was simply an anniversary of the 1917 Revolution, not a real attempt to shake the world.

The occasion coincided with the start of political parties' campaigns for the Duma's 450 seats, as they held a series of competing rallies that variously celebrated, protested or simply ignored the 86th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution.

The holiday, formerly Revolution Day but now renamed The Day of Accord and Reconciliation, was kicked off in traditional style with a Red Square march by hundreds of World War II veterans, cadets and soldiers.

While Communist Party supporters marched, armed with red banners and slogans that included "Down With the Bourgeoisie," in Pushkin Square the liberal parties Union of Right Forces, or SPS, and Yabloko protested the jailing of Yukos boss Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Not to be outdone, leaders of pro-Kremlin United Russia, apparently buoyed by polls putting it ahead of its rivals, held three events, all aimed at associating the party with national unity -- and all studiously avoided mentioning either the events of 1917, or Khodorkovsky.

Igor Tabakov / MT

A picture of Mikhail Khodorkovsky at a Yabloko and SPS rally on Pushkin Square.

Their Red Square memorial was a page from the prerevolutionary history books, to the defenders of Moscow against a 1612 Polish invasion. On the other side of the Kremlin, the party's pop concert at Vasilyevsky Spusk had young people dancing in front of a stage proclaiming "Together We Must Make Russia United, Strong." Meanwhile, party leader and Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov used a party congress at the Moscow International House of Music, or MMDM, to belittle opposition parties and emphasize the Kremlin's investment in social expenditures.

Political campaigning and protests against Khodorkovsky's arrest and against the oligarchs overshadowed the official Nov. 7 parade, which organizers said included 130 surviving veterans of the Nov. 7, 1941, Revolution Day parade. That day, soldiers marched straight from Red Square to trains taking them to the front.

"That parade was really a historic event, because it was an indicator of the will of the people to defend their country," Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov told the parade, estimated at about 15,000.

But this Nov. 7, unreconciled participants went their own separate ways after the parade.

United Russia's leaders pitched a message of being the strongest political force. "The United Russia party is the most powerful to emerge in our country since the fall of the Soviet Union," Gryzlov told an audience of 1,300.

Gryzlov said the party had decided not to take part in television debates because the rest of the parties running for the Duma had "no political weight."

"For parties with no political weight at all, taking part in the debates with United Russia is the same as a substitute goalkeeper of a street hockey team posing for a photograph along with [Soviet-era hockey legend Vladislav] Tretyak," Gryzlov said.

Gryzlov outlined the party's main goals as the continuation of the government's economic reforms and fighting corruption and red tape.

The Communists bolstered their rally with the presence of Aleida Guevara, the daughter of the famed revolutionary Che Guevara, who spoke to an estimated crowd of 6,500 through a translator.

Alexandra Kocho-Schellenberg / For MT

Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov condemned "oligarchic capitalism," and in his clearest reference to the Yukos affair said that "a new redistribution of property" was underway.

A more Yukos-friendly crowd of about 1,500 gathered at a smaller rally on Pushkin Square organized by SPS and Yabloko, which both have received funding from Khodorkovsky. But at the rally the parties showed no sign of being any closer to a merger, proposed last week by SPS co-leader Anatoly Chubais.

Some demonstrators carried Yukos pennants and photographs of Khodorkovsky, or wore T-shirts emblazoned with a Yukos logo and the slogan "For our freedom and yours." One placard read, "The Khodorkovsky affair is the prosecutor's shame," while other slogans condemned the war in Chechnya.

Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky said democracy in Russia was under threat, but avoided mentioning Khodorkovsky by name.

"Corruption is devouring the country. Our children will not forgive this," Yavlinsky said. "We want to see Russia transformed into a liberal and European country."

SPS co-leader Boris Nemtsov used the occasion to remind supporters of the liberal parties, which have traditionally struggled past the 5 percent barrier to enter the Duma, to get out the vote next month.

"Whatever you do, do not stay at home ... because that is a vote for the bureaucracy, and a vote against freedom," he said.