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Russian Election Campaign: No Place For Greens

December 4, 1995

MOSCOW (AP) _ As one of the most polluted places on the planet, Russia seems like a country that might want a few fresh greens in parliament. But not a single environmental party appears on the Dec. 17 ballot.

There is, however, the Constructive Environmental Movement, known by its Russian acronym KEDR (Cedar). Despite its name, it is a staunch advocate of nuclear power.

``As far as I know, there isn’t a single environmentalist in the party,″ said Nikolai Vorontsov, who is the real thing as well as a member of parliament.

In fact, many KEDR activists are low-level nuclear industry bureaucrats.

The international environmental group Greenpeace, an avowed foe of nuclear contamination, is openly skeptical about KEDR’s close relationship with the nuclear power industry. KEDR didn’t even bother to reply to a Greenpeace questionnaire sent out to the parliamentary contenders, said the organization’s Moscow director, Alexander Knorre.

Russia is afflicted with a staggering array of environmental problems: radioactive wastelands, poisonous air, oil-scummed lakes and rivers, toxic dumps and aging nuclear plants, to name a few.

It’s clear that cleaning all that up would take a lot of time, money and energy and most parties give the environment no more than a nod in their platforms.

Voters probably haven’t noticed. They’re more concerned with trying to make a living, and trying to make sense of how Russia has changed since the 1991 Soviet collapse.

``People are much more worried about their living conditions, crime, economic and political stability,″ said Knorre. ``The environment is not a the top of anyone’s agenda.″

Even if it were, KEDR is an unlikely advocate. The party’s own founder admits it isn’t the slightest bit green.

KEDR, put together by businessmen, first appeared on the scene in 1993. Despite flashy television ads, it attracted just 1 percent of the vote in the parliamentary race. Everyone thought it would vanish.

But when elections rolled around again, there was KEDR, nestled into Place 29 on the cumbersome, 43-party ballot. It even managed a mini-scandal by putting a famous poet on its candidate list, apparently without the poet’s permission.

So far, KEDR hasn’t even raised a blip in the public opinion polls.

``KEDR has virtually no chance,″ said political analyst Michael McFaul, of the Carnegie Foundation’s Moscow think tank.

Critics say KEDR illustrates one of the quirky aspects of Russian politics, pseudo-parties that are just thinly disguised fund-raising, publicity-seeking devices for some businessman and his friends.

KEDR’s leader, Anatoly Panfilov, hotly disputes this description. ``We are a real party,″ he insisted in an interview.

He admits KEDR has a very low profile, but attributes it to the party’s emphasis on practical work. Panfilov claims party activists have spent the last two years on ``clean-up projects″ from Mt. Everest in the Himalayas to Mt. Elbrus in the Caucasus.

``Getting elected is not our main goal,″ Panfilov said. ``The electoral process is but a way of expressing our opinion.″

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