When Grigory Yavlinsky called for a bombing halt and peace talks in Chechnya last month, it was in keeping with his reputation as a voice of the democratic opposition in parliament, speaking out against corruption, war, authoritarianism and other excesses of the new Russia.
But Yavlinsky, leader of the Yabloko faction in the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, was rowing against the tide. Shocked by terrorist bombings of four Russian apartment houses in which nearly 300 people were killed, the public was howling for blood, and revenge.
In Sunday's elections, they rebuffed Yavlinsky. His party, one of the few with a genuine grass-roots base here, barely squeaked past the minimum 5 percent of the vote needed to qualify for representation in the Duma, getting 5.98 percent. Thus Yavlinsky's group will have only about 25 votes in the next session of the 450-seat Duma, down from 45 in the last one.
On Thursday, Yavlinsky was unbowed. He blamed his losses on the war hysteria in the country, the slavish attitude of the mass media and the powers of the Kremlin to manipulate both.
Yavlinsky's lament goes to the heart of the election results; Russians are not listening to critical voices. After a long period of fragmentation, the country has coalesced behind Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, but Yavlinsky remains in opposition, as he has for years, saying that something is not right.
Yavlinsky said that the country has blindly followed Putin with a passive, Soviet-era mentality. This, he said, explains the success of Unity--a neophyte party created by the Kremlin and some influential tycoons--which will be parliament's second-largest faction.
"Russia remains a Soviet country to a large extent," he said. "If the Central Committee of the [Soviet] Communist Party had existed for 10 more years, it would be running exactly this sort of election . . . because in the Russian-Soviet culture there is peculiarity. I would describe it this way--a carnival political culture, the culture of disguises, when people do not want to think, analyze, or calculate seriously."
In its television campaign, Yabloko aired grainy black-and-white commercials invoking nostalgia for earlier generations, but some analysts said the campaign was weak, especially at a time when the reformist Union of Right Forces successfully targeted young voters.
"These must have been our best commercials in four campaigns," Yavlinsky said. "But the concept was worked out when no houses were blown up yet. Of course, against the background of exploded houses, everything we thought of for our election campaign dimmed immediately.
"It's a question I'd like to ask my colleagues all over the world," he added. "How would liberal democrats in any other country of the world conduct their election campaign if houses with people get blown up, sleeping people? What kind of commercials can one show? I don't know.
"Had not the campaign been held in war conditions, had the campaign not started with explosions of houses that brought the whole society to a state when it was hard to hold any elections at all, had not the campaign been built around the figure of one man," Yavlinsky said, "the results for Yabloko . . . would have been twice greater, probably."
Yavlinsky, 47, has been at the center of economic and political upheaval for more than a decade. An economist, he was co-author of a famous plan--never adopted--in the final years of the Soviet Union to make the leap to the market economy in 500 days. Yabloko was founded six years ago.
He complained bitterly about the way two pro-Kremlin television channels bowed to Putin in this election, saying, "The party that really won the elections is ORT," the nationwide television channel under the partial ownership of tycoon Boris Berezovsky, which campaigned incessantly for Putin and his allies.
Critics say Yavlinsky too often has been outside the government, carping, and this may be why he lost strength in the Duma.
But he insisted that his place was in parliament. "Our government is like a brothel," he said. "Once you enter, it's very difficult to say you called in for a cup of tea. Having worked in government, it is impossible to explain afterward that I joined it to work, not to steal. This is very hard."
CAPTION: Grigory Yavlinsky, leader of the Yabloko party in the Russian parliament, suffered in Sunday's elections for his call to settle the Chechen conflict peacefully.