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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

NEWS ANALYSIS: Will Yeltsin Ban the Communists?




By Melissa Akin


The Communists claim President Boris Yeltsin has drafted a decree banning the party, and that it's lying in his desk drawer just waiting to be signed.


One Communist, Viktor Ilyukhin, has even come up with a possible date of issue: July 17, the anniversary of the Bolsheviks' execution of Tsar Nicholas II, a symbolic anniversary that Yeltsin could use for final revenge against his old enemies.


In the corridors of the State Duma, where they lead the leftist majority, Communists say they are ready to go underground if the decree is ever signed.


But their casual tone belies predictions that Yeltsin is about to fulfill what he considers his historical mission by decreeing a full stop to the history of the Russian Communist Party.


The Kremlin is clearly on a campaign to rattle the Communists. It has threatened to inflict moral devastation by removing Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin's corpse from its Red Square mausoleum.


But while analysts say there's an outside chance the unpredictable Yeltsin might actually make good on that threat by the summer's end, a ban on the Communist party is not likely, because the biggest loser in that scenario could be Yeltsin himself.


Opinion polls show a public deeply disenchanted with Yeltsin, who is blamed for failed reforms and faced with constant reports in the news media that he is controlled by a corrupt inner circle.


He and members of the inner circle face an uncertain future if Yeltsin leaves power following June 2000 elections, as prescribed by the Constitution. One of them, financier and sometime Kremlin bureaucrat Boris Berezovsky, is already under investigation on charges of money laundering and illegal entrepreneurship.


Media have predicted that other members of the family, including Yeltsin's daughter and adviser Tatyana Dyachenko, could face similar probes if Yeltsin loses control of the country after the 2000 elections.


Kremlin fears that the Communists could come to power and lead a revenge campaign could serve as one motivation for a ban on the party.


Berezovsky has called repeatedly for a ban. Duma Deputy Vladimir Zhirinovsky, whose steady support of the president has raised some eyebrows, also took up the theme Wednesday at a press conference.


He said Lenin would be cremated, then buried, and that August 19, anniversary of the failed 1991 coup, would be a good day to do it. Communists would be placed under house arrest and the Duma's fall session would be cancelled, Interfax quoted him as saying.


An attempt to find evidence of unconstitutional behavior by the party turned up nothing. Now Yeltsin appears to be out of constitutional avenues to revoke the Communists' registration, which would deprive them of the right to run in upcoming elections and consign them to political oblivion as their ageing electorate dies off.


A presidential decree would violate the Constitution and could even serve as grounds for prosecution if Yeltsin leaves power after the 2000 elections.


But a ban on the party might not even prevent individual Communists from running: They could run as independents or simply choose a new party. The Communists have a host of allies in such political groups as Movement to Support the Army, the Agrarian Party and the Spiritual Heritage movement.


Some prominent Communists have dual membership in those movements and the Communist Party f such as leader Gennady Zyuganov, also a member of Spiritual Heritage, and Ilyukhin, who runs the Movement to Support the Army.


Analysts have also mentioned the National Patriotic Union, a block of leftist parties, as a possible election vehicle for a disbanded Communist Party.


Yeltsin would face the voter outrage that would likely follow a ban, strengthening the left at the polls.


"I'm not inclined to think that banning the Communist Party would call forth social protest actions," Andrei Ryabov of the Carnegie Center said in Nezavisimaya Gazeta. "But there is no doubt that the protest mood would come out in voting for leftist parties that take up the banner of the leftist idea."


Yeltsin would also risk galvanizing the leftist camp, which has shown strong signs of schism between radicals and moderates in the last six months.


But no one has ruled out the possibility that the willful and unpredictable president might try it anyway, risky as it is.


Sergei Kolmakov of the Fond Politika think tank said Yeltsin's desire to go down in history as the destroyer of the Communists would continue to push the Kremlin camp's drive to preserve itself.


"Inside, he is dissatisfied that the mission isn't finished, that the Communists are putting themselves in positions of power, that they have torpedoed reforms, that this is all because of their abuses," Kolmakov said. "He is trying to realize outdated stereotypes."