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Scholar suggests ways to reduce fascist risk in Russia
STANFORD -- The Russian election victory of Vladimir Zhirinovsky "represents the greatest threat to American national security in the post- Cold War era," Russian political expert Michael McFaul told scholars Dec. 20 at the Stanford Center for International Security and Arms Control.
Zhirinovsky is "a fascist by any definition of the word," McFaul said in prepared remarks for the lecture, which was held a few days after McFaul returned from monitoring the campaign and elections in Russia.
"The chances of a fascist takeover in Russia akin to Germany in the 1930s are still probably low," McFaul said. "The consequences of such an outcome are so dire for American national security interests, however, that we must do all we can to ensure the probabilities of a fascist victory are reduced."
At President Clinton's upcoming summit with Russian President Boris Yeltsin, Clinton "should politely remind President Yeltsin that parties are a critical component of all stable democracies in the world," McFaul said.
"Up until now, Yeltsin has refused to engage in party politics."
McFaul also urged the U.S. government to reevaluate all its standing policies toward Russia and to especially consider how it can address the "systemic sources of Zhirinovsky's success."
Zhirinovsky as a parliamentary deputy now has a public forum from which to capitalize on Russia's economic hardship in a 1996 presidential bid. The fact that he won less that 25 percent of the December vote is not a significant handicap, McFaul said.
"Having a minority fraction in a weak parliament actually serves his short-term needs as he can criticize [Yeltsin's] government without having to take any responsibility for the government's performance," said McFaul, who is a research associate at the Center for International Security and Arms Control as well as a Hoover Institution research fellow and the co- author of a book on recent Russian political leaders.
Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party won over 11 other parties and blocs running in opposition to the Yeltsin government. The "opposition vote" was probably large because market reforms are, in the short term, a substantial hardship for many citizens, McFaul said, and because of the lack of established political parties in Russia.
"Unlike other East European countries, Russia did not have a founding election immediately after the collapse of communism," McFaul said. "Consequently, political parties do not exist in Russia. Without intermediaries like parties between the state and the people, voters feel little relationship between their personal lives and the way they vote."
But systemic causes do not explain why Zhirinovsky's party won over other opposition parties and blocs, McFaul said. He attributed that partly to strategic mistakes and divisions among democrats, as well as more effective television campaigning by Zhirinovsky.
The strategists for Yeltsin's national bloc, Russia's Choice, "decided that the best campaign was no campaign at all. No political rallies were held. No voter contact activities were conducted," he said. "Many senior leaders within Russia's Choice did not campaign at all" because they mistakenly thought voters were tired of politics. When Russia's Choice finally did attempt to campaign against Zhirinovsky, it aired a documentary of several of his most militant speeches with little commentary.
"To a Moscow intellectual, the message of the film was clear. To most everyone else, however, it was free advertising for Zhirinovsky," McFaul said.
The democrats' own television ads "gave voters no reason to vote" for them. "Instead, [Yegor] Gaidar and others delivered long, monotonous and academic discussions about the macroeconomics of financial stabilization" and no one effectively outlined the consequences of implementing Zhirinovsky's rhetoric.
Although the United States will be "marginal" in the battle to thwart Russian fascism, McFaul suggested the government make amendments and additions to its current policy to help "relieve some of the pain" of the economic transition for the average Russian. Those include:
Social welfare funds might even be channeled through political organizations, rather than the government, to help build a relationship between the electorate and parties, he suggested.
And, he said, the United States should consider financing trips for political leaders to the United States, where they could observe firsthand democratic campaign strategies and techniques.
"As a new anti-fascist coalition begins to form, coalition members tasked with running the pro-democratic presidential campaign in 1996 should be sent to the United States to gain experience in campaign techniques."
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