Russia Adopts Modern Politics: Actors Run for Office Here, Too

By Marshall Ingwerson, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, October 31, 1995 | Go to article overview

Russia Adopts Modern Politics: Actors Run for Office Here, Too


Marshall Ingwerson, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


OSCAR-winning filmmaker and famous actor Nikita Mikhalkov has no political experience. Yet he is the No. 2 candidate on the parliamentary ticket of the current Russian establishment, right after Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin himself.

Russian politicians, coping with a horde of weak political parties and voter bafflement, are campaigning for parliamentary elections Dec. 17 the modern way - with celebrity power.

If Mr. Mikhalkov's familiar name fails to add popular appeal to the Our Home Is Russia bloc, then the same ticket also boasts a TV movie star, Mikhail Boyarsky, a rave with young women. And for their parents: Edita Pyekha, the most popular Soviet singer of the 1950s.

At least 36 nationally famous actors, dancers, poets, singers, musicians, stage and film producers, and a circus magician are adorning party tickets as candidates to the Duma, or lower house of parliament. Very few of them have previous political experience.

The celebrity factor is one indication of how Russian politicians and elites imagine that voters minds' work. Half of the seats in the Duma are elected from party lists, meaning voters vote for a national party, and the number of votes determines how many candidates on the party list win seats. So a famous or appealing name on a party list can improve the prospects of the whole list.

"The ideologies are all nearly the same. Even the communists vote for private property and the market. And the democrats vote sometimes for stronger government regulations. So people turn to the portraits of personalities," says Vladimir Bauer, Duma deputy and independent candidate for reelection.

So far, 43 parties or blocs have submitted the required 200,000 signatures to register their candidate lists - from "Our Home Is Russia" to "Onward, Russia!" to "Stable Russia" to the "Beer Lovers' Party."

Name recognition

The only party that clearly has a public identity beyond the reputation of its leaders is the Communist Party of the Russian Federation - the successor to what used to be the only party in the Soviet Union. But then the Communists have a couple famous actors on their candidate lists too. One, Nikolai Gubenko, is a well-known actor who was a Soviet culture minister under former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

A magician at the celebrated Moscow circus, Emil Renard-Kio, is no longer a candidate since his Conservative Party failed to qualify last week. …

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