President and politicians leave Russians very cold

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The Independent Online
MOSCOW - It is hard to get Russians talking about politics these days: they are so exhausted, confused and alienated, they just do not know what to think any more, writes Helen Womack.

But those who did have an opinion to share with the Independent during street interviews yesterday felt mainly that President Boris Yeltsin had let them and himself down badly by caving in to the conservative Congress and exchanging his young reformist prime minister, Yegor Gaidar, for Viktor Chernomyrdin, a middle- aged oil industry bureaucrat.

'He just did not give Gaidar a chance. He was a bright boy and he needed more time to show what he could do,' said Tamara, a pensioner. She struggles on a monthly income of 3,100 roubles ( pounds 4.75) but is willing to endure hardship for the sake of a decent future for her grandchildren.

'I don't like it at all,' said Genrikh, a student of geophysics. 'I have the feeling that something is not right here. Yeltsin promised a referendum and now this.' Irina, a historian, said Mr Yeltsin had betrayed the young members of his government to save himself. 'He has lost his force and our respect but then I always did think he was a muzhik (peasant).'

No one questioned was enthusiastic about Mr Chernomyrdin and many had never heard of him. 'I haven't drunk with him yet,' said Valery, an unemployed engineer. 'And anyway, how do you pronounce his name?'

At the end of last week, after President Yeltsin had angrily rebuked the Congress of People's Deputies and said he was calling a referendum over who ruled Russia, Izvestia ran an opinion poll showing that 48 per cent supported his position compared with 32 per cent against. Altogether, 66 per cent were either for re-electing the assembly or dissolving it altogether; 43 per cent backed Mr Gaidar, while only 15 per cent were against him.

From the President's point of view, these figures looked good and yet, for some unexplained reason, he chose to ignore what the voice of the street was telling him. From the mass of the people, it seems the President need fear no outburst of anger for they are so disillusioned that they are almost past caring who leads them.

In the street interviews yesterday, far more common than an opinion was no opinion at all. 'I have no idea what's going on. I try to avoid watching television,' said Tatyana, a factory personnel manager. 'The new Prime Minister will be as boring as the old,' said Marina, a plump woman in a violet synthetic fur coat. 'I'm utterly indifferent. I don't rely on politicians, I rely on myself,' said Oleg, a co-operative businessman.

The Russian press showed hardly more curiosity. Komsomolskaya Pravda said Mr Chernomyrdin was a 'dark horse', and Pravda crowed: 'Common sense won the day.' But no newspaper made a serious attempt to analyse what the change meant for Russia or to find out what really happened in the Kremlin toE frighten President Yeltsin into such a dramatic U-turn.

THER write error(Photograph omitted)