Russian version

Extremism and xenophobia in electoral campaigns in 1999 and 2000

Ekaterina Mikhailovskaya


The specifics of the pre-election political advertising on TV (in reference to that phenomenon such euphemism as “agitation” is, by the way, used much more frequently) are linked to the very essence and specifics of television as a medium. On one hand, out of all kinds of election agitprop that the contemporary reality has to offer, TV advertising is by far the most coercive one. The electors’ position in relation to the political advertising – just as in relation to TV commercials in general – is clearly passive. The following principle is in action here: “They surely are gagging but still watching” (it seems that the causes of this effect are to a great extent physiological; they are connected to the type of reaction of the higher mammals to identified visual and other irritants).
Another specific feature of television has to do with its belonging to the field of mass-culture (both in a sense of pop-culture and in a sense of the so-called “serial” culture – i.e. perpetually involved in the in process of incessant Darwinistic propagation), which implies a very tight bond (saying “usage” is rather risky because it is not quite evident who is using whom) with pagan archaics. When television meets politics, which, especially in its national-patriotic version, represents pseudo-rationalization of primitive (e.g. early) mythological structures at best, the medium’s archaic quality becomes many times stronger. As concerns this subject, it is essential to remind ourselves that election campaign, as a concept, is also pseudo-rationalization of a ritual: for example, the connection between the act of dropping the voting bulletin into the ballot-box and the traditional fertility cults is quite obvious. The expiration (i.e. death) of old Duma’s powers and the birth of a new Duma is yet another adaptation of the theme of the ever expiring and resurrecting God, where the Central Election Commission is playing the role of the chthonian or underground world, the Commission’s Head is acting in the capacity of the Judge of Hell, the ritual character of mutual defamation, that the campaign’s participants are engaged in, cannot be doubted, etc.
In light of the arguments made above, it is sensible to regard TV advertising of election associations as a certain kind of individual folklore of the respective tribes (or prides, if one is weary of the hints on political process’ tribalism). At the same time, one is faced with a natural question about the role of political technologists (that are also “consultants” and that are also “piranhas”), whose very function is, all in all, precisely not to leave to the customer any possibility for self-expression but to coerce “him” into creating the association’s customized brand, attractive and effective for the electorate’s target group. Unfortunately or maybe fortunately indeed, the “professionals’ ” role in creation of political advertisement can be assessed as accessorial. The customer always has the last say, even if he belongs to the relatively advanced (that is, fallible to the more modern and ubiquitous superstitions) group of politicians. As concerns the associations of national-patriotic orientation, besides self-confidence, that commonly unites all the participants of the electoral process, they usually share profound distrust of technology. Therefore, the product that the client/elector sees on the blue screen is a kind of an advertising clip for the yogurt “Milaya Mila” (or “Beloved Bella”, for that matter), developed under general supervision of a cow.
The final preliminary remark is as follows: political advertising on television is not designed for specific associations’ own respective electorate (if such electorate exists at all). The images featured on TV are designed to attract potential electorate, sometimes the one of other associations (for example, all the Communist associations are forever attempting to bite off a peace of each other’s electorate). But even more often, their target is the so called “swamp” – e.g. those electors that stop by the electoral polls by sheer accident and vote impulsively.


It is absolutely obviousthat the election associations’ behavior on TV depends to a large extent on the level of their notability, or, in other words, recognition. The old-timers of the electoral process work with the already hardened mythology, while the new-comers have to instill their images into people’s memory. In the frame of the election-99 campaign, the new-comers in the milieu of national-patriots are the Movement “Spas” (“Christ the Savior”) and the Movement of Patriotic Forces “Russian Deed”.

