Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 90

The Communist revanche in Moldova, followed by an international communist congress in Chisinau of a kind not seen since Soviet days, is only the most visible symptom of a growing assertiveness by communist parties in a number of post-Soviet countries.

With the partial exception of Moldova, there is no discernible correlation between economic conditions and the popularity or self-confidence of communist parties. Rather, these parties’ assertiveness and political impact depend on a variety of local factors, which also include the level of national awareness (sufficiently low in Moldova to facilitate the electoral landslide of a Russified party), historically formed national perceptions of Russia and the Soviet Union, attitudes of the local post-Soviet elites toward the respective communist parties and availability of tactical allies within the ruling establishments or among opposition forces.

Georgia, for example, is as deeply impoverished as Moldova, but the United Communist Party of Georgia, for all its vociferousness, remains hopelessly marginal. In Georgia as in neighboring Azerbaijan, the governing elites and opposition forces alike refuse to consider any tactical alliances with communists. These two countries’ communist parties are perceived as Moscow’s fifth column. While the Georgians bear the reputation proudly, the Azerbaijanis try half-heartedly to jettison it. In Armenia, the national tradition of reliance on Russia means that the local Communist Party has neither a stigma to lose nor a distinct card to play.

Ramiz Ahmadov, chairman of the Communist Party of Azerbaijan, declared last week that “we are Narimanovists, followers of the national, cultural and economic ideas of Nariman Narimanov.” Narimanov was a moderately nationalist and leftist Azeri leader of the 1920s, and is viewed in retrospect as a forerunner of “national communism.” But Ahmadov declared in the same breath that communists everywhere owe “international solidarity” to “socialist Moldova,” just as they owe it to Cuba, in order to help both of those countries “survive in an imperialist encirclement.” In Moldova’s case, Ahmadov expects that “isolation will not last long, considering that the left wing’s prospects are improving in Russia and Ukraine.”

In Ukraine, some oligarchic groups at the core of the ruling establishment have recently made a tactical alliance with the Communist Party in order to topple reformist, Western-oriented Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko, and potentially to reduce President Leonid Kuchma to a figurehead. That tactical alliance may turn strategic if oligarchs and Communists share portfolios in the new cabinet in the runup to the parliamentary elections. Such a turn of events could reverse the historic defeat which Kuchma–with those same oligarchs’ help–inflicted on the Communist Party in the 1999 presidential election.

Belarus is a special case of Soviet continuity by presidential regime without a ruling Communist Party. The country has two rival communist parties: one which cooperates however uncomfortably with the democratic opposition, and one which plays a minor role in President Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s “vertical power system.”

In Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, the Communist Parties have found allies among opposition forces. Kyrgyzstan has two parties of unequal size and influence, which are now partially reconciled with one another on the basis of shared pro-Soviet and pro-Russian views. Local opposition groups claiming to be democratic made electoral alliances with both of those communist parties in last year’s parliamentary and presidential elections. That alliance has continued past the elections. On this year’s May Day in Bishkek, the Communists and putative democrats jointly paid homage at the monuments to Lenin and other Bolshevik heroes. It is unprecedented for noncommunists to participate in such a spectacle in a post-Soviet country. That they did so in Kyrgyzstan is perhaps a consequence of their dependence on Communist voting power and on ex-Chekists’ campaign organization.

On May 4, the Communist Party of Kazakhstan urged general support to a proposal by Georgia’s Communists for the “political rehabilitation” of Stalin. His “errors” and “omissions” notwithstanding, Stalin “made invaluable contributions, as leader of the Soviet people, to the edification of the Soviet state and its role as a great power.” The Kazakh communist leader and member of the upper house of parliament, Serikbolsyn Abdildin, made that statement following a Central Committee meeting.

Under Abdildin’s leadership, the Communist Party accepted to join forces with former Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin, the wealthy oligarch who fell out with President Nursultan Nazarbaev and created an opposition political bloc. The bloc includes Kazhegeldin’s Republican Party, the Communist Party and several smaller groups, including communist fronts and Russian nationalist organizations. The bloc seems inactive at present, but it adds to an emerging pattern in which oligarchs–whether in power, such as those in Kyiv, or in opposition, such as Kazhegeldin–as well as anti-presidential forces of other types, such as those in Kyrgyzstan, find it politically acceptable and useful to enter into alliances with increasingly assertive communist parties (Itar-Tass, May 4; UNIAN, April 28-29; Snark (Yerevan), May 2; Zerkalo (Baku), May 3; Kyrgyz Television, Kabar (Bishkek), May 1-2; see the Monitor, March 12, 26, April 30, May 7).