Andrei Sinyavsky on Yeltsin: "Worse than Communists"

David Johnson djohnson at
Thu May 30 10:24:49 MDT 1996

[DJ note: Sinyavsky is one of the great dissident writers from the
Soviet era. He brings great credibility to his critical assessment of
the Yeltsin regime. He authored a scathing attack on Yeltsin after the
October 1993 military assault on the former Parliament. That
statement, however, received no attention in the West.]


            May 30, 1996
            The New York Times
            Op-ed article

            "Worse Than Communists"


                PARIS -- I'm often asked: "Why aren't you afraid of
Gennadi Zyuganov? You suffered under the Communists yourself. Have you
forgotten that you were sentenced to a labor camp for your literary

            On the threshold of the presidential election in Russia,
many people are inclined to a near hysterical fear of Mr. Zyuganov,
the Communist leader, and are doing everything to inflate the dangers
that would threaten the country in the event of his victory: an Iron
Curtain, censorship, the gulag, persecution of dissidents. Fear of the
Communists is pushing the intellectuals into
embracing Boris Yeltsin -- forcing them to choose what would seem the
lesser of two evils.

            I have forgotten nothing. The Communist doctrine is still
every bit as alien to me as it was 30 years ago, and I have no
intention of voting for Mr. Zyuganov. But I find Comrade Yeltsin no
less repellent, and I am convinced that in today's Russia he is an
even greater evil than the current Communists.

            Why? Because the 30 percent of the population that has
fallen beneath the poverty line as a result of the "reforms" of
President Yeltsin and his former Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar has been
left with no choice but to reach out to the opposition -- that is, the
Communists. And it is the impoverished who make up the bedrock of Mr.
Zyuganov's constituency. Thus, it is Mr. Yeltsin's policies that have
led to the rise of pro-Communist sentiments in Russia
-- sentiments that will only continue to increase if he remains in
power for a second term.

            Now let's take a look at the scare tactics being used to
intimidate Russians into re-electing President Yeltsin.

            Repression. Who are the Communists going to repress? Puny
intellectuals for exercising free speech? But the Yeltsin regime has
so devalued freedom of speech, so graphically demonstrated that, "You
can shout about whatever you want, we'll still do as we please" (as in
Chechnya, for
example), that the value of free speech will hardly be restored any
time soon.

            Redistribution of property. But why would the Russian
mafiosi allow that to happen? After all, the real power in the country
is not the president but the nameless young (and not so young)
mobsters who operate behind the facade of a government. Russia is so
awash in weapons that any redistribution of the property stolen under
the Yeltsin Government is not very likely.

            Communists. Today's Communists are no longer fanatics
ready to sacrifice themselves and others for an ideal but just a
rapacious bunch eager for their piece of Russia's pie. They make good
use of all the liberties won in the last decade: trips abroad, porno
films, the free flow of money in and out of the country, an Ivy League
education for their children, vacation homes in
Florida. They're hardly about to swap the chance to grab their share
today for the right sometime in the future merely to govern.

            The return of terror. It's been 11 years since the
beginning of perestroika. Those who were 10 years old in 1985 are now
21. They grew up free of fear of political repression. I do not
believe that these young people will simply relinquish the right to
think for themselves and to speak their minds. Moreover, a Communist
victory in the elections will force those intellectuals who cannot
bring themselves to serve that administration to unite into a
opposition. Then, Russia will at long last have an opposition with
some breadth to it and not just a handful of daredevil dissidents.

            It should also not be forgotten that the whole world will
keep a wary eye on every step taken by a Zyuganov administration,
whereas Mr. Yeltsin is forgiven for everything, from the shelling of
Parliament to the Chechnya war.

            It is truly a shame about the old people. Misfortune and
poverty will cause them to cast their votes for Mr. Zyuganov, but that
will not put one more crumb of bread on their tables.

            My wife and I just spent three weeks in Moscow, where we
met with representatives and supporters of the various candidates and
even took part in Mikhail S. Gorbachev's campaign trip to Volgograd.
When our son learned whom we were accompanying, he shouted on the
phone from Paris: "Mama! If anyone takes a shot at Gorbachev, don't
even think of throwing ourself in front of him. He's got bodyguards in
bulletproof vests for that!"

            Mr. Gorbachev's meeting with voters did begin with
menacing shouts; after six minutes, it turned into a quite heated
exchange. After another 10 minutes, however, the conversation grew
peaceful. At the end, they wouldn't let Mr. Gorbachev leave and just
wanted to go on talking with him.

            Most tellingly, the voters had automatically shifted all
the ills of the Yeltsin administration onto Gorby -- everything from
Mr. Gaidar's reforms to the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Mr.
Gorbachev kept having to prove that he wasn't President Yeltsin but
someone else entirely.

            To make a long story short, Mr. Gorbachev and the voters
parted friends. Later on, we were shocked when watching the event
reported on television. They showed a quick clip of the very beginning
of the meeting, the commentator explaining that the people of
Volgograd had nubbed Mr. Gorbachev and had not even wished to speak
with him. This was pure propaganda. Mr. Yeltsin's brazen and deceitful
campaign propaganda is making my country a captive again.

            But Mr. Gorbachev made a good impression on me. I like
bold people and am attracted by a man who was not afraid to jeopardize
his post as the Soviet party's General Secretary (which he could have
held a long, long time), who dared to bring Andrei Sakharov back from
internal exile and the dissidents back from the camps, who risked
giving the country freedom of speech and elections and, most
important, who today is not afraid to run for president despite the
cries of the old Communists ("Judas!") and the contemptuous snickers
of certain intellectuals who imply that the man is no more than the
waste product of another age.

            As a person of the Western sort, Mr. Gorbachev knows this:
once a politician always a politician. That's too much for our Russian
minds, which can no longer conceive of a person as a political figure
once he's out of power.

            Meanwhile Mr. Gorbachev is the sole candidate who has
already done some good for the country and for the world as a whole.

            Andrei Sinyavsky is author of "Goodnight," a novelistic
memoir written under the pseudonym Abram Tertz about his years as a
Soviet underground writer and political prisoner. This was translated
>from the Russian by Richard Lourie.

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