Jews relieved at Yeltsin win but eye Lebed carefully

Yeltsin was elected to another four-year term in the July 3 runoff. He won 53.7 percent of the vote, to Zyuganov's 40.4 percent. The remaining 4.9 percent did not cast ballots for either candidate.

"We have escaped from the bigger evil that is communism and national socialism," said Alexander Lieberman of the Union of Councils on Soviet Jewry's Moscow bureau.

Still, Yeltsin's victory, while averting a return to Communist rule, has not completely alleviated concerns among the estimated 600,000 to 2 million Russian Jews about the direction of the country.

Those concerns were heightened by Yeltsin campaign rhetoric and the sudden ascendancy of Alexander Lebed, a former general whom Yeltsin appointed Russia's security chief after Lebed finished third in the first round of balloting June 16.

"In order to win, Yeltsin's campaign was using national patriotic phraseology" that until recently was the preserve of the Communists and ultranationalists, Lieberman said.

"Vague ideas of the great army and military industrial complex" were promoted by Yeltsin's campaign before the runoff, Lieberman said, adding, "This is not a sign of democratic thinking."

Many Russians associate Lebed with a possible Yeltsin retreat from democracy. In the week before the runoff, Lebed made public remarks about the state of religion in Russia, during which he failed to mention Judaism in a list of Russia's traditional faiths.

"Lebed is not a politician. He still is a military man. But he intends to interfere as Yeltsin's adviser in economic and human rights issues," Lieberman said.

Lebed's vague calls for stricter visa and passport rules for citizens as well as foreigners who visit Russia also sparked Jewish concern.

"We will see if his proposal will result in a refusal to anyone to leave the country," said Alla Gerber, one of Russia's leading anti-fascists and president of the Holocaust memorial and research center.

Gerber called Lebed "a mysterious figure" who must be watched cautiously.

For many voters, support for Yeltsin was simply a ballot cast against communism. "We were given no chance other than vote for Yeltsin," said Alexander Osovtsov, executive vice president of the Russian Jewish Congress and a prominent figure in Russia's Democratic Choice party.

"I'm happy it's over," said Mark Maltynsky, a 24-year-old linguistics student at Moscow's Maimonides Jewish Academy. "Like many others, I voted not for Yeltsin but against the Communists."

Still, few seemed confident that the outcome of the election would solve the country's main economic and political problems.

"The only problem which could be resolved almost immediately is the problem of [foreign] investments in the Russian economy," said Gerber, referring to the international business and finance community's anxious wait for the outcome of the presidential contest.

Some observers also said Russia's media sacrificed its hard-won independence by unabashedly supporting Yeltsin's election bid. But Gerber said no signs existed that freedom of speech could be somehow limited after Yeltsin's victory.

Given Yeltsin's moves to bring Russia closer to Europe, the election's outcome was confirmation to many that Russia was solidly on the road to instilling democratic norms.

"This day will remain as one of the most important dates in Russia's history," Gerber said of the nation's first democratic elections.