Duma facelift leaves Russian MPs baffled

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ANATOLY LUKYANOV, disoriented by a third change of address in one year, was lost on the 12th floor.

The chairman of Mikhail Gorbachev's parliament in the days when deputies still met in the Kremlin and still thought they knew were they were going, the Rt Hon Member for Smolensk shuffled past an open fuse box, tangled wires and cardboard boxes, peered into freshly painted but still-empty offices and paused by a group of labourers speaking a language he could not understand.

'This is our third move. I can't even find my own office,' grumbled Mr Lukyanov. 'This is our Parkinson's Law: the bigger the premises, the better the rooms, the closer the enterprise is to collapse.'

Until Turkish workers got to work over the summer, the building was just another ugly stone edifice built by Stalin. It used to house that most Soviet of homo sovieticus, the central planner.

Yesterday was the building's grand opening as home to a peripatetic parliament, driven from its former premises in the White House by Boris Yeltsin's tanks. A facelift costing some pounds 40m had removed all traces of the building's previous incarnation as headquarters of GosPlan, the central planning agency. Only a few traces of the past remain: a stone hammer-and-sickle, too big to move near the roof, and a marble plaque promising eternal glory to 34 central planners killed in the Great Patriotic War (the Second World War).

The building was baptised with what has become something of a tradition for a legislature known since new elections last December as the State Duma: a walk-out by Vladimir Zhirinovsky's perpetually angry Liberal Democratic Party. Other deputies also indulged in the customary ritual of denouncing Mr Yeltsin as an alcoholic.

But with Mr Zhirinovsky in North Korea, telling his hosts that Russia envies and wants to copy Kim Il Sung's model, the fireworks quickly fizzled. Sergei Abeltsev, the party's belligerent deputy, ordered the walk-out to protest against the unfriendly welcome given to Mr Zhirinovsky when his chartered plane flew to the Siberian city of Kemerovo: petrol trucks blocked the runway.

Unimpressed by the colour- scheme was Sergei Baburin, representative for Omsk and veteran from the barricades of the old Supreme Soviet: 'If only everything depended on the decorators . . . The most beautiful places in Russia are graveyards.' But Mr Baburin was glad to have his own office again, even if the phones have yet to be connected. The State Duma's temporary headquarters in the old Comecon tower was too cramped for such luxuries.

After spending his last hours in the White House, reciting doggerel by candlelight, Mr Baburin also likes his new eighth-floor vantage point. His office now looks out on a crowded clutter of shops, corrugated sheds, a red school building and, in the distance, the clock towers of the White House, now the seat of the Russian government that he desperately wants to unseat. 'They won't be able to get any tanks in down there,' Mr Baburin said, 'at least here I should be out of the firing line.'