Soviet resurgence's man of steel A puller of strings: Behind Gennady Zyuganov and Russia's Communist resurgence is an unreconstructed Soviet man, Anatoly I. Lukyanov.

Sun Journal

April 23, 1996|By Kathy Lally | Kathy Lally,SUN STAFF

MOSCOW -- Behind the genial, bland Gennady Zyuganov, the Communist front-runner in Russia's presidential race, stands a steely adviser with an unflinching gaze, whose eyes are fixed firmly on the past.

Anatoly I. Lukyanov is the eminence grise of today's Russian Communist Party, the figure cloaked in shadows who quietly wields influence over Mr. Zyuganov. They are the two faces of the resurgent party and send contradictory messages to the rest of the world, so that no one is sure which face is the real one.

Mr. Lukyanov, 65, was so devoted to the Soviet Union that he was willing to risk treason to preserve his vision of it. He was accused of masterminding the coup in August 1991 that temporarily seized power from Mikhail S. Gorbachev, who was too liberal for Mr. Lukyanov. He served time in prison until those involved with the coup were granted amnesty by a rebellious Russian Parliament.

Now Communists appear again to be ascending toward power, and Mr. Lukyanov is among them as a member of the Russian Parliament and as a member of the party's presidium. He is one of the few members who served at the top of the old party. Mr. Zyuganov, 51, and other current leaders were small-time bureaucrats who emerged after the top leadership became either democratic or irrelevant.

Since becoming the official party leader, Mr. Zyuganov has specialized in being all things to all people. He offers a calm, reassuring face to the West, promising he will protect private property rights, preserve a multiparty system and pursue democracy.

His message to voters is nationalistic, promising to raise wages and pensions, reverse Mr. Yeltsin's economic course, re-establish the Soviet Union (voluntarily) and restore power to the working class. He lapses into nostalgic references to Stalin, the dictator who killed millions of Russians and sent millions more to labor camps.

Mr. Lukyanov is less opaque. He bitterly resents Russia's economic reversals, its impoverishment and its loss of international power and prestige. He refuses to acknowledge that the Communist system had any shortcomings, economic or otherwise.

And he will not countenance suggestions that the Soviet Union collapsed under the weight of an economy badly mismanaged under Communist control -- though Western economists argue that's exactly what happened.

"We answer that with laughter," he says. "The fact is that during the last five comparatively peaceful years, production fell 51 percent. The fall in production caused by World War II was only 23 percent. That means that this current regime has caused twice as much damage to the country as World War II did."

He is contemptuous of reminders that stores notoriously empty during the Communist era now are full -- though prices have sapped purchasing power.

"We could have done the same in 1980 and 1985 if we had done as the democrats did and raised prices 3,000 times, or sometimes 30,000 times," he says. "So the shops are full. What happened? Per capita meat consumption in 1984 was 67 kilograms a year. Now it's 43 kilograms. What happened? Agriculture production has dropped by 48 percent, and shops are full. What happened? The majority of people cannot buy what they could previously."

Mr. Lukyanov blames the destruction of the Russian economy on imports -- many of them American.

From his 12th-story Parliament office he turns his stony gaze out the window to glittering Tverskaya Street, which only a few years ago was drab, Soviet and known as Gorky Street. A large sign for Gillette razors assaults him. Below it an arrow points to McDonald's.

"Here you see Gorky Street, and only signs in English for American products," he said. "The more of these signs the worse attitudes will become because our American colleagues don't have any limits. It will make relations more tense. We are in favor of equal relations, not of being treated as if we're a colony."

Mr. Lukyanov said that imports of American chicken legs, known here as Bush legs, had destroyed the domestic poultry industry.

"This is a product Americans don't want," he says. "They sell it here at low prices. What have they done? They have eliminated poultry production in Russia. At least 600,000 unemployed have appeared. Practically all the poultry factories are closed. Don't you think that's wonderful assistance from the West?

"Are our people blind? We see all this, and we don't hesitate to speak about it."

His opponents argue that Russians started buying American chicken because the domestic version often looked as if it had died from malnutrition.

Mr. Lukyanov begins to sound ominous when the idea of NATO expansion into Eastern Europe comes up. "As for NATO, expansion of any kind will make the fate of the START II Treaty problematic," he says. "Any expansion will be accompanied by adequate steps for our side." He declines to say more about "adequate."

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