After decades of hammers and sickles, red flags and wordy slogans, Russia's Communists are considering a propaganda device Lenin and Stalin never dreamed of: the SMS message.
As the Communist Party struggles to regain influence and branch out from its aging support base ahead of the country's next elections, its leaders called Saturday for a fresh propaganda push designed to attract younger Russians and draw attention to itself despite the Kremlin's grip on the nationwide broadcast media.
At a party plenary meeting outside Moscow that focused on propaganda -- a word that in Russia evokes the posters and slogans of the Soviet Communist Party at the time of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution -- first deputy chairman Ivan Melnikov said the Communists should turn to methods such as graffiti and mobile phone messaging.
Members of the party's youth wing "could use telephones to send political jokes or rhymes, or attract attention to events -- anything that motivates a person to send the message along to someone else," Melnikov told party leaders at the meeting, in comments broadcast on NTV television.
Mobile phones are now widely used in a country where people struggled 15 years ago to find two-kopeck pieces to feed payphones, and many Russians -- from savvy Moscow schoolchildren to their grandmothers in the countryside, in some cases -- are proficient at using short-message service, or SMS, to send messages to family and friends. SMS messages -- known here as esemeski -- are particularly popular among teenagers and young adults.
He also said the party should make more use of the Internet.
Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov said the party, known since the 1991 Soviet breakup for street protests dominated by elderly people carrying red banners, should shed outdated slogans and tailor the language of its propaganda to specific target groups, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.
Zyuganov called on the Communists to smarten up their propaganda efforts, using artistic images, satire and advertising, ITAR-Tass reported.
Using a phrase from that capitalist tool, he said they should seek to "sell the brand" of the party, according to the agency.
Melnikov said the party should do more to draw attention to its activities in the State Duma, the lower parliament house.
He said it should consider "transferring certain methods of street protests to the assembly hall" in the Duma.
The Communist Party presence in the Duma shrank following December 2003 elections that gave the pro-Kremlin United Russia party a massive majority of its 450 seats, and the state control over the nationwide television networks has hobbled efforts by the Communists and other opposition groups to get their messages to the people.
"We must now conduct ourselves more sharply, more clearly and more loudly," he said, so that "it would be impossible not to hear us, impossible not to show us" on television.
Melnikov's calls for the use of modern means such as text messaging and the Internet came during a speech that hewed to a Soviet-era tradition of long addresses at party conferences. He spoke for an hour and a half.