The Movement “Spas”
Thanks to the joint efforts of the President’s Administration, Ministry of Justice and mass-media, “Spas”, or “Barkashov’s Block” acquired great distinction as a “fascist” association and was finally excluded from the election race for technical reasons. In their TV statements, “Spas” representatives, Alexander Sevast’yanov and Boris Mironov (let’s leave Mironov’s scandalous past, of which the electors are certainly unaware, out of the picture) came forth in the image of respectable nationalists – “cultural heroes of the XXI century” of a kind (akin to Kirienko and his crowd that picked this very name for themselves, though the name suits “Spas” much better – after all, “cultural hero” is really someone who steals the fire from the gods, as opposed to someone who finds 2.5 billion dollars in the Moscow Budget). Sevastyanov’s character and Mironov’s character are both free-thinking intellectuals. Sevastyanov plays your typical privatdocent (eye-glasses, beard, unctuous voice). Mironov comes forth as an intellectual of peasant origins (enthusiast, the whole truth and nothing but the truth kind of fellow). Both are evidently new men, unlike the others that are all functionaries in gray suits and ties. Their dress code is the following: soft baggy jacket of a brownish tinge (both Mironov and Sevastyanov), black turtleneck (Mironov), archaistic black coat (approximately like the one of Geidar Jemal – see the advertising clip of the Movement in Support of the Army). The TV-message of “Spas” is: “we represent the “new force” (same as Kirienko’s), and that new force is Russian nationalism. It is essential for the “Spas” activists to give a clear definition of “Russian nationalism” so as to separate it from “patriotism” (Sevastyanov) and “fascism” (Mironov). “Nationalism is to love one’s own nation and care for it”; “the nation is of primary importance, and the state -- of secondary”. Hence, in the center of the “new” proposed project is a certain cathedral unity of the chosen that one enters through his blood-right (Sevastyanov: “my brothers-consanguinean and compatriots”, through the right of the elected birth (Sevastyanov: We are lucky – we were born Russian”). The ideal of “Spas” (the very name alludes to Christ, but not to the “Jewish Jesus” – to “Spas” – i.e. “to the Russian Christ”) – is a family (“nation is a great family”; “how can one not love his predecessors and his descendants”, “fathering state”), whose members are connected by mystical love (nation as Church). And that Russian nation-family (which represents at the same time the “sheet backbone” (or, if you please, the Stanovoi Range (a major mountain range) – yet another Russian quibble) – an expression that also pleases the pro-empire-oriented Zhirinovsky) spreads its nurturing care over other “original nations of Russia” (those that have no states of their own). All the others that do not belong to the nation-family (compare with the usage of the term “family” in relation to the President’s circle and to the most recent usage of that term in relation to the Moscow administration system) are its enemies (Mironov: “We’ve had enough of people out of nowhere, people with dual or triple citizenship, ruling over Russia!”).
It is interesting that “Spas” representatives treat Russia (as a country) with a certain degree of suspicion, perceiving it as something “secondary”. They believe, for instance, that Russia could be powerful rich and strong with the Russians “being sick and dying” at the same time (Sevastyanov: “we do not need such Russia”). On the other hand, the words “Russian”, “the Russians”, “we, Russians” sound like a mantra (Russian family, Russian school, Russian textbook, Russian mass-media bodies, Russian television, and here and now and into the ages) and become imprinted on the consciousness of the audience/client. Generally speaking, if we regard the statements of “Spas” representatives not as battle-songs of small tribe chiefs (the principal chief is the absent Barkashov) but as regular advertising, we shall inevitably come to the conclusion that the product advertised is the “new Russian” brand”, because these two assumptions are the ones that reach the client (for the first time and Russian to the bone).
Thus, in the capacity of a great political novelty (“cultural revolution” of a kind), “Spas” proposes to the client/elector a mystical cult of an ingrown family-nation, alike the “Church of the Faithful”, where people become “faithful” not by Covenant but by blood kinship. It is rather curious that the competence of this “cherished-by-God-on-the-national-level” idea is being proved via numerous allusions to the contemporary world’s experience (“Frenchmen rule over France and Englishmen rule over England”) that testifies of a significant distortion of the optics. In the repertoire of the nationalistic cliches, that are not “Spas” ’s own, the comic ones predominate --which is only natural for any attempt to place a mystical cult in the frame of a bourgeois or even post-bourgeois context – such as the initiatives (“Russian Constitution”, Law on the Rights of Russia’s Original Nations, Law on the Divided Russian Nation and on its Right of Unification, Law on Russophobia, Duma Committee on problems of the Russian People), long arguments about the Russians representing a “state-forming” nation and about Russia being a “multinational country”, populist folklorish lamentations on the fate of the poor, comprising horrid tales about a concentrator-woman that feeds 5 people with 2 loaves of bread for one whole week (Mironov; compare with the famous New Testament story). The economic propositions of “Spas” are transparently “leftist” and lack originality – nationalization of natural resources, trials of Gaidar and Chubais, etc.

