U.S. can’t dismiss Zyuganov’s appeal

Frustration with the slow progress of market reforms in Russia has spurred widespread economic anxiety and created deep fissures in the nation’s political landscape. More than seven of every 10 Russians voted in the presidential election last weekend — a chorus of contentious voices that sharply revealed the contours of the divided citizenry. The Clinton administration breathed a long sigh of relief after Russian President Boris Yeltsin’s narrow victory. Nevertheless, nearly as many Russians were drawn to Gennadi Zyuganov’s Communist Party pledge for a speedy return to the more predictable state-centered policies of the past.
Because of the narrow victory, a run-off election between the two candidates next month will provide Russians with the formidable task of deciding whether their nation is strong enough to continue along a capitalist path. Sticking with market conversions might engender long-term economic prosperity, but at the expense of short-term financial anguish.
Yeltsin and his predecessor, Mikhail Gorbachev, began replacing the fledgling communist policies of the past with free-market initiatives and a more democratic political process almost seven years ago. Few expected the nation’s political and economic transformation would be easy, but the painful conversion process is taking its toll on the Russian citizenry. Despite the persistent economic hardship and social upheaval, however, young, well-educated Russians who live and work in the nation’s urban centers remain committed to the capitalist reforms. But many older Russians, who can remember a time when food wasn’t so outrageously expensive and few workers worried about finding a decent job, insist the communist regime offered a more prosperous lifestyle than present-day market reformers.
Youthful, entrepreneurial voters who remain confident that they can build thriving careers for themselves as well as re-establish Russia as a laudable world leader predominantly prefer Yeltsin. In all, he captured about 35 percent of the vote. Zyuganov enticed older and less optimistic Russians who favor a return to the socialist economics of the past and grabbed almost 32 percent. Yeltsin’s post-election decision to appoint Aleksandr Lebed to serve as chief of his security council virtually ensured a victory for the Russian president in the next election. Lebed, a retired paratrooper general, unexpectedly garnered 15 percent of the vote. His endorsement will most likely give Yeltsin a comfortable win in July. Nevertheless, Washington must not mistakenly dispel the political significance of the stark absence of electoral support for market reforms among Russian voters.
Clinton is right to insist that ongoing market transformation in Russia is necessary for the nation to compete in the global market. But the president has failed to seriously address the sincere insecurities motivating broad electoral support for the Communist Party. Instead, he and Secretary of State Warren Christopher cling to rhetorical admonishments demanding Russia re-elect Yeltsin. The Clinton administration’s complete dismissal of Zyuganov’s candidacy derides the legitimate views of Russians who favor the reinstatement of some of the nation’s historically productive communist policies.