I'm often asked: "Why aren't you afraid of Gennadi Zyuganov? You suffered under the communists yourself. Have you forgotten that you were sentenced to a labor camp for your literary work?"
On the threshold of the presidential election in Russia many people are inclined to a near hysterical fear of Zyuganov, the Communist leader, and are doing everything to inflate the dangers that would threaten the country in the event of his victory: an Iron Curtain, censorship, the gulag, persecution of dissidents.Fear of the Communists is pushing the intellectuals into embracing Boris Yeltsin - forcing them to choose what would seem the lesser of two evils.
I have forgotten nothing. The Communist doctrine is still every bit as alien to me as it was 30 years ago, and I have no intention of voting for Zyuganov. I find Comrade Yeltsin no less repellent and I am convinced that in today's Russia he is an even greater evil than the current Communists.
Why? Because the 30 percent of the population that has fallen beneath the poverty line as a result of the "reforms" of President Yeltsin and his former Prime minister Yegor Gaidar has been left with no choice but to reach out to the opposition - that is, the Communists.
It is the impoverished who make up the bedrock of Zyuganov's constituency. Thus it is Yeltsin's policies that have led to the rise of pro-Communist sentiments in Russia - sentiments that will only continue to increase if he remains in power for a second term.
Now let's take a look at the scare tactics being used to intimidate Russians into re-electing Yeltsin.
-Repression. Who are the Communists going to repress? Puny intellectuals for exercising free speech?
But the Yeltsin regime has so devalued freedom of speech, so graphically demonstrated that, "You can shout about whatever you want, we'll still do as we please" (as in Chechnya, for example), that the value of free speech will hardly be restored any time soon.
-Redistribution of property. But why would the Russian mafiosi allow that to happen? After all, the real power in the country is not the president but the nameless young (and not so young) mobsters who operate behind the facade of a government.
Russia is so awash in weapons that any redistribution of the property stolen under the Yeltsin government is not very likely.
-Communists. Today's Communists are no longer fanatics ready to sacrifice themselves and others for an ideal but just a rapacious bunch eager for their piece of Russia's pie.
They make good use of all the liberties won in the last decade: trips abroad, porno films, the free flow of money in and out of the country, an Ivy League education for their children, vacation homes in Florida. They're hardly about to swap the chance to grab their share today for the right sometime in the future merely to govern.
-The return of terror. It's been 11 years since the beginning of perestroika. Those who were 10 years old in 1985 are now 21. They grew up free of fear of political repression. I do not believe that these young people will simply relinquish the right to think for themselves and to speak their minds.
Moreover, a Communist victory in the elections will force those intellectuals who cannot bring themselves to serve that administration to unite into an opposition. Then, Russia will at long last have an opposition with some breadth to it and not just a handful of daredevil dissidents.
It should also not be forgotten that the whole world will keep a wary eye on every step taken by a Zyuganov administration, whereas Yeltsin is forgiven for everything, from the shelling of Parliament to the Chechnya war.
It is truly a shame about the old people. Misfortune and poverty will cause them to cast their votes for Zyuganov but that will not put one more crumb of bread on their tables.
My wife and I just spent three weeks in Moscow, where we met with representatives and supporters of the various candidates and even took part in Mikhail S. Gorbachev's campaign trip to Volgograd.
When our son learned whom we were accompanying, he shouted on the phone from Paris: "Mama! If anyone takes a shot at Gorbachev don't even think of throwing yourself in front of him. He's got bodyguards in bulletproof vests for that!"
Gorbachev's meeting with voters did begin with menacing shouts after six minutes, it turned into a quite heated exchange.
After another 10 minutes, however, the conversation grew peaceful. At the end, they wouldn't let Gorbachev leave and just wanted to go on talking with him.
Most tellingly, the voters had automatically shifted all the ills of the Yeltsin administration onto Gorby - everything from Gaidar's reforms to the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
Gorbachev kept having to prove that he wasn't President Yeltsin but someone else entirely. To make a long story short, Gorbachev and the voters parted friends. Later on we were shocked when watching the event reported on television.
They showed a quick clip of the very beginning of the meeting, the commentator explaining that the people of Volgograd had snubbed Gorbachev and had not even wished to speak with him.
This was pure propaganda. Yeltsin's brazen and deceitful campaign propaganda is making my country a captive again.
Gorbachev made a good impression on me. I like bold people and am attracted by a man who was not afraid to jeopardize his post as the Soviet party's General Secretary (which he could have held a long, long time), who dared to bring Sakharov back from internal exile and the dissidents back from the camps, who risked giving the country freedom of speech and elections and, most important, who today is not afraid to run for president despite the cries of the old Communists ("Judas!") and the contemptuous snickers of certain intellectuals who imply that the man is no more than the waste product of another age.
As a person of the Western sort, Gorbachev knows this: Once a politician always a politician. That's too much for our Russian minds, which can no longer conceive of a person as a political figure once he's out of power.
Meanwhile Gorbachev is the sole candidate who has already done some good for the country and for the world as a whole.