“Russian Deed”
The Movement “Russian Deed” is known (to a narrow circle of specialists) as “Korzhakov’s Block” and represented by a number of persons who are absolutely unknown to any one at all and have the All-Russian last names “Ivanov, Petrov, Sidorov”. “Russian Deed” ’s TV advertising has the following distinguishing feature: it consists of a whole cycle of narrative clips that are all rather enigmatic and literally beg to be deciphered. Here is a typical example. A cortege of four black cars is moving down the highway (one car is a Limo, and two have winkers on their roofs). A young road policeman (traffic policeman) attempts to stop the cortege. The cars come to a full stop all right. But then, several people dressed in black and armed with automatic guns and cellular phones jump out of the cars. At that very instant, there appear two kids in bright jackets, a small boy and a girl who is a bit older, and start crossing the highway. The bearers of guns and mobile phones smile, watching the kids crossing, and climb back into the cars. The policeman waves his regulator baton, and the cortege moves on. A sign “Russian Deed” fills the screen, and the voice-over resounds: “One man – still a man. Russian Deed.” This story does not even give a hint as to what that “Russian Deed” is all about but clearly demonstrates that it has some magical attributes. Another clip. A surgical operation (in a hospital, not in Chechnya). A priest in a white hospital coat is hugging a six-year-old boy in an officer’s cap. The priest’s lips are whispering prayer words (let us hope that those are not “Russian Deed”). The enemies, that are bent over the sick man’s bed, sigh with relief. The priest picks up the boy and lifts him up, in a victorious gesture. Next to them is a girl in a white coat. Sign: “Russian Deed”. Hence, we can see that “Russian Deed” is some kind of a healing magic. Yet another clip is fully dedicated to the enigma of “Russian Deed”. On screen is the Duma building on Okhotnii Ryad St. The voice-over: “Ivanov, Petrov and Sidorov shall be here. Russian Deed”. The meaning is clear for once: Ivanov, Petrov and Sidorov shall become Duma Deputies. Next shot: the Bolshoi (big) Theater. The voice-over: “Art shall become big. Russian Deed.” In this case, the message is less transparent: it might mean that Ivanov, Petrov and Sidorov shall support Art, or it might mean that “Russian Deed” signifies something like “amen”. And the final shot: the sea, gray and not quite calm. The voice-over: “Russian Deed”. Hence, it is now apparent to the client that “Russian Deed” is a certain unexplainable mystical concept. This clip in a way supports another clip in which representatives of different social layers voice their opinion about what “Russian Deed” really is. The very approach is rather peculiar. Just imagine that in the popular advertising clip of the Union of the Right Forces the passers-by are being asked not “what they think about the Union of the Right Forces” but “what the Union of the Rights Forces is?” Let us point out that such question is usually asked either if the inquirers do not know the answer themselves or if the answer is absolutely obvious. In case of “Russian Deed” the former seems true – they don’t really know what “Russian Deed” actually is (that is, they know that it is something big and luminous and good, but what it is still remains unclear). In the clip, the answers are as follows: “Russian Deed” is good order in the country”; “Russian Deed” is good and normal business”; “Russian Deed” is good living for everybody”. And finally, the survey is majestically crowned by a tautological statement that probably sounds maximally concrete to the “Russian-deeders” (“Russian-doers”? “Russian-deedalists”?) themselves: “Russian Deed – is Russian Deed.” Hence, we are dealing either with a magic incantation or, which is more likely, with some kind of a magic object (then, it is understandable why the knowledge of the incantation only is not sufficient, and one has to look for something else behind the incantation), some kind of a Graal, the source of absolute good. The client/elector is being offered either to receive the sacramental Graal or at least to enter the path of search for the Graal by means of voting for “Russian Deed”. In any case, the client is advised to entrust all his hopes to the magic, and to the Russian magic at that – the last aspect is being repeatedly emphasized.
