Russian Communists Court Discontented Youth Two decades after communist rule ended in Russia, dissatisfaction with Vladimir Putin's ruling United Russia party is growing. Now, the Communist Party is trying to capitalize on the political ferment, especially among the young. But some say the party's Soviet-era leader is an impediment.
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Russian Communists Court Discontented Youth

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Russian Communists Court Discontented Youth

Russian Communists Court Discontented Youth

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Audie Cornish. In Russia, communist rule ended two decades ago, but a Communist Party still exists in Russia and it's hoping to gain ground as Russians lose faith in their current ruling party and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

NPR's Jackie Northam traveled to St. Petersburg, where the Communist Party is trying to tap into a wave of political discontent, especially among the young.

ROMAN KONONENKO: So we see two good looking young persons on this poster. One of them is holding a red laptop. A girl is holding, maybe, a red iPhone.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: Roman Kononenko looks proudly at his snazzy new communist party poster. The two young people in the photo are smiling and dressed totally in red. The t-shirt is emblazoned with a hammer and sickle.

KONONENKO: The slogan says, red is (unintelligible) for the victory of the majority.

NORTHAM: Kononenko hopes the poster will attract more young people to the Communist Party. The 29 year old, sporting a lapel pin with a picture of Lenin, is secretary of both the party's St. Petersburg chapter and its youth league.

He says the Communist Party here in St. Petersburg has never been popular, but he is seeing a small change. A few years ago, the party had no representation in city government. Now, they hold roughly 14 percent of the seats.

Kononenko says where the party sees its most growth is in the youth league, about 500 members, more than double what the number was a couple years ago. Kononenko attributes that to dissatisfaction with the ruling party.

KONONENKO: Most of them just make their decisions, not with mind, but with their hearts and they come to the party and they say, we want to help. Most of them don't understand anything in Marxism, in Leninism, in our political theory, but they understand that something is wrong with the country.

NORTHAM: That was why Vasiliy Krivonos joined the Communist Youth League. The 20 year old university student is concerned about the growing gap between rich and poor in Russia and says the social welfare system is inadequate. He looks to the Communist Party to change that.

VASILIY KRIVONOS: (Through Translator) The Communist Party is the only party in the world and perhaps in Russia that takes care of the well being of ordinary people, not just the well being of capitalists or bourgeoisie, but of common people living their own small lives.

NORTHAM: Kirvonos is too young to remember the final days of communist rule when there were severe food shortages across the former Soviet Union and the country was teetering towards collapse.

Party secretary Kononenko says the communists understand the many mistakes made by the soviet government.

KONONENKO: The party has evolved pretty much. We are not against private property now. We just see that we have to nationalize the mineral resources, just oil, gas and whatsoever and the, you know, small business and the medium business have a right to exist.

NORTHAM: But however young and energetic members like Kononenko want to modernize the Communist Party, they're faced with one big obstacle: Gennady Zyuganov, who has headed the party since 1993.

KONONENKO: You know, some members of our party - they want him to resign, to elect somebody who's more young and more flexible, more - you know, modern. But as long as he is our leader, we all have to support him.

NORTHAM: Analysts say it would take more than just replacing Zyuganov to help the communists take power. In last month's parliamentary elections, the party got less than 20 percent of the vote.

Jackie Northam, NPR News.

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