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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 November 2007, 13:58 GMT
Moscow Diary: Campaign circus
The BBC's James Rodgers watches the man accused of killing a former KGB agent give an election news conference. Our correspondent also finds inspiration in the wide choice of footwear in Moscow. His diary is published fortnightly.

'NEW PERFORMER'

Andrei Lugovoi was giving a news conference.

It was like a circus act. It would have been funny, were it not for the issue of a slow and painful death, and the poisoning of relations between Britain and Russia.

Andrei Lugovoi. File photo
Mr Lugovoi says he is being used as a scapegoat

It was just before he began his campaign for a seat in the Duma, the Russian parliament, and it was the anniversary of his meeting in London with Alexander Litvinenko, the former Russian secret policeman Britain accuses him of killing.

Andrei Lugovoi has always strenuously denied the charge. The Russian authorities have refused to extradite him to stand trial, arguing that their constitution does not permit it.

Mr Lugovoi is campaigning for the Liberal Democrat Party of Russia, whose leader, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, has always been something of a showman.

Whatever you might think of his message - despite its name, his party's creed is one of table-thumping Russian nationalism - Mr Zhirinovsky's abilities as a speaker and a campaigner make him one of the survivors of the post-Soviet political scene.

He made his way through the rough-and-tumble arena of the 1990's, even famously resorting to fists to solve a dispute in the Duma.

Now he has added a new performer to his troupe.

Mr Lugovoi's name lies second on the Liberal Democrats' list of candidates for the forthcoming elections. If they get more than 7% of the vote, he wins a seat.

Alexander Litvinenko in Britain's hospital. File photo
Mr Litvinenko died in 2006 after exposure to polonium

The opinion polls suggest they may struggle to get the support they need. Much will probably depend on how much of his legendary energy Mr Zhirinovsky can muster for the campaign.

He has been hit by high-profile defections, which are probably a factor in Mr Lugovoi's second place.

The hall was packed. Mr Lugovoi's previous talk of "sensations" continues to guarantee him an audience - even if it is starting to feel like he is giving a very similar news conference over and over again.

'LONG LIVE RUSSIA!'

Mr Lugovoi had been accorded the honour of a platform at Ria Novosti, a news agency whose own website describes it as "within the competence of the Press and Information Ministry."

I'll probably have a drink, according to the old Russian tradition
Andrei Lugovoi

It is usually reserved for government officials and ministers. The choice of venue suggested official sanction.

Mr Lugovoi continues to insist he is innocent - a victim himself. He continues to question the professionalism of British police and prosecutors, and the competence of the British media.

Perhaps fittingly for a would-be nationalist MP, there was a strong strain of patriotism.

"I'll probably have a drink, according to the old Russian tradition," he replied in answer to a question about what he would do if all the charges were dropped.

"I'll say the truth has triumphed. Long live Russia, the great and powerful!"

Vladimir Zhirinovsky. File photo
Mr Zhirinovsky's party may struggle to make it into the new Duma

Like Mr Zhirinovsky, his new political ally, he is an impressive public speaker: calm and confident, rarely lost for words.

If Mr Lugovoi does get a seat in the Duma, he will also acquire immunity from prosecution - in Russia, anyway.

As I reflected on the showbiz feel to the whole affair, I also thought about the origin of the word "circus". In ancient Rome, the circus was where they threw people to the lions for popular entertainment.

This circus also revolves around violent death.

RUSSIA'S REAL CHOICE

I should have known better. I could hear music and an impassioned speech blaring out from a public address system. I thought it might be an election rally.

People have been giving out political leaflets on Moscow's streets since the campaign officially began.

United Russia - the party whose candidate list puts President Putin in the top spot - shows a granny and grandpa giving their granddaughter a fluffy white teddy bear.

A Communist Party supporter in Moscow holds a sign, reading: Putin's Plan is Russia's Misfortune on 20 November 2007
Many Communist supporters say Mr Putin's policies will ruin Russia

Presumably it is a clever reference to the party's symbol - a polar bear.

The Communists have published a special copy of the Pravda newspaper. The photo on the front page shows a crowd of supporters. One of their banners reads: "All power to the Soviets!" - a Leninist slogan even older than most of the party membership.

But the razzmatazz was not about the election. It was a new shoe shop.

Now this shop has opened up right next door to an existing one. Builders had been working late into the night - in heavy snow - to get it ready.

In Russian, the word for "choice" and "election" is the same.

In my corner of the capital, the wider choice of footwear is inspiring greater enthusiasm and energy than the election - and, unlike the election, you don't know in advance who is going to win.


Your comments in reaction to the Moscow Diary:

I found your article illuminating about a real revival not a possible revival of a new young Soviet communism. According to some leading experts, communism ( the workers paradise ) was not to be the end result of the struggle.

Communism was to be a signpost on the way to an enlightened future for the people. Perhaps with the new blood of youth in its veins, communism can evolve into a future version that will be unlike anything present now or that in the past.
Richard McKelvey, Latrobe, PA USA

I am just wondering how the Russian people still feel nostalgia for an ideology that killed off more than ten million of their own countrymen in the purges that followed after the Communists took power in 1917 and sent more than five million of their own countrymen to various prisons/concentration camps in Siberia, many of whom did not return alive.
Rolando D. Siatela, Manila, Philippines

No surprise they won the cold war, not Ronald Reagan. When the iron curtain fell, Americans were subjected to the Hitler-like regimes of Reagan/Bush. Eventually, Gorbachev became the most intelligent editorial writer in America. Others were censored by the government's industries.

The Soviet Union collapsed without much of a civil war under the pressure of economic warfare backed up by violence and extortion from the US. Currently Putin defends the federation honourably against the tyrant Bush.

The only redeeming things about the US are our efforts at communism, and socialism. Our democracy and election processes are a joke. And our economic system, since the Reagan era, is a process of printing money, lowering federal taxes, overspending budgets and creating massive treasury debt.
David Barnett, Laporte, Texas, USA

Communism is a political cancer: the aim is to multiply wherever possible, by any means and destroy anything that is different in its way. When there is no more space to spread, then eventually it dies together with its host.

A different opinion is a crime. A different thought is a crime. All people are equal. No social classes but only one: The new Communist. One Party rules over all. One leader is the enlightened one. A son sells his father: he had a different opinion from that of the Party. Cold. Starvation. Fear. Humiliation. Dirt. Lies. Prison. Deportation. Terror. Pain. Work camp. No god. No hope. Only the Party.

What is Russia today? It is the child that has sold its father to the KGB and now, when Stalin and Lenin are dead, doesn't know where to go. So it plays with two toys, oil and nuclear weapons, hoping everybody will not notice that is so lonely.
Stefan Moromete, Silistea Gumesti, Romania

The world was much safer while the Soviet Union existed. Then, the enemy of the west was well defined, now we are not even sure who our enemies are - with all these rogue states around. Could it be that it is a case of swapping a black dog for a monkey?
Genard Taylor, Jamaica

Communism had many shortcomings, but science, the arts and education were generously supported in the USSR. A friend of mine from former Soviet Georgia now lives in the US. He is a brilliant theoretical physicist, and was a professor in the USSR. In the US he was often unemployed, and wound up as a computer programmer.
James B. Cole, Tsukuba, Japan

That does it. I'll never set foot in Russia. Too scary.
Californian, California, USA



JAMES RODGERS IN MOSCOW

James Rodgers Leaving for good
Our correspondent's valedictory entry before departing Moscow


MAY - OCT 2008
 

SEPT 2007 - APRIL 2008
 

FEBRUARY - AUGUST 2007
 

IN DEPTH


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