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Fight or Run? Elites Fear Win by Communists

A REVOLUTION STUMBLES: Russia's Future on the Ballot. First of two parts

June 11, 1996|CAROL J. WILLIAMS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MOSCOW — At the home of self-made millionaire Konstantin N. Borovoi, it's the same family argument every night.

"My wife and daughter want to emigrate to Paris, but I can't see myself living anywhere abroad other than New York," Borovoi says of his domestic debate over what to do if the Communist Party regains power.

At the home of another successful entrepreneur, Oleg V. Kiselev, the strategy for that same perceived disaster is completely different.

"I will do everything necessary to protect my wealth," says the scientist turned financier, who plans to stay put. "I think almost all people will fight to save what they have achieved."

Will they fight or will they run?

The wily and the wealthy who have made Russia's raw democracy work for them see only those paths to survival if the party that once wielded absolute power is restored to supremacy in Sunday's presidential election.

Some, like Borovoi, say another bout of communism would crush all hopes for democracy, that a life of promise and dignity would have to be sought elsewhere. Others, like Kiselev, insist that they will dig in for battle to defeat those who would lead Russia backward.

"I've reinvested most of my profits here. I had the opportunity to put my money abroad, but this is my country. I want to be successful here. I want Russia to be successful," Kiselev, president of ImpeksBank and a husband and father, explains from behind a vast birch desk fitted with brass and malachite.

There is the odd moderate who argues that a shift back to communism could be weathered without violence, perhaps only because Russians are exhausted by upheavals.

But the preponderance of opinions, fears, forecasts and wild imaginings puts Russia on a collision course with economic and social disaster if Communist Party challenger Gennady A. Zyuganov beats incumbent President Boris N. Yeltsin.

"There is going to be a hemorrhage of people and money out of Russia, even if the Communists don't change anything significantly," says Vladimir N. Voinovich, a dissident writer expelled in the 1970s who returned to his homeland five years ago.

While business people fear that a new Communist leadership would destroy the fragile market economy with price controls, money-printing and property confiscations, those who suffered at the hands of the party's repressive forebears worry more about their newfound freedoms.

"It would probably be gradual, maybe starting with an attempt to prevent the loss of talent and materials abroad by requiring new passports, or government permission to travel. Maybe we would need exit visas again," Voinovich says. "Then they would have to reintroduce censorship to control the public reaction."

What is at stake is what too many now take for granted, he says: the right to say what one thinks, the freedom to choose a livelihood and lifestyle, the liberty to explore a world limited by finances instead of barbed-wire fences.

*

Like others who take a grim view of the consequences of a Communist victory, Voinovich warns that the instability would hardly stop at Russia's borders.

"This historic undertaking could fail, and if it does it will be a catastrophe not only for Russia but for all the world," he says. "But I believe there is an instinct for self-preservation that will prevail. If Yeltsin wins, this will create a kind of stability. It will be corrupt and stagnant, but stable."

Yeltsin himself has been brandishing scare tactics along the hustings, claiming he alone can ensure social peace after the election.

Communist Party strategists dismiss such claims as election propaganda, but the vagueness and inconsistency of Zyuganov's platform are fanning fears about his intentions.

In interviews and at international events, the Communist candidate talks of continuing reforms, reviving the economy and restoring social justice. On the campaign trail, Zyuganov speaks of combating conspiracies and foreign plots to denigrate Russia.

At a rally in the former gulag city of Perm, just west of the Urals, Zyuganov blamed the collapse of the Soviet Union on a "secret plan" devised by President John F. Kennedy. He has also suggested that Russia's widespread alcoholism and health problems are inflicted by foreign enemies.

"Those who claim there is a fog around Zyuganov, that we don't know his intentions, are fools," says the 48-year-old Borovoi, founder of Russia's first commodities market and leader of the pro-business Party of Economic Freedom. "There would be a full restoration of the old system."

Doublespeak and evasion on economic policy have given rise to suspicions that the Communists themselves are undecided about how they would proceed with the incomplete transition.

Zyuganov told the weekly Argumenty i Fakty that "market mechanisms cannot be introduced in the vastness of Russia."

He has repeatedly said that the party favors a balance among state, collective and private property rights but makes clear to loyalists that he is against land reform and privatization.

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