Today, on the Russian political scene, there are only two broadly known political subjects of national-patriotic orientation (both are empire advocates, by the way). They are the CPRF (party) and Vladimir V. Zhirinovsky (individual).

Political advertising of the favorite of election campaign – CPRF – is aggressive and technologically apt. The dominant color is red. The dominant image – triumphal procession. The dominant motive – victory. The emblem – semiabstract Order of Victory with the words-messages “victory”, “USSR”, “CPRF” artfully embedded into it. The task of negative identification is resolved through the clip “Why are they afraid of us?” that comprises preassembled anti-Communist “insinuations” of the chief “evil-doers” (Eltsyn and Berezovsky) and principal election competitors (Chubais, Chernomyrdin, Yavlinsky, Zhirinovsky). The CPRF is evidently exploiting the nostalgia for the Soviet rule and refers neither to the great Stalin Myth (like Stalin’s Block) nor to the Super-Power Myth (like the KRO, Congress of Russian Communities) but primarily to the golden stagnation epoch (pictures of Brezhnev’s demonstrations – the outrage of “rich” banners adorned with golden fringes; the “Sacred War” used as theme song and performed in the “contemporary” (the one of Brezhnev’s period) musical adaptation). The slogan is also restoration-oriented: “Only the Communists shall return peace – to the people, factories – to the workers, and land – to the peasants!” On the other hand, it is evident from the clips that while wishing to sustain the link with the Soviet epoch, the CPRF is also striving to void its image of “a party of the past”. The clip “single combat”, allegorical and very modern in style, clearly testifies to that fact. In the clip, we see a dynamic and intense arm wrestling match between a mine-worker and a new Russian that culminates in the worker’s victory. The problem with this plot is that it does not have “the good” and “the evil” univocally marked (the logic “rich=evil”/ “poor=good” does not work for the contemporary Russia), and therefore an elector who either is not interested or has no Communist convictions may actually find in this picture another kind of logic, totally different from the one planned by the scriptwriters. The arm-wrestling can be interpreted as wrestling of the old regime (the miner) with the new regime (the technocrat). The miner would stand for poverty, aesthetics of stern simplicity (plaid shirt) and physical labor. The technocrat would, on the other hand, signify progress (mobile phone), prosperity (gold watch) and civilization (white wristbands). The outcome of their combat, then, could be easily interpreted as victory of the old regime over the new one, and it is not quite comprehensible how exactly it is supposed to promote the image of “the regenerate CPRF”, i.e. of the CPRF as the party of the future. Political advertising of the CPRF shows that while trying to retain the traditional aging electorate and, at the same time, attract new younger electors by means of image modernization, the party ends up in a trap.
The statements of the CPRF/”For Victory” leaders – Gennady Seleznev, Gennady Zyuganov and Sergei Glazyev – attest to the duality of the party in relation to the past and the future. On one hand, they limit the Communist rhetoric to the minimum (relative minimum) and build up their personal images by force of contrast with the typical image of Soviet functionary (compare the G. Zyuganov’s manner of dress and speech to the one of Ev. Primakov, especially in the recent period, that is after Zyuganov underwent a face-lift and changed his dress-code). On the other hand, the restoration pathos (Zyuganov: “to revive the governance in the country”; Glazyev: “to reinstate the living standard that we had before the reforms”), replacement of the Communist rhetoric with equally archaic nationalist rhetoric (Zyuganov: “to stop genocide” – compare with Mironov from “Spas”). All in all, the CPRF’s TV advertising makes the impression of extreme eclectics which most probably reflects the true situation within the party.

