. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

'God Forbid!' Anti-Communist Paper Backfires

VOLGOGRAD, Southern Russia -- A glossy, anti-Communist newspaper aimed at softening up the hinterlands for President Boris Yeltsin's re-election campaign appears to be backfiring.

"God Forbid!" manages to be slick and crude at the same time.

The centerfold of one issue is a huge, doctored, color photo of Yeltsin's top rival and Communist challenger, Gennady Zyuganov, suitable for framing.

Leering wickedly and dressed as a surgeon, he holds gleaming scalpels shaped like a hammer and sickle in his hands.

There are pictures of Soviet-era lines for vodka and sausages and alarming stories about what a Communist victory in the June 16 presidential election would mean for Russia. There is even an anti-Communist crossword.

"The real status of collective farm workers in Stalin's times," is the clue for 14 Down. Answer: "Slave."

The problem is that no one gets the joke.

Yeltsin himself appears to be moving away from the harsh anti-Communism of the early days of his campaign, which has turned off many voters rather than scared them into his camp. His campaign has disavowed any connection with the paper.

Even worse for the publishers, the apparent target audience of God Forbid! -- Ne Dai Bog! in Russian -- has been befuddled and alienated by the publication. The three issues that have appeared so far were left unsolicited in mailboxes in provincial Russia, and many readers didn't know what to make of them.

Many thought that the newspaper was actually Communist propaganda, said Nadezhda Rodionova, a columnist for a weekly in Astrakhan.

"A lot of country people didn't understand that the picture of Zyuganov was supposed to be unflattering," Rodionova said as Yeltsin prepared to campaign recently in the city of Astrakhan, on the southern end of the Volga River.

Oleg Shein, a local Communist lawmaker who is so radical that he dismisses Zyuganov as a capitalist cream-puff, agreed. "It's great advertisement," he said gleefully of the Zyuganov poster.

Some people were offended by the crudeness of the paper, according to Andrei Serenko, a political analyst in Volgograd, which Yeltsin also visited on his campaign swing through southern Russia.

Serenko said the paper ended up creating sympathy for its intended targets: "The Communists here were glad to see it. After all, Russians love an underdog."

Nevertheless, the Communists have requested that the office of the federal prosecutor investigate it for inciting political tensions. The State Press Committee says it has received a number of complaints about it.

The Central Election Commission has warned that the paper may be closed unless its backers are disclosed.

The press committee says that God Forbid! is registered to a Yeltsin support group in Moscow, and rumors in Moscow political circles focus on wealthy Yeltsin backers in banking, industry and the media.

In the provinces, the costly-looking paper stands out in these trying economic times.

Like most of provincial Russia, Astrakhan long ago stopped getting national newspapers because of the economic crisis. And nothing as slick as God Forbid! had ever been seen there before.

In contrast to the glossy white paper, crisply clean print and large, full-color photos appearing in God Forbid!, most Russian newspapers are an unappealing, dull, smudgy gray, often printed on inexpensive paper and often without even black-and-white photos.

"No one wants to know if it's printing the truth," said the liberal Moscow daily Komsomolskaya Pravda. "They just want to know how much it costs to put a six-page, color paper in every mailbox."