MOSCOW — It's wet, cold, has a white head and is sparking interest in politics among even the most jaded Russians: It's beer, of course.
The Beer Lovers' Party, founded in December, hopes to use brew to galvanize thousands of embittered Russians into a political force. And though some dismiss the party as folly, more than 5,000 Russians have already signed up, and organizers expect 100,000 card-carrying members by summer.
"We don't think that our party is a joke," asserted Konstantin Kolachev, 29, general secretary of the party. "We're quite serious, and we plan to run for seats in Parliament."
Kolachev points to beer drinkers' parties in the Czech Republic and Poland as proof of such organizations' legitimacy. He hopes that the Beer Lovers' Party--Partiya Lyubitelei Piva, in Russian--can offer a more palatable choice than the popular Liberal Democratic Party of neo-fascist Vladimir V. Zhirinovsky, which won 14% of the parliamentary seats in December's election.
"I'm confident we'll have more votes than Zhirinovsky" in the next election, scheduled for 1995, Kolachev predicted at a news conference, sipping on a cold mug of lager.
That would be no small feat in a nation where apathy is growing even faster than prices. "A new alienation of power from the people has emerged, and is deepening," Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin admitted in Thursday's State of the Nation speech.
If the beer lovers win seats, they will only add to the fragmentation of the Parliament, where eight major parties already share power. The proliferation of political parties, while normal in fledgling democracies such as Russia, can be destabilizing, as too many diverse players try to hammer out government policy.
Organizers say the party was born over beers, as diverse friends discussed the parliamentary election results. "The only party that every person there would belong to was a party for beer lovers," explained Dmitri Shestakov, 30, the group's chairman. "So we decided to found such a party."
Shestakov says the party's mission is to make Russia a better place for lovers of six-packs and everyone else.
"Our party can be a unifying force," he declared.
But it has already developed factions for lovers of light, dark, foreign and domestic beer. The party platform is designed to have broad appeal, endorsing a social and economic program that makes beer-drinking easier. This includes strong human rights, free trade, full employment and lower taxes.
Russians can join the party by signing a petition or by sending their name to the group's Moscow headquarters. Although there is no initiation fee now, Shestakov said a small charge may be instituted to cover membership cards and a lapel pin--shaped like a frothy mug--that organizers hope all members will eventually wear.
The Beer Lovers plan an aggressive program to win members. Next month, the party will unveil on radio and television its anthem--a catchy tune declaring, "We Love Beer," penned by Valery Shepovalov, an aging Russian rock star. Tests of the song on Moscow radio stations this week made phones ring off the hook with new members, reported Evening Moscow newspaper.
The party also plans a rally this spring near Red Square, with hopes of drawing 100,000 or more beer drinkers. "Politics before was always a festivity, full of jokes and joys," Shestakov said, recalling the parades and rallies of the Soviet era. "Now, politics has become a violent thing. We want politics returned to its joyful side."
Despite Russians' affinity for vodka, Kolachev rejected the idea that a Vodka Lovers' Party would be even better for his nation. "After vodka, one wants to hit somebody in the face, while beer unites people," he suggested.
Erkin Touzmuhammed, a Moscow journalist who recently joined the beer drinkers' party, agreed that ale, stout and bitter could heal Russia's political strife. "In most of the Slavic languages, beer is also called by the word dobray , meaning good ," he explained. "Beer must be the most democratic of drinks. I think the party will enroll lots of new members."