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Russian Vote Sets Stage for Yeltsin-Communist Face-Off

By Daniel Schorr. Daniel Schorr is senior news analyst for National Public Radio. / December 22, 1995



THE Bunker Hill of the anti-Communist revolution was Poznan, Poland. In June, 1956, workers rioted, not just for freedom, but under banners demanding "Bread and Freedom." In the Soviet world there has always been a dichotomy between freedom from want and freedom from fear. The tension between the two emerged in Russia's parliamentary elections last Sunday. A significant number of the economically insecure voted nostalgically for the economic stability that went with political repression in Communist times.

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The results are not likely to have much immediate impact on the Yeltsin reform programs. Even if a majority coalition could be assembled, which is unlikely, Yeltsin's constitution left parliament too weak to impose its will on the executive. At most, President Yeltsin may have to drop both First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais, in charge of the privatization campaign, as a concession to the Communists, and pro-Western Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev as a concession to the nationalists.

But the election was more important as a test of strength for potential candidates in the presidential election next June. Tough-talking Gen. Alexander Lebed did badly; ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky did better, but only half as well as last time. Moderate Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin trailed in single-digits in spite of, or perhaps because of, Yeltsin's coattails.

The new front-runner is Gennady Zyuganov, a mid-level bureaucrat in the old Soviet Communist Party. He leads what presents itself as a kinder and gentler Communist Party, promising stability without repression. His emergence and Chernomyrdin's weak showing may increase the chances that Yeltsin will run again to defend his reforms.

Mr. Zyuganov has begun discussions to prepare for the presidential race, including feelers to other opposition parties about coalitions. Indications are he will appeal to nationalists. At a victory news conference he denounced Yeltsin for the "impoverishment" of the Russian people and for allowing "trashy" American productions to dominate Russian TV.

The result is the prospect of a head-to-head contest between Yeltsin and Zyuganov - the father of the post-Communist system and the son of the Communist system who wants to go, at least part way, back.