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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Let Communists Win?

Russia is approaching a deciding moment in its history. Future historians will take June 16 as the starting point in the development of the Russian state. Indeed, the stakes are very high: What path will the country take, how much more disorder awaits it, and will it once again, as was the case almost eight decades ago, be thrown off in its development toward stagnation and degradation?

There appear to be many presidential candidates, but in fact there are only two. Can Russian President Boris Yeltsin expect to win? Opinion polls do not give clear answers to this question. If the elections were based on the principle that the candidate who gathers the most votes in the first round wins, then Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov would have a good chance of becoming president. It seems that a second round, however, would bring Yeltsin a victory. But the second round could have quite different results: Far from all voters of the democratic wing and candidates who will fall out of the race in the first round can be counted on to vote for Yeltsin.

The reasons for this are clear. First among them is the decrease in living standards for millions of people. Of course, many have reconciled themselves to this and understand that some losses were inevitable in breaking down such a colossal economic structure during the first stages of reform. But the problem of the chronic non-payment of wages and pensions has become pressing. This never occurred under the communists. And I have a hard time imagining that people who have not been paid for months -- and they number in the millions -- will vote for Yeltsin.

But it is not only a question of Russian economic losses. There is a sense that the "position of Russia has been handed over and the geopolitical interests of Russia have been betrayed." This thought was expressed in January by the chief of staff of the Black Sea Fleet, Vice Admiral Pyotr Svyatashov. He did not mention by name the authors of such a policy, but it is clear that he had the commander-in-chief, Boris Yeltsin, in mind.

Russia has not experienced such a lowered sense of national dignity in a long time, and many people, especially in the military, point to the president's policies. Yeltsin is hardly seen as a president who has actively supported the military services or the recent migrants, with millions of relatives, who have been left beyond the borders of present Russia.

A third factor that could influence Yeltsin's chances is a sense of the lack of justice in society. The country has experienced a drain of resources that are unheard of in the developed world. Millions of citizens who were lured into financial schemes feel that they have been robbed. And those who were deceived hold responsible the Russian leadership which, in their opinion, should have prevented swindlers from stealing from the people. People have stopped believing in the authorities and in political and economic transformation. Some might ask, for example, Why should we accept such disorder when it was quite different under the communists?

Nonetheless, in a short time, Russia has managed to transform itself and achieve much. The fact that I am now writing these words, and not the limited articles of the past, is a result of the new course. And each of us Russians is free to express himself and choose his political sympathies. And the stores are now filled with goods. Could we really have already forgotten empty shelves, lines for the most elementary products and rationing coupons? How degrading all that was! Of course, many people's standard of living has declined, but this is entirely natural in a transitional period in any country, especially when three-quarters of its industry worked in military production. But then, new perspectives have also opened up to millions of people who can or want to work.

Russian citizens will be bearing such contradictory feelings as they make a truly historic choice. It is not a question of the president's personality but of something much bigger. The victory of the Communists would impede or stop altogether the present political and economic process.

But it is not easy to vote for the present leadership. Will it be able to govern Russia effectively and insist on its honor and worth? This is rather unlikely. Today, however, there are no alternatives. The choice of Grigory Yavlinsky or Mikhail Gorbachev is not very serious, if not laughable.

In March, Jim Hoagland of The Washington Post cited in an article entitled "Why It Matters Whether Yeltsin Wins or Loses" unnamed officials who consider that the next four years will be extremely difficult for Russia. So why not simply let the Communists win and let them discredit themselves by governing the country and disappear in the next elections?

But this is exactly the question that Russians must now ask: Under the Communists, will they have the opportunity in four years to freely choose an alternative president? History tells us no. For this reason,dvoting for the Communists could turn out to be a betrayal of one's children and grandchildren.

Only by holding on to democratic freedom and the right to vote will Russia be able to choose a leader who is worthy of governing a great country. The process of selecting a leader today is guaranteed only by Yeltsin.

And still there is cause for worry. The circumstances of the country remind me of the summer and autumn of 1917, when on the heels of Kerensky's government, which was too liberal for the time, there followed a group of state criminals headed by Lenin. Of course, the situation is not as dramatic today as in 1917. Still, God save Russia from new shake-ups and revolutions.

Viktor Rodionov is a freelance writer. He contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.