Zhirinovsky’s Block
Just as in the previous years, Zhirinovsky’s movement, whether it’s been called LDPSS (Liberal Democratic Party of the Soviet Union), LDPR (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia) or simply Zhirinovsky’s Block, is fully embraced and limited to the figure of the commander. Zhirinovsky’s Block is Zhirinovsky, and the elector votes for the leader (compare with Yavlinsky’s “Apple” on the other flank). Zhirinovsky’s campaign of 1999 differs from the previous parliamentary race by its modesty. This distinction can be probably explained by the financial difficulties that resulted from the loss of such candidates as Bykov and Mikhailov. Another feasible explanation is that, first of all, Zhirinovsky’s main election campaign was carried out before the official start of the parliamentary race (let us recall Zhirinovsky’s participation in the election for Governor in Belgorod Region and the LDPR’s endless image-oriented TV clips) and, second of all, Zhirinovsky has been attempting to revise his image (from a clown figure to a respectable politician figure). In any case, the political advertising of Zhirinovsky’s Block in the frame of the election-99 is practically limited to the leader’s appearances in an empty TV studio. In addition to the disavowal of the showman’s accessories, the gradual extirpation of the yellow color also testifies to the movement’s aspiration for respectability. The traditional color array of the LDPR was yellow-blue. But by 1999, the blue (color of conservatism) freezes out the yellow (color of clownery) practically everywhere. (Compare with the CPRF’s TV clip where Zhirinovsky, presented as one of the competitors, is shown in a yellow-brown jacket and a canary-yellow shirt.)
Each TV statement of Zhirinovsky is free improvisation on an assigned theme. As opposed to the majority of candidates, Zhirinovsky-the-speaker is neither “a talking head” nor a “talking bust”. He is standing there in his shirt-sleeves but still wearing a tie. His gesticulation is lively and he starts moving around the studio-space from time to time. Hence, he is not a buffoon/trickster any longer. But he is not a statue/chief yet. If compared to the previous election cycle, the features of a teacher/preacher/prophet are now reinforced in Zhirinovsky’s image to the damage of the buffoon’s features. Substantively speaking, let us emphasize Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s remarks on the Russian issue. The onset of his statement shows that Zhirinovsky perceives the “Russian problem” not as a global one (compare with “Spas”) but as a local one. For him, the “Russian problem” is of the same type as the “problems” of women, army and defense: “I would like to address the Russian people because it created our state.” The not-requisite standing cliche quality of the theme is also evidenced in the assertion that “the Russian people is the hero of the October Revolution” that, the orator hurries to add, “was unsuccessful, however.” From the nationalist cliches, Zhirinovsky reproduces an image of the Russians as the state’s skeletal frame and spine (compare with “Spas” and with Russian All-People’s Union) but, in contrast to the above-mentioned associations, having praised the Russians, Zhirinovsky always considers it necessary to specify in the spirit of political correctness that “We also respect other nations” and dedicate part of his statement to the struggle with anti-Semitic and anti-Caucasus attitudes of the electorate. Zhirinovsky’s special recipe consists of two constituents. First, it is the making of a homunculus – that is, to mix “the heroism of the Russian nation with the refined intellect and far-sightedness of the Jews and with the energy and enterprise spirit of the Caucasus nationals so as to create powerful economy.” Second, it is the liquidation of the national republics where “revolts are taking place” and where “our television is being shut off”. This recipe is quite in the spirit of a fairy-tale (either the rejuvenesce apples or the flying carpet) but – let us give Zhirinovsky his due credit – his competitors on the nationalist-patriotic/pro-empire background are not greater realists at all (recall the magic formulae of the “Russian Deed”, Baburin’s “love of life”, etc).


Among the relatively prominent electoral subjects of the national-patriotic kind (or at least among those electoral subjects of the national-patriotic kind that believe themselves relatively prominent) are the election association “Congress of Russian Communities and Yuri Boldyrev’s Movement” (KRO – DUB; only the KRO’s part can be actually defined as national-patriotic), Sergei Baburin’s Russian All People’s Union, Movement in Support of the Army and Defense Industry (DPA; a.k.a. “Movement Against Yids” – DPZh) and the election association “Spiritual Heritage”. Only the DPA and the KRO-DUB have a chance (a minimal one, at that) to make it to the new Duma.

