'TC MOSCOW -- They come from the same Soviet mold, but the two men who will face each other in Russia's presidential runoff election Wednesday have very different destinies in mind for their nation.
Both roundish, baritone bureaucrats given to the drone of formal speechifying, President Boris N. Yeltsin and his Communist rival, Gennady Zyuganov, were children of Russia's beautiful but always hungry and backward countryside.
Yeltsin, the rough and tumble kid who lost two fingers playing with a grenade, and Zyuganov, the "A" student who always played by the rules, both rose from dusty obscurity to Moscow power through the Communist Party.
They arrived at the top of party politics just when communism was falling apart.
And that's when the two took fateful philosophical turns -- Yeltsin toward the risky promise of democratic capitalism, and Zyuganov toward a pragmatic, batten-the-hatches communism.
But as they face each other in just the second democratic presidential election in Russian history, they are symbols of more than just capitalism vs. communism.
The two represent a schism in Russia's self-image that started as far back as the 17th century, when Peter the Great forcibly hacked off men's beards in his efforts to modernize and open Russian thinking.
They represent the new vs. old, liberalism vs. conservatism, outward vs. inward thinking, and the boisterous vs. brooding Russian persona.
"Today the Zyuganov-Yeltsin division reflects the same old dilemma of Russia in search of its self-identity," says Andrei Piotkowsky, a political analyst at the Center for Strategic Studies.
A split in the heart
Even last week's Kremlin struggle in which Yeltsin purged hard-liners from his administration, Piotkowsky says, is an example of what he calls a "Western vs. Slavophile" struggle that "is not a bad guys and good guys split" but a contradiction that exists in "the heart of every Russian."
Basically, this nation that spans half the Northern Hemisphere wants to be and considers itself a world leader -- strategically, economically and intellectually.
But, sandwiched between Europe and Asia, it has historically wavered between self-absorbed ignorance of the rest of the world and confrontation with it.
Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, there is a palpable sense from the Baltic to the Pacific of Russian delight at what has crept in: Western soap operas, Snickers candy bars and even a sense of Western informality and freedom.
At the same time, though, Russians are defensive about this because implicit in their love of the new is a comparison of their homeland with the West that is not always favorable.
Stance on NATO and G7
This division is most often cited in the way Yeltsin and Zyuganov approach NATO, the former Soviet Union's Western military nemesis.
Both candidates criticize NATO expansion to former Warsaw Pact nations -- Yeltsin because he wants Russia to be included in that Western club, Zyuganov because he doesn't want that club anywhere near Russian borders.
Similarly, Yeltsin wants the G7 club of industrialized nations to accept Russia and become the G8.
He has made enormous efforts to comply with International Monetary Fund guidelines for loans to shore up the economy.
He lobbied hard to win the West's approval of Russia's membership in the Council of Europe, which brought it under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights.
Zyuganov rails against the control and influence these Western organizations are bringing to bear on Russia's internal affairs.
He suggests that Russia gather together what former Soviet republics are willing to economically bind together and turn inward, away from foreign economic influence for at least 10 years before trying to emerge onto the world markets on their own terms.
Zyuganov's platform stresses the difference between the Russian "collectivist" tradition and the "rationalist-individualist"
Western worldview of Yeltsin's administration.
Everything based on money
One of Zyuganov's chief political strategists, nationalist Alexei Podberioshkin, says that Yeltsin has "accepted 100 percent a liberal Western democratic model. Everything is based on money."
In explaining the difference between Russian collectivism and the Western democratic model, he offers this example:
"It is typical for Russian peasants to live in a community where everyone helps each other.
"If one loses a house in a fire, everyone gets together -- whether it was 10th-century Russia, 15th-century or on the kolkhoz [Soviet state farm] -- and helps rebuild the house," he says.
"But this is unacceptable for Americans to understand your neighbors to have social justice.
"Russia always treated the poor with respect. In Western society the poor are, from a moral point of view, outside the community."
Tradition of suppression
Yeltsin supporters suggest that the "collectivist" tradition the Communists talk about implies Russia's long history of suppression of individual freedom to the autocratic state.
Alexei Pushkov, deputy director of Russian national television Channel 1 and a Yeltsin supporter, says that Zyuganov and the Communists see any concessions to the West as submission to the West.
They paint Yeltsin as a sellout to Western influences of all kinds, from economics to social and artistic issues.
But Pushkov says Yeltsin has a "pluralistic" ability to accept new ideas while maintaining a truly Russian perspective.
Yeltsin's invitation to the third-place presidential contender, retired Gen. Alexander Lebed, to come on board as chief of national security is a perfect example of his democratic pluralism, in Pushkov's view.
A comparison of Yeltsin and Zyuganov platforms shows these key differences:
Zyuganov wants a state-managed economy with a return to price controls and a "diversity" of forms of ownership. Yeltsin wants to continue free-market reforms that would allow private companies to take over state functions wherever it would be more efficient, to complete privatization reforms that would promise every young family the ability to own their own home through "easy-credit terms."
While Zyuganov wants to slow economic integration with the rest of the world, Yeltsin speaks of stepping up foreign economic relations so that Russia can operate on an equal basis with the West.
Yeltsin has proposed professionalizing the army and eliminating the draft, something Zyuganov is diametrically opposed to in his support of Russia's long tradition of the draft and a large &L; standing army to defend the borders.
Neither Zyuganov nor Yeltsin has a strong personal following.
Zyuganov is drab and uncharismatic; his one-third share of the vote in the first round of presidential elections came from Russians loyal to the Communist Party or nostalgic for the security of Soviet times.
Yeltsin -- who once enjoyed hero status for his democratic stand against hard-line coup plotters in 1991 -- won his one-third share of the vote in the first round from those who want a continuation of reform and considered him the lesser of evils on the ballot.
There are even vast differences in the campaign styles of Yeltsin's glitz and Zyuganov's gloom.
Yeltsin has danced at rock concerts, has professional color posters plastered all over the country and has slick television advertising that talks less about what he has done or will do than about the horrors of Communist repression that date further back than the birth of either candidate.
Zyuganov, on the other hand, has mounted a lackluster campaign of door-to-door knocking and deadly dull public rallies.
No gain in Communist vote
Piotkowsky says that Communist strategists are patting themselves on the back for their purely Russian campaign style, uncontaminated by the expensive Western techniques Yeltsin has employed.
But even though the Communists' campaign style worked in December, when the party won the most seats in parliamentary elections, the style hasn't increased the Communist vote since then -- first-round presidential voting showed the party had just about the same support it did in December, not enough to win the presidential elections.
Pub Date: 6/30/96