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Russia: The Red Still Revere The Revolution -- An Analysis

Moscow, 5 November 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Russian engineer Alevtina Kuznetsova says she respects the 80th anniversary of Russia's Great October Revolution, but does not plan to take part in any rally to commemorate it.

The November 7 holiday was introduced in the Soviet era to mark the 1917 Bolshevik revolution, and preserved as the Day of Accord and Reconciliation in post-Soviet Russia.

Kuznetsova's comment and her plans for the holiday, coincide strikingly with those of Russia's Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, who is just one year older than Kuznetsova. Kuznetsova is 58.

"I still have a great deal of respect for November 7," says Kuznetsova, "and I always associate it with my father, a veteran of the revolution, who used to take all our family to the Communist parades before dying during the (Second World) War."

She dismisses the holiday's new designation, decreed last year by President Boris Yeltsin, and says that for "many Russians, especially of my generation and older, November 7 will always be part of our history as Revolution Day." Partly, she says, this is due to pure "psychological reasons." "It's not a question of nostalgia for the Communist regime," she says. And adds that "many of the people who, like me, felt insecure after the breakup of the USSR honor this holiday because it represents a link with their past."

In an interview this week, Chernomyrdin said, "November 7 is a special date, especially for the older's a holiday mentioned in the Constitution to this day...and should be respected."

The Prime Minister, a former top Soviet natural gas-industry manager and Kuznetsova, an engineer in the building sector, have other things in common. They both held Communist Party membership in the Soviet era, and they both took a holiday this week, to coincide with the celebrations. Neither plans to attend the rallies Russia's Communist Party and other leftist organizations plan Friday to continue the tradition of the former military parades on Red Square.

Chernomyrdin yesterday started a week-long holiday. Kuznetsova says that, for her, this week will be a welcomed "opportunity to finish preparation for the Winter" at the family dacha. "We have to complete storing our potatoes and other vegetables we grow, that will help us be almost self-sufficient this year," says her husband Sergei, also an engineer. He says "avoiding extra expenditures is more important for us than attending demonstrations."

In an address marking last year's anniversary, Yeltsin, himself a former top Communist who rebelled against the party, complained that the country was "split into reds and whites, into us and them." Yeltsin said it was "time to end this." And, observers believe that, since his victory over Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov in last year's presidential election, Yeltsin has done much to tame Communist leaders, making them part of Russia's new political elite.

The Communists are still the biggest party in Russia, and their faction dominates the lower house of parliament, the State Duma. But they have limited influence on government policy. Zyuganov challenged Yeltsin and the government in last months' political battle over the 1998 draft budget. But the Communist leadership backed down, after winning what observers said were mainly symbolic concessions, and they dropped a no-confidence vote in the government.

Some of the Communists' more radical allies have harshly criticized Zyuganov for "capitulating to the Kremlin," and "inflicting long-lasting damage" on the Communist idea.

In an interview in yesterday's issue of the daily "Pravda-5," Zyuganov answered the critics, saying the Duma - and particularly his faction did not show "weakness" - but obtained "important concessions" and gained more access to the media.

During a recent visit to St. Peterburg, the Tsarist capital and the cradle of the October Revolution, Zyuganov said that "today is a new era and we must avoid such revolutionary uprisings." However, he added that the Communist Party and many Russians "bow before the grandfathers, who were able to preserve the country, halt fascism, conquer space and provide broad social guarantees." Zyuganov said that "it was a unique system and to destroy it, as (Mikhail) Gorbachev and Yeltsin did, was a crime."

Critics say the Communist leadership is concerned mainly with avoiding the loss of benefits connected to official positions - and that both they and the Kremlin gain from maintaining the status-quo. The daily "Nezavisimaya Gazeta" wrote that "membership of the cozy world of Russian political elite does not encourage rebellious thoughts."

The popular daily "Movskovsky Komsomolets," wrote in a commentary this week that the rallies planned Friday to commemorate the revolution's anniversary in Moscow, (organized by Zyuganov's Communist Party, by the hard-line "Working Russia" of Viktor Ampilov and the "Officer's Union" of Stanislav Terekhov), "will show only the internal fights of competing organizations to establish who is a real Communist."

Interior Ministry officials have said they expect no-violence during the rallies. The head of the ministry's public security department, General Ivan Golubev, told Interfax news agency that organizers of the rallies expect about 35,000 people to take part in the celebrations. However, Golubev said that starting from today police forces will strengthen security in Moscow, until next Tuesday. Golubev said that a total of 400,000 police and interior ministry forces will enforce security across Russia during the anniversary.

Engineer Kusnetsova said she "does not understand the necessity" of these security measures. "Police forces would do a more useful job if they were fighting corruption," she said.

Sociologists have noted that the issue of wide-spread corruption among officials concerns Russians much more than political infighting between the Kremlin and its Communist opposition.