The Movement in Support of the Army and Defense Industry has to face a major problem: out of its two charismatic leaders, one – General Lev Rokhlin – is dead and the other one -- anti-Zion crusader and General Albert Makashov – is not presentable (the General’s patriotic temper is known to everyone, and attracting the Central Election Commission’s attention by anti-Semitic televised statements is rather dangerous). Therefore, one of the main components of the DPA’s advertising includes a reminder (visual) about Rokhlin (a peculiar transformation of the ancestors cult – compare with the cult of Sakharov (not as an individual but as a mythological character that fulfills the function of “the aged Derzhavin”[1]) in the “democratic” environment). The visual sequence of the DPA’s still is as follows: Kremlin Spasskaya Tower (pro-state phallic centrism), Rokhlin’s profile (in color) on the black and white background of military men (“the hero and his legions”), Victor Ilyukhin (in color) on the background of a tank (black and white; the tank probably symbolizes fearlessness and perseverance of the hero-prosecutor who initiated the impeachment procedure against Eltsyn and accused Gorbachev of high treason), Ilyukhin shaking hands with an army general that we could not identify (both characters in color) on the background of a mass of soldiers (black and white), and finally, the DPA’s logo – a soldier in the center of a five-point red star (taking into consideration the feminine symbolism of a star-hole, the DPA’s symbol represents glorification of possession (compare to the Stalin’s Block’s similar logo, where the star is “pierced” with Stalin’s depiction). The clip’s message is probably that the DPA’s leaders are the true authentic spokesmen for the Army, and their authenticity is guaranteed by Rokhlin from the afterworld. However, due to the fact that the DPA’s agitprop is naturally perceived in the context of general advertising flow, that message is modified as “the DPA (brand) shall transform your boring gray world into the world of colors”.
The “informative” part of the DPA’s advertising – that is the one slighting visual stimuli – comprises speeches of the candidates’ “talking busts” that appear in a natural setting (“living people” as opposed to “celestials” from the Russian All People’s Union, for example, where the “talking heads” are suspended on the back-ground of news reels.) For instance, Evgeny Chuganov, head of Ilyukhin’s Committee’s Apparatus (State Duma Committee for Legislation), dressed in prosecutor’s uniform, is sitting in an office backed by book-shelves overflowing with thick impressive volumes. The leitmotif of his statement is “not only for the Armed Forces”: (DPA) “unites not only representatives of the Armed Forces but also law enforcement organs, structures of force and all patriots that deeply care for the interests of Russia”. Another DPA candidate, Geidar Jemal, prominent occultist in the retrospect and actual head of the Islamic Committee, on the other hand, addresses his statement exclusively to the “Muslim brothers” (and even starts off with a prayer formula in Arabic and in Russian). Jemal’s speech presents a summary of the theory of world-wide conspiracy in a somewhat mollified version. The country and the entire world are suffering a crisis, “the mankind is in the oligarchy’s hands”, especially since the fall of the Soviet Union which used to counter “the empire ambitions of the West”. Russian bureaucracy “impels its people to become serfs of the West”. The Muslims and Russians that co-inhabit “the wide vas of the Great Eurasia” have a common “platform” – that is, their faith in the Almighty God (monotheism) and social justice. Therefore, “Muslims and Russians shall create united front in their fight against the common enemy” (evidently, the West). Jemal concludes the geopolitical concept described above with an appeal to the Muslims to vote for the DPA. All together, it makes an extremely exotic impression and an unprepared client may actually end up with an erroneous notion that the DPA is none else but the movement of Islamic (in the sense of using Islam as a cover) adherents of esoterics that are also extreme leftists into the bargain.
[1] Alexander Pushkin: "The aged Derzhavin paid heed to us/ And blessed us on his way to the grave" – a quote that became an aphorism.
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