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 boiling over."
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."