Zyuganov, Gennady Andreyevich

▪ 1997

      Of the independent nations that emerged after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russia had appeared to be among the most eager to embrace the free market. For many, however, the promises of a capitalist society never materialized. Economic power remained concentrated in the hands of a few, violent crime increased, and ethnic groups throughout Russia embarked on campaigns, sometimes violent, to win autonomy or independence. Many in Russia longed for a return to the days of communism, when a strong central regime guaranteed personal and economic security. In the 1995 parliamentary elections, the newly revitalized Communist Party of the Russian Federation made a strong showing, and its leader, Gennady Zyuganov, emerged as a serious challenger to Pres. Boris Yeltsin.

      Zyuganov was born on June 26, 1944, in Mymrino, a farming village in Oryol oblast, south of Moscow. His parents were schoolteachers, and Zyuganov followed in their footsteps after graduating from the state teacher-training school. He joined the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) in the early 1960s while stationed in East Germany with the army. He rose through the ranks of the CPSU in Oryol oblast, becoming the head of the Komsomol and the regional chief for ideology and propaganda. In 1983 he was given a high-level position in Moscow in the CPSU propaganda department, a hotbed of opposition to reform. He emerged as a leading critic of Mikhail Gorbachev's efforts at reform and wrote several influential papers in the early 1990s attacking Gorbachev and calling for a return to the authoritarian ways of the preglasnost era.

      Zyuganov entered the 1996 presidential election as the standard-bearer of the Russian Communist Party. He attacked the infiltration of Western ideals into Russian society and portrayed Russia as a natural empire that had been dismantled from within by traitors and from without by capitalists who sought the dissolution of Russia's authority in order to exploit its resources. These themes were central to his book Derzhava (1994; "Great Power").

      In the election on June 16, Zyuganov finished second, with 32% of the vote, trailing only Yeltsin, who captured 35%. Zyuganov prepared for the July 3 runoff election with confidence. He ran a campaign focusing on the president's ill health and pledged to return Russia to its days of glory. Yeltsin, however, gained most from the elimination of the many smaller parties and the support of Aleksandr Lebed (q.v.) and won the two-man showdown comfortably. Political observers suggested that Zyuganov was still a force to be reckoned with in Russian politics and that his next task would be to remake the communists into a strong opposition. (JOHN H. MATHEWS)

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Universalium. 2010.

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