Russia's political small fry out to make waves in polls: Helen Womack, in Moscow, assesses the aims and hopes of minority groups in Sunday's parliamentary elections

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The Independent Online
THE sharks in Russia's political waters dismiss them as minnows but some of the small parties on the fringe of the election campaign are among the most interesting. The Constructive Ecology Movement (Cedar), Women of Russia and the Dignity and Charity Movement have addressed the electorate with a refreshing reasonableness and are hoping the voters will give established politicians a shock by supporting them in Sunday's elections.

Greenpeace says Cedar is not a genuine Green movement because its membership includes state officials and industrialists, as well as doctors, teachers and artists. And it is not against atomic energy, provided safety standards are good.

'Yes,' cheerfully admits Sergei Abdurakhmanov, the movement's campaign organiser, 'Cedar candidates include some officials and that is no bad thing because they have access to full information about just how polluted Russia is.' He is also happy to acknowledge that Cedar is not 'pure Green because we believe Russia cannot afford that luxury at the moment. If we shut every dirty factory, we would have to close down the country's entire industry and then we would have mass unemployment'.

Led by Anatoly Panfilov, a private businessman, Cedar has 42 candidates throughout the Russian Federation spreading the movement's word: 'We are against nothing but for rational solutions using existing resources. We are for clean, healthy air, water, food and human relations.'

Founded in 1992 and using the cedar tree as its symbol, the movement can draw on the former Soviet Union's bitter experience with ecological disasters such as the Chernobyl and Chelyabinsk nuclear accidents to win over voters. As well as campaigning for conservation, Cedar speaks often of the need for 'ecology of the spirit', by which it means honesty and mutual tolerance in human relations. 'October was not a very good example of such ecology,' says Mr Abdurakhmanov, referring to Boris Yeltsin's use of tanks to storm the old Soviet parliament. Cedar leans towards the reformists and supports Mr Yeltsin's draft constitution, but is ready to co-operate with any party that approaches it with a constructive attitude.

Such a group could be the Dignity and Charity Movement, which includes Chernobyl victims, pensioners, war veterans and invalids among its members. The movement wants economic reform but 'reform for people, not at the expense of people,' says its co-leader Alexander Lomakin, a former documentary film-maker who is confined to a wheelchair after an accident 12 years ago.

He stresses it is not 'an invalids' party'. 'It is a party that cares about anyone in need. Every second person in Russia today lives in poverty. Eighty per cent of pensioners have only 40,000 roubles ( pounds 27) a month while the basic consumer basket has risen to 77,000 roubles.'

That should strike a chord with the Women of Russia, who say the free market is not an end in itself but a means to help people live better. Capitalism should be tempered by some state support for social security, health, education and the arts. The party , made up of lawyers, teachers and some former Communist bureaucrats ('Who was not a Communist in the old days?' they ask defiantly) rejects the label 'feminist', saying it is fighting for the good of all citizens.

The leader, Aleftina Fedulova, a former head of the Communist Pioneer children's movement who favours Thatcher-style power suits, was driven to found a women's party because the other parties placed their token women so low on their candidates' lists that they were unlikely to get seats. 'They wanted to make parliament a men's club,' she said, accusing reformist Sergei Shakhrai's party of being one of the most reactionary when it came to advocating a purely domestic role for women.

Women of Russia has little finance for its campaign and is the butt of constant jokes from other politicians. But, says Mrs Fedulova: 'They said we would never get 100,000 signatures to register and we did. Now they say we will never get over the 5 per cent barrier to get into parliament. Well, we are going to show them.'