Where reform has been tried in Russia, democrats thrive. Communist strength, on the other hand, follows the path of Hitler's invasionby Robert Haupt / July 20, 1996 / Leave a comment
Published in July 1996 issue of Prospect Magazine
A veteran of the great patriotic war, whom I have known for the past five years, turned up at my dacha outside Moscow at the end of May and described how Boris Yeltsin has been fighting for re-election.
My friend had been a fighter pilot on the Belarusian front when Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa. He survived to fly secret missions from Chinese airfields against the Americans during the Korean war-another hot time for Soviet pilots. I asked how life was treating him, and awaited the usual litany: Gorbachev had thrown away Europe for a train-load of chicken legs, Yeltsin had sold Russia to criminals, and here he was, a decorated war veteran, trying to survive on a paltry pension that was paid late.
Instead, he gave a smile which revealed gold-capped molars I had not seen before. No, life was as good as it could be for an old man, he said. His veteran’s pension had been increased and now covered his needs. He still had his health-hadn’t he just walked from the railway station? Moreover, he had received on Victory Day, 9th May, a letter of congratulations not only from the defence minister but one from Boris Nikolaevich himself, on Kremlin notepaper. That sealed it. He was voting for Yeltsin on 16th June.
The penny dropped. So many of those angry people whose support for the communists dominates western television screens remember the war. They are trying in their anger to remind people of what it meant. In his bid to do away with communism, Boris Yeltsin trod on those memories and desecrated their symbol: the red flag. By allowing it to fly beside the Tsarist tricolour on Victory Day, and by sending out those letters, Yeltsin was saying sorry.
In his campaign, Yeltsin has gone out of his way to win over Gennady Zyuganov’s communist supporters, to raid his heartlands of the elderly, the veterans, the village peasants. As well as restoring pensions and putting the Kremlin auto-pen to work on letters to war heroes, he has made a powerful…