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Summary Article: Zyuganov, Gennady Andreyevich
from The Columbia Encyclopedia

(gĕnä'dē Әndrā'yӘvĭch zyōgä'nôf), 1944–, Russian politician, b. Mymrino. The son and grandson of country schoolteachers, he grew up in the tiny farming village where he was born, joined the Communist youth organization Komsomol at 14, and attended the Orel Pedagogical Institute in central Russia, where he taught physics and math in the 1960s. Joining the Communist party at the institute, he rose through the ranks, ultimately handling propaganda in the Orel region. In 1983 he was called to Moscow, where he worked in the ideology department of the Central Committee.

As Mikhail Gorbachev's reforms took hold in the late 1980s, Zyuganov stood with the right wing of the party and was one of those who split from the old Communist party (1990) and formed the new Russian Communist party. Zyuganov became one of seven secretaries of the new group's Central Committee and in 1993 its chairman. That same year he was first elected to the Duma, the lower house of parliament, as part of a strong first-place electoral showing by the Communists. Two years later further balloting gave the Communists the largest bloc in parliament and put Zyuganov in an even more powerful political position.

Known for his highly developed tactical skills, political flexibility, bluff manner, and rather bland personality, Zyuganov became an outspoken champion of Russian nationalism and promoted himself as a moderate Communist. Early in 1996, as head of the Communist party of the Russian Federation and the representative of a broad coalition of nationalists and other opposition parties and movements, he announced that he would run for president of Russia against Boris Yeltsin in the 1996 elections.

A critic of the war in Chechnya and a supporter of a mixed economy, Zyuganov promised to aid a population suffering severe economic hardships from a rapidly imposed free-market economy. He also pledged to strengthen the state and renationalize certain industries and properties and called for a voluntary “restoration” of an enlarged Russia. Tending to glorify the Soviet Union's past, he has usually glossed over the horrors of Stalinism. While some have seen him as an earnest, if somewhat colorless, force for pluralist moderation, many critics have called him a ruthless opportunist, a throwback to Soviet-style leadership, and a stalking horse for hardliners, especially in the 1990s.

Zyuganov ran a very close second to Yeltsin in the 1996 presidential vote but lost in the runoff. In May, 1999, he led the Communists in a failed attempt to impeach Yeltsin. After the Dec., 1999, parliamentary elections, the number of Communist seats in the Duma was reduced, largely because of electoral support for the government's invasion of Chechnya in Sept., 1999. In subsequent presidential elections, Zyuganov placed a distant second behind Vladimir Putin (2000 and 2012) and Dmitri Medvedev (2008); Zyuganov did not run in 2004.

The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2018

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