THE ZYUGANOV TWO-STEP
MAY 24, 1996
With Russia's presidential elections just three weeks away, the Communist Party is emerging as the principle threat to President Boris Yeltsin's re-election bid. The Communist candidate, Gennady Zyuganov, makes unabashed appeals to Russian nationalism and nostalgic references to the days when the Soviet Union was a major power and most people had regular jobs. But in meetings with Westerners, Zyuganov's message comes out differently. NewsHour special correspondent Simon Marks speaks with Gennady Zyuganov and Elizabeth Farnsworth analyzes the interview with Russian expert David Remnick.
SIMON MARKS: Gennady Andreivich, thank you very much, indeed, for talking to us today. Let me ask you first of all about what type of Communist you are. You've been described in the West as being engaged in the Zyuganov two step; you say one thing to one audience, another thing to another audience. Define your Communism for us.
GENNADY ZYUGANOV, Communist Presidential Candidate: (speaking through interpreter) About 30 correspondents from different countries, including your own, have been traveling with me. They record everything I say, whether it's in Paris, Davos, Vienna, or in the far reaches of Russia, and they know very well that I always express the same general themes. I want Russia to be a democratic country. I want Russia to live in peace and friendship with the West and the East. I want it to be an open country that strictly observes international standards on human rights. I want there to be freedom of the press, freedom of movement, but at the same time, I want our workers, our peasants, our engineers, our entrepreneurs, teachers, and doctors to have a decent life, to be able to work in an atmosphere of calm.
SIMON MARKS: It all sounds very reasonable, but people say when you go campaigning, when you go on the road and leave Moscow and go to cities outside the capital you put a very different message across to your poor constituency of older voters who have stuck with the Communist Party through thick and through thin over the last five years.
GENNADY ZYUGANOV: (speaking through interpreter) Well, I hope I don't look like an unreasonable man. Any politician, any politician in his appearances must consider the audiences he's addressing and where he is speaking. If I'm speaking to people who have escaped from war in Southern Russia, people who have no work, no homes, no possibility of caring for their children, naturally I sympathize with their pain, tell them plainly that we will stop the war, and they will have work and normal food supplies. If I'm speaking to engineers and workers from a factory that's been idle for a year and who haven't had a kopeck in wages for the last six months, naturally I tell them that we will do everything we can to make sure they get at least a minimum wage which will allow them to survive. Every politician must speak in a language which is understandable to his audience, so there's no contradiction here because every person has their own interest and needs, and it's the task of the politician to answer those needs.
SIMON MARKS: Let me ask you about economic policy. You have said that there will be no wholesale re-nationalization in this country if you come back to power, but how committed is the rest of the Communist Party to maintaining a mix between state and private involvement in the economy?
GENNADY ZYUGANOV: (speaking through interpreter) Democracy means allowing different viewpoints. I know that in your parties people have disagreements on many issues. In our party there are people in favor of a mixed economy and different kinds of property ownership. At our party congress more than 95 percent of the participants voted for that. So whatever individual voices there may be, we shall adopt a policy of a mixed system of economic management.
SIMON MARKS: You say that there's room for lots of different viewpoints within the Communist Party, but over the course of the last few weeks a lot of attention has been drawn to members of your own inner circle, members of the presidium of the Communist Party, some of whom have openly blamed the West for everything that's gone wrong in Russia, others of whom have been openly anti-semitic in their writings. How much are you going to listen to them, and how much are you going to take advice from them if and when you are elected president of Russia?
GENNADY ZYUGANOV: (speaking through interpreter) Everybody knows that while we were allies during World War II, after it ended, the Cold War began. There was an unprecedented arms race. There were confrontations around the globe, and there was a psychological propaganda war and economic weapons were used against us as well. We know the consequences of all this perfectly well. Nobody hid the facts at the time, and no one is hiding them now. So now when Russians say that the West is still applying economic pressure on Russia, that shouldn't come as a surprise. I know that in the West people are not of one opinion. Some people want to see a stable democratic Russia, but others want to see Russia torn to pieces. That would be a global tragedy.
SIMON MARKS: You in your writings have been quite critical of the West in the course of the past few years. President Clinton and the other Western leaders have at least kept you at arm's length during the course of this campaign. What sort of relations will you hope to forge with Western leaders if you are elected president?
GENNADY ZYUGANOV: (speaking through interpreter) I have a fairly good working relationship with many politicians in the world. I've met President Clinton three times and Vice President Gore twice. I'm in constant contact with the ambassadors of the world's leading nations. I had talks recently with the British prime minister, John Major, and the Polish president. I met the prime ministers of Israel and Norway. That's normal practice. We are ready for close relationships with everybody, the West and the East, and that is the policy which we'll carry out.
SIMON MARKS: This election is attracting a vast amount of international interest. Many people in the West see it as a test of the extent to which democracy has taken root in Russian society. How confident are you that this is going to be a free and fair election?
GENNADY ZYUGANOV: (speaking through interpreter) Well, they clearly won't be free because our president has all three state television networks in his pocket. In America, it's inconceivable that could happen. Our president is using all government employees as members of his campaign team, the military ministries and intelligence services, as well. In any other country, that would be grounds for disqualifying his candidacy. His team bugs my telephones at home and at work all the time. In your country he'd be punished for that. As far as the vote count is concerned, I'm convinced it will be dishonest, but we're taking legal and organizational steps to ensure that one third of the observers at each polling station are from our party in a bid to ensure that the vote is honest. I still have doubts about whether the election will actually take place. When I met President Clinton, journalists asked him what would happen if the election did take place and my party won, how would that go down in America? He said he would respect the choice of Russia. John Major told me the same, and so have other leaders. I hope that democracy and the rights of the people will triumph.
SIMON MARKS: Gennady Zyuganov, thank you very much, indeed, for talking to us today.
Click here for an analysis of this interview with Russian expert David Remnick.