Extremists push for young voters

December 4, 1998

Political extremists are taking advantage of Russia's economic crisis to attract more students in the run-up to next year's parliamentary elections.

Communists, nationalists and rabble-rousers from the political fringe all claim that students and youth activists form their core support and will rally to the hustings when Russians go to the polls in December next year.

The collapse of the rouble, capital flight and reluctance of the International Monetary Fund to bail out President Boris Yeltsin's administration, are fuelling discontent on campus, where student grants have more than halved in value since August.

Irina Zhukova, deputy chair of the Communist Party of Russia youth committee, said: "Many students now work for us because their stipends are not enough for them to live on. They come to us for help and we either give them work or contact employment centres to find jobs."

Students from the provinces, where the cash economy has given way to barter, were very vulnerable and saw the Communists as an answer to corruption.

Student membership tended to be concentrated in those universities where Communist professors and lecturers taught, she added.

Critics ridicule the Communists as a party of pensioners and Stalinist cranks, but today more than 80 per cent of members are under 30, she claimed.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky's right-wing nationalist faction, the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, is also targeting young people. It has called for lowering the voting age from 18 to 16.

Mr Zhirinovsky toured Russia by boat and train last summer talking at institutes about decadent western values among youth. Nearly half the party's 600,000 members are young, he claims.

Spokesman Mikhail Sokolikh said: "Young people are the future of this country and therefore we take care of them. We're very concerned to protect Russia's young people from moral dangers."

The party has branches in 50 of Russia's 89 oblasts (regions), including one in Novosibirsk, Siberia, where an institute professor was also a member of the local Duma for the faction.

Zhenya Rosso, 18, a student at Moscow State University of Statistics and Information Sciences, said the party was working to make Russia great again.

"The biggest problem we face is corruption and stealing. We need to return Russia to decency," he said.

Eddie Limonov's National Bolshevik Party, whose hammer-and -sickle symbol in a white circle on a red background parodies the Nazi swastika flag, advocates a return to revolutionary radicalism.

The party claims a membership of 5,200, mostly students, and plans an alliance with two left-wing groups, the Russian Union of Officers and Viktor Anpilov's Russian Workers Party, to gain seats in next year's elections.

"We've a lot of members from law faculties. In the 50 regions where we have branches only four are headed by people older than 40."

Mr Limonov, who lived in New York and Paris before returning to Russia in 1992, said "red nationalism" of a party that talked of justice rather than democracy was attractive to young people.

Sergei, a student at Moscow's Humanitarian Institute of Radio and Television, said Mr Limonov's vehement anti-Americanism attracted young people.

Talking in the party's dingy basement headquarters beneath a police station in central Moscow, he said: "Most of the students at Moscow's elite universities are drug addicts who are more interested in night clubs than politics. We're not for these sorts of idiots, we're for those who are thinking about Russia's future."

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