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Press Review: Russia Two Days Before The Vote

  • Stephanie Baker



Prague, June 14 (RFE/RL) -- Western newspapers are dominated today by the Russian presidential election, which is just two days away. Commentators assess President Boris Yeltsin's chances against his main rival Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov.

In today's Financial Times, Chrystia Freeland takes a look at Yeltsin's campaign, under the headline "A heavyweight makes his stand." She writes: "Two days before the first democratic election of a national leader in Russia's history, the country is divided, in the words of one Muscovite observer, between fear of the present and fear of the past." Freeland notes that Zyuganov is "campainging on fear of the present," giving him a "formidable ticket." Yeltsin, on the other hand, "has vaulted in to the lead in opinion polls by reminding voters that there is also much to fear in the return to the past." "But," says Freeland, "while the president has made the dangers of a hardline communist comeback the unifying theme of his campaign, he has also unblushingly adopted many of the symbols of the Soviet regime." These include control over the media, and use of Soviet symbols such as the hammer and sickle.

Freeland concludes: "Divided as they are by fear of the past and fear of the present, Russians will on Sunday be united in their fear of the immediate future. If the country can find the courage to master this final fear, and to abide by the verdict of the ballot box, then no matter who comes out ahead in Sunday's poll Russia will have undergone a democratic revolution."

In a commentary in today's Los Angeles Times, Jeane Kirkpatrick, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under President Ronald Reagan, looks at what's at stake in the elections. She begins: "Voters in the Russian elections Sunday will not only choose a president, they will decide the character of the Russian regime for years to come." Kirkpatrick argues: "A communist Russia would change the world for the worse. A democratic Russia frees the United States and Western Europe from the burdens of threats and an extremely expensive arms race. It strengthens the peace and security of Russia's neighbors." As she puts it: "These are not 'new Communists,' they are Russian Communists who have always been nationalists and imperialists as well as socialists....Mr. Zyuganov promises that, if elected, he will follow a policy of return: He will return success, power and respect to the great Russian state." Kirkpatrick contends: "Nationalism is strong in Russia today - throughout the electorate. Russians are proud and want their nation treated as great power that is included in great power circles. Mr. Yeltsin has sought to demonstrate that he can get Russia into those clubs."

In today's London Times, Richard Beeston writes from Moscow that Yeltsin has "outclassed his Communist opponent in just about every aspect of the race for the presidency." He maintains that few people have heard from "Mr. Zyuganov the specific ways in which he plans to cure the country's ills." Beeston says: "For the Communist Party leader the result of the presidential election could well decide his fate as well as that of his cherished party....It is widely expected that, if the Communists lose the electorate, the alliance they have so carefully put together will crumble. The party itself, which is made up largely of elderly Soviet-era supporters, may never have another chance to regain power by the ballot box." In his words: "Next time around, at the turn of the century, the ranks of the disgruntled and nostalgic elderly will have thinned and the strongly anti-Communist youth will have won the demographic battle and may well have laid to rest once and for all the country's Communist legacy."

Columnist A.M. Rosenthal, writing in today's New York Times says: "Americans have nothing to worry about if the Communists take over Russia again. Pepsi will still be in business there." He writes: "Hundreds of American companies are pouring investment into China, and with any luck a Communist Russia may not turn out to be much worse than Communist China. In time they would have the same number of slave-labor camps, the same control of the press and propaganda, the same gag in the national mouth, the same police-state terrorism that has kept every Communist dictatorship in power from Stalin's to Castro's."

Rosenthal argues: "Citizens of the West should understand that if Communism returns to Russia, their lives will be affected, and one day their children's. A Communist Russia would be no threat to the West, we are assured by some Western Soviet specialists, most of whom were wrong about the Soviet capacity for political expansion. Now they tell us a Communist president would not have the resources for such adventures. But neither Stalin nor his successors had the resources either." Rosenthal notes that Zyuganov "conceals neither his admiration for Stalin, his vision of expanded Russian influence and might, his contempt for the West and everything humane it stands for, nor his contempt for Jews, a sure symptom of paranoia about the outside world."

"Russian market could soar with Yeltsin, sour with Zyuganov," reads the headline of an unsigned commentary in this week's the Economist Magazine. It says: "The Russian market's rise seems to imply, therefore, not only a bit on Yeltsin's success, but also a refusal to take fright at the possibility of a Zyuganov presidency." The Economist argues: "The question, however, is not whether Zyuganov will turn back the clock, but whether he will break it beyond hope of quick repair. For neither he nor anybody else within his party leadership has the skills and experience needed to run a big, fragile economy." It continues: "Consider the following scenario. First, Zyuganov will have to deal with the bank runs and capital flight that will accompany his victory. When the Communist Party pledged to investigate whether Russians' private wealth has been 'legitimately' acquired or not, little of that wealth will hang around waiting for the verdict."

In today's French daily Liberation, Helene Despic Popovic writes: "When he dances, when he growls, when he promises to distribute generous gifts, Boris Yeltsin is not a candidate. He is the Czar, the incarnation of the power that he holds, which galvanizes him and which he does not intend to let go of. And this image of force is very likely the key to his incredible rise in the opinion polls after four months of frenzied campaigning and rushing through Russia's immense regions." She says: "Boris Yeltsin also did not fail to hide his image of a Statesman, equal to world's major powers."

Phil Reeves, writing in today's Independent, says the race between Zyganov and Yeltsin is too close to call. But he notes: "The Yeltsin team has been showing signs of over-confidence (some of his aides have even reportedly booked flights for holidays on the Black Sea between rounds) and the President may have made a mistake when he claimed he will win outright in the first round. This could all backfire, come Sunday."
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