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Zhirinovsky's Crude Appeal

Despite late shifts toward reformers, vote for parliament and Constitution in Russia is a defeat for Boris Yeltsin

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Second, the disintegration of the Union of Soviet nations helped fuel the Zhirinovsky and communist vote. This compounded the economic disaster. It divided people from friends and even family. In this respect, the ex-Soviet situation has much in common with the situation in the former Yugoslavia. To travel by car or train from St. Petersburg to Kaliningrad, it is necessary to pass through two independent states, Belarus and Lithuania. Yet these are at least relatively calm areas. Far more serious is the situation for travel to the new states along the southern frontiers of the Russian Federation, where there are already widespread Yugoslav-style conflicts.

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In addition to his vote within the Russian Federation, Zhirinovsky probably had the support of most of the 25 million ethnic Russians who find themselves minorities in the new states. The 2 million who have fled back to within the shrunken borders of Russia were already a strong source of support for him. In most of the new states, the same old nomenklatura remains in power, having only exchanged its communism for nationalism.

IT was a comic aspect of the electoral campaign that nearly all the parties accused one another of being communists or Bolsheviks. ``Today you can find communists only in the Kremlin,'' declared the movie producer Govorukin, one of the leaders of the pro-Solzenitsyn Democratic Party of Russia. ``Who but communists would be capable of bombarding the parliament with artillery?''

Probably the best explanation for the current tragic situation in the former Soviet Union appeared in the pro-Yeltsin weekly, Novoe Vremya (New Times). In a September 1993 issue of this weekly, an article by a former Georgian dissident Tengiz Gudava appeared under the title, ``The Union Which We Lost.''

``My Father is Georgian and my mother Russian,'' Gudava says. ``I was born and raised in Georgia. I studied in Moscow. I was imprisoned in a KGB prison in Tbilisi. And I was a prisoner in the Perm prison camps.... In the USSR I was labeled `anti-Soviet.' In the West they called me a `Soviet dissident.'... In short, I am a real `Soviet man.' As Gorbachev once stated, there were between 50 million and 60 million people born of such ethnically mixed marriages in the USSR. This means we constitute a nation much bigger than many of the independent states. Why should we not proclaim our sovereignty?''

Further, Gudava writes: ``The Soviet Union wasn't an empire. It was fiefdom of the communist mafia, which almost remained unharmed by the breakup, unlike the Soviet Union itself.... The division into separate states with a still-living communist system is the best recipe for civil war.... Vladimir Bukovsky was absolutely correct when he said that nationalism is not the enemy of communism but its supporter, because it prevents the unification of democratic forces.... The Soviet Union really was an evil society, but not because different nations lived together in it, but because they were under an evil power.''

Gudava's article describes well why the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia disintegrated. It also explains why so many Russians voted for parties that promised the reunification of the Soviet Union. Zyuganov's communists, however, were crippled because they are attempting the hopeless task of reuniting the Soviet Union on the basis of a dead ideology. Zhirinovsky, too, cannot possibly unify the peoples, and can only bring on a Yugoslav-type civil war, thanks to his idea of unification on a basis of Russian nationalism. However, this is enough to give him a crude appeal within Russia itself. Yeltsin, who had to destroy the Soviet Union in order to get rid of Gorbachev and come to power himself, was until now reluctant to talk about reunification and so indirectly supports the nationalism of the local former communists in the outlying areas.

No one voluntarily chooses slavery. When people vote for communists or Nazis, this only means that they see no other real choice. Unfortunately ``Russia's Choice'' was not such a choice. Zhirinovsky is like a shadow of the present government, which follows in its wake.

The Western world is in an extremely difficult situation. To embrace Yeltsin, without real financial or other practical support, may actually promote Zhirinovsky's rise. This could bring a civil war in the former Soviet Union ten times larger than in the former Yugoslavia - and a hundred times more dangerous because of nuclear weapons. We may need to avert a World War III. The Opinion/Essay Page welcomes manuscripts. Authors of articles we accept will be notified by telephone. Authors of articles not accepted will be notified by postcard. Send manuscripts to Opinions/Essays, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115, by fax to 617 -450-2317, or by Internet E-mail to OPED@RACHEL.CSPS.COM.