By Don Hill/Aurora Gallegos
PRAGUE, March 6 (RFE/RL) -- Substantial
Western press comment turns once again to politics in Russia,
concentrating on the prominence of Communist leader Gennadi Zyuganov
on the 43rd annniversay of Josef Stalin's death, and on President
Boris Yeltsin's recent protectionist pronouncements.
Adrian Karatnycky is president of the U.S.-based human rights
monitoring group, Freedom House. In a commmentary yesterday published
in The New York Times, he wrote: "Gennadi A. Zyuganov, the
Communist Party leader who is the current favorite to win Russia's
presidential elections in June, tries hard to sound like a reasonable
man....He has insisted that he believes in private enterprise
balanced by a strong social safety net...." Karatnycky asked: "So is
Mr. Zyuganov an agreeable social democrat or troglodyte Communist?"
His answer was: " On the basis of his writings, he emerges as...a
conservative traditionalist, a Russian nationalist, a proponent of
pan-Slavic reunification....His convoluted prose echoes
the stereotypes...prevalent in traditional anti-Semitic tracts....Mr.
Zyuganov saves his greatest venom for liberal democracy, which he
blames for most of the ills of the modern world...."
Karatnycky concluded: "What would a President Zyuganov mean for
the West?...As President, his top international priority would be to
bring the territory of the former Soviet Union under Russian rule and
build close relations with the Islamic world and China. Thus, while
Mr. Zyuganov may not be a Communist, he is something worse."
The French daily Le Figaro carries today a commentary by Irina de
Ghukoff. She writes from Moscow: "The communists are
celebrating. They are celebrating simultaneously the 43rd anniversary
of Stalin's death and the official recognition by the Electoral
Commission of Gennady Zyuganov's Patriotic Popular Block. This
strange coalition united under the Bolshevik flag includes the
agrarians and around 30 political movements beginning with the
Students' Union and finishing with the Veterans Union. (It) is a pot
inside which a new political force is cooking on the verge of
New York Times writer Michael Specter comments today in the
International Herald Tribune: "Many in the West have long
assumed that little remains (in Russia of the Stalin) cult.... Yet,
it is impossible to ignore voters who repeatedly say they are
searching for a man strong enough to restore Russia to greatness. The
debate over Stalin's significance is not an abstract or arbitrary
matter (in Russia). In this year, with a crucial presidential
election that may well pit a reformer like President Boris Yeltsin
against Zyuganov, the Communist leader, it is a struggle over
nothing less than the meaning of modern Russian history."
Columnist John Thornhill writes today in Britain's Financial
Times: "President Boris Yeltsin is nothing if not flexible.
Yesterday, he provided a classic example of a politician's
ideological ambivalence when he promised to protect Russia's demestic
manufacturers while claiming credit for the undoubted benefits his
liberalizing trade policies have produced. Mr. Yeltsin's decision to
bang the protectionist trade drum appears part of a campaign to turn
up the volume of nationalist rhetoric ahead of June's presidential
election....Mr. Yeltsin's latest outburst confirms a growing
protectionist mood in Moscow."
In an analysis today in the Wall Street Journal, Neela
Banerjee says: "Russian President Boris Yeltsin called for higher
duties on imported textiles, in the latest sign of Russia's tilt
toward greater protectionism....Mr. Yeltsin's comments (yesterday)
add to a barrage of recent statements by the Russian government about
protecting domestic industries ranging from poultry farms to aspirin
makers. Much, of course, is presidential campaign populism. Mr.
Yeltsin hopes to outflank his communist and nationalist opponents on
various fronts....But as each day brings sharper rhetoric in Russia
about tariffs and quotas, analysts and foreign businesspeople are
starting to think some increased protectionism is on the way -- and
that it won't disappear after June's presidential elections, even if
Mr. Yeltsin wins."
Also in the Wall Street Journal, Claudia Rosett wrote yesterday: "Backing Boris Yeltsin in his race for a second
presidential term is one of the world's richest companies -- Gazprom,
Russia's natural-gas monopoly....It wields resources on a scale not
remotely available to Yeltsin's closest rival, Communist candidate
Gennady Zyuganov, who yesterday registered as a presidential
candidate. But as Mr. Yeltsin tries to shake the corrupt image that
clouds his government, Gazprom may be one of his worst liabilities.
Privatized in 1994 on terms highly favorable to top company insiders,
Gazprom has emerged as Russia's fattest emblem of privilege conferred
on close friends of the Yeltsin administration."
Rosett added: "With fewer than four months to go before the
election, Mr. Yeltsin recently has begun taking a tougher line with
Gazprom, ordering it to pay large sums in back wages owed to company
employees. But cutting down to size Gazprom's aura of arrogance and
privilege may take more than such campaign-trail gestures. Asked at a
conference in London last fall what he foresaw for Gazprom should Mr.
Yeltsin lose the June election, (Gazprom Chairman Rem) Vyakhirev
answered, 'Anybody who comes to power is going to have to manage to
live with Gazprom because without Gazprom, they won't manage at all.'"
In a news analysis today from Moscow, Phil Reeves writes in the
British newspaper The Independent that press freedom to cover
the election campaign is under seige. He says: "Whatever other
delights it has in store, the Russian residential election looks as
if it will lack one vital element. There will be no (strident
interviewers like British broadcasters) Jeremy Paxman or Robin Day,
no national television taskmaster ready to whip out his rapier wit at
the merest whiff of a lying politician. Anyone who tries such tactics
faces being banned from the air waves. The central election
commission is putting the finishing touches to rules which -- while
restraining journalists from openly suporting individual politicians
-- also bar those who chair television debates from asking
questions....They wouldn't even be allowed to interrupt."
Reeves concludes: "The move comes as Russia braces itself for a
turbulent election in June in which the freedom of the media is
becoming a prominent issue."