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COMMUNIST TALKS SOOTHINGLY - BUT INTENDS TO TURN BACK CLOCK

SHARE COMMUNIST TALKS SOOTHINGLY - BUT INTENDS TO TURN BACK CLOCK

"Look at those businessmen dancing around that Communist," said an unemployed Russian at the World Economic Forum held at this ski resort every year. "Don't they realize he will doom their in-vest-ments?"

Center of the executive fandango is the global man of the hour, Gennadi Zyuganov, who led the Communist Party to its victory in the parliamentary elections, and who now leads in the race for president of Russia scheduled for June.A recent poll shows Zyuganov ahead with 14 percent, trailed by the democrat Yavlinsky at 11 - but with half the population too chilled to choose.

The balding, 51-year-old former mathematician and philosopher - solid in private but stolid in public - is here on a heavy-handed charm offensive, eager to show the West it has nothing to fear from resurgent communism and thereby persuade Russians that his election would not dry up foreign investment.

I caught him early Sunday morning just before he set out to work over George Soros.

If Communists take over, what becomes of newly freed markets in Russia? "We want a mixed economy, a stable balance of public, private and collective ownership. Privatization . . . took place in two years, which is barbarian. But what happened, happened - if we turned back suddenly, all Russia would be in flames. If an enterprise is productive, and if collective rights are preserved, let it flourish."

That sounds like sweet reason, but when pressed, Zyuganov made plain that the clock would be turned back: "The state should control basic industries, energy, railroads, defense production, education, medical care."

What about the robust free press, which says anything it likes while Yeltsin does anything he likes? That draws a chuckle from today's Communist boss: "We will ensure the right of all legally recognized organizations to have access to the media."

Thus, government would order the media to print or broadcast officially "recognized" views.

His message: Relax. The only anger he showed was about the gathering of a million signatures from at least 15 regions to qualify for the coming election. Communists, with legions of loyal pensioners, are set to do that; to a lesser extent, so are democrats. Zhirinovsky will have to pay collectors, his money suspected as coming from Yeltsin, who wants to face him rather than Zyuganov in the runoff. But Yeltsin has his own cost-free signature-gathering technique: no pay to government workers until they sign.

"This is rampant, outrageous illegality," Zyuganov flashed. "The Duma has sent this to the prosecutors."

He then reached for the hot button of American hard-liners: "Nixon was able to conduct relations irrespective of ideological differences. I like that kind of conservative."

Smooth pitch from a well-briefed politician. No sale.