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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Tsar, a Generic and a Boy Scout

What's the distance between a rich merchant and a worker at a railroad depot? Twenty years -- between 1917 and 1937. At first, the rich were killed with the warm approval of the revolutionary-minded proletariat, who then waited a bit to reach the depot. And what's the relationship between the possible repression that will occur if Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov comes to power and what many are in the habit of calling "simple people," for example those in the Voronezh region? Positive! "Because first they'll kill all the rich, then perhaps the bandits, and for us honest people, there's a chance they won't get to us," they say.

And this is understandable. The blame for Stalinist repression in people's minds was put on the secret service organs and Stalin in particular. The people who took a passive part in this period either as victims or as executioners hardly had any part in it at all. It is precisely for this reason that, not feeling any sense of guilt for the death and destruction of the lives of Russian citizens, Zyuganov's constituency not only does not fear repression, but even considers it fully necessary.

And what about Zyuganov himself? He is hardly frightening and even seems quite benevolent and calm when seen on television explaining the multilevel economy. So why does such an ordinary cynic, who himself does not believe in communism, suddenly seem to everyone to represent a true rival to the current Russian president?

I am convinced that, with the help of the news media, Zyuganov is as much a part of Russian consciousness as Vladimir Zhirinovsky was at one time. Can Zyuganov be said to be a leader? Charismatic? Has he accomplished anything of note, whether it be good or bad? Many people in surveys respond that they don't know him. It's not that they haven't seen him or heard about him. But that they just don't know him and don't have a sense of him as a person.

People who vote for the communists will be voting for cheaper products and for their youth, when even the girls were prettier. They think that the communists will return all this to them. They will be voting for all the promises that the Communist Party has generously extended to them. And it makes no difference to them whether it's Zyuganov or someone else. For the Communist Party is a collective leadership, collective mind, honor and conscience of the epoch they have already lived through.

President Boris Yeltsin is generally seen among the electorate as an uncorrupted, decisive and straightforward leader. When he arrived in the so-called "red belt" in the Belgorodskaya oblast bordering Ukraine people tried to shake his hand, girls sat on their boyfriends' shoulders to get a better look at him, and children were lifted up to greet their president. This was not mass psychology or pure curiosity. This was the reaction to the arrival of the "tsar" -- a strong leader and a man who is asserting his authority over the country. For many ordinary people, Yeltsin's power and charm stems from the fact that they feel he understands them and is like them. At times he may be awkward or entirely out of place, at other times graceful, but when necessary he is collected and powerful. Yeltsin can afford to behave erratically, because he comes from the people. He does not need to put on airs. This is the way he seems to those who actively support him and who simply do not see a better candidate.

His opponent from the democratic camp is more refined. And not without some understanding of psychology. Throughout Moscow are campaign posters with a message that draws attention to the text: "Urgent! New president wanted. Without habits that are harmful to the country. A civilized politician." After four square blank spaces are the words: "Guess the last name." Who could be such a civilized politician without harmful habits? Why, of course, you're quite right -- Grigory Yavlinsky! If you came to that conclusion yourself, you can be proud of your quick mind and you won't forget how good you feel about yourself or who to vote for at the June 16 elections.

But for all Yavlinsky's positive qualities, voters who live outside Russia's major cities consider that he lacks all the important elements for being a strong leader. No one denies that he is bright, but he is taken for a weak politician from the intelligentsia. He may be likable, but he is no leader. And the people simply need a leader. True, all leaders differ from one another. Some are authoritarian and cruel, others are honest and skillful, but all are capable of carrying on their bogatyr backs -- those of an epic hero or a strapping man -- the burdens of the sluggish country with its heaps of problems. Yavlinsky's chances are strong only among those who rely on themselves. And there are few such people in the general public.

By all accounts, Vladimir Zhirinovsky will have a very difficult time. He has lost the favor of many people and will have a hard time attracting new supporters. True, compared to Working Russia leader Viktor Anpilov, Zhirinovsky seems respectable. But many take him to be someone who is capable of breaking the peace and destroying the status quo.

Despite all the complexities of formulating images of the candidates for president, one woman from a small Russian village put it this way: Yeltsin is our father, who must be listened to, even though it may be unpleasant to do so; Zyuganov is a composite communist; Yavlinsky is an exemplary pioneer scout; and Zhirinovsky is war.

One may disagree with the way she put it, but she got right to the heart of the matter. It will be interesting to see for whom her family will be voting in June.

Yekaterina Yegorova is co-director of the political consulting firm Nikkolo M. She contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.