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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Altai Effusive Over 'Magnificent' Zyuganov

BIISK, Southern Siberia -- If Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov came to the Altai Region to win the hearts and minds of voters, there was no need for him to have bothered; he was preaching to the converted.

In Biisk, an engineering center with a population of 180,000 some 150 kilometers southwest of the regional capital Barnaul, they came out in force to hear Zyuganov speak in the Palace of Culture on Wednesday.

Only about 800 could squeeze into the hall; about 500 more waited patiently outside in the snow to catch a glimpse of their hero.

"Of course I am going to vote for him. I decided that long ago," said Klavdia Borodina, a pensioner, who had been standing outside for more than two hours waiting for Zyuganov to emerge. "I have always been a communist and now that they are coming back, our lives will be better again."

Inside, the Communist Party leader was greeted with a standing ovation and interrupted by bursts of applause throughout his two-hour address. Clearly relishing the occasion, he spoke confidently and fluently, interspersing his speech with withering jokes at the expense of his political rivals and angry outbursts at the incompetence and indifference of government

"He was magnificent. We are so grateful that he came," was the effusive conclusion of Ksenya Utkina, chairwoman of a district veterans committee. "He is a real patriot, wanting nothing for himself, but doing everything for the motherland."

It was the same story at the Promyshlenny State Farm, where 200 people were crammed into the tiny hall of the farm's club to hear Zyuganov speak, imploring him to answer yet more questions while local officials checked their watches and called for a halt.

"I'm enjoying this. I would like to stay longer," Zyuganov told them as he mopped the sweat from his face and neck after an hour and a half in the suffocating hall.

His message was the same at both meetings, as it was in four similar addresses in Barnaul on Tuesday: Elect him president and he would bring the country out of crisis, with guaranteed work and pay for all, free and better education, regulated prices for transport and energy, a swift end to the war in Chechnya and an effective fight against corruption and organized crime.

In essence, it was the same message that President Boris Yeltsin put across to voters in Yekaterinburg some six weeks earlier, but Zyuganov did not have the problem of having to defend a record in office; on the contrary he could afford to lambast the government for letting the people down.

"They talk about the need to build capitalism. They are not building capitalism, but svolochizm [bastardism]," he said. "You asked me what I think about Yeltsin as a person. I don't want to judge him on a personal level. You have all seen it. But as a politician I can criticize severely."

Seeing the Communist leader in the Altai over the last two days, one might be forgiven for assuming that Zyuganov, rather than Yeltsin, was the president. From meeting to meeting, he rode in a motorcade with a police escort with flashing lights to keep traffic clear. Along the rode to Biisk, the traffic police held back cars and trucks at every intersection, saluting smartly as the Zyuganov travelcade roared by.

In Barnaul itself, there is little sign that the Communist era ended more than four years ago. Lenin still presides in the square named in his honor, seemingly oblivious to the dirt and decay all around him, striding forward to a better tomorrow.

Just down the road, in October Square, he is to be found again, one arm raised aloft in triumph, gazing across at a concrete wall where the names and pictures of the labor heroes of the month are still mounted behind polished glass to inspire others to emulate their achievement.

There would seem to be little chance for any inspiration in Barnaul, an engineering and textile center of 700,000 people, some 3,500 kilometers east of Moscow. Even on a clear day, the sky is shrouded by a pall of reddish fog from dozens of factory chimneys. The melting snow is stained black, piled up in jagged lumps like giant rotting teeth at the side of the potholed road.

But such bleak surroundings clearly provide fertile ground for the Communist Party, which still controls the regional administration and legislative assembly. On Sunday, the people of the Altai vote for deputies to the assembly. In District No. 6, which covers the Promyshlenny State Farm, they can choose between two candidates. Both are Communists.