from: Jonathan Steele. "Eternal Russia", Faber and Faber, London - Boston, 1994

"ETERNAL RUSSIA. Yeltsin, Gorbachev and the Mirage of Democracy" by Jonathan Steele. 1994

(pages 8, 245, 336-337, 348, 382-3)

In the summer of 1987 I ran into the next stage in the develop­ment of these clubs. This time the focus was openly political, and the tone was increasingly directed to action, not just discussion. About 500 representatives of 47 political, cultural and ecological groups met for a three-day conference in a factory's 'House of Culture' to draft a ringing manifesto for change. Boris Yeltsin, the Communist party chief in Moscow, was already showing signs of being more of a populist than Gorbachev, and had adopted a policy of being more tolerant towards the 'informals'. Although his officials authorized the conference, its organizers played safe and did not inform any Western journalists in advance. It was the first confer­ence of independent left-wing reformers to have been officially sanctioned for more than fifty years. Publicity was obviously a sensitive matter.

The conference organizers let me break the story only after the first guarded but supportive report appeared in the Soviet press in the journal Ogonyok more than a fortnight after the event. The Ogonyok piece did not report the proposal by the most radical group, known as Democracy and Humanism, for an end to the one-party system (which was rejected by a majority of participants). It suppressed the call for a monument to be built to the victims of Stalin and did not mention that two of the organizers had been imprisoned under Brezhnev. Gleb Pavlovsky was arrested in 1982 for editing the first seven issues of a left-wing samizdat journal, Poiski (Searches). Boris Kagarlitsky published a samizdat paper, Levi Povorot (Left Turn) and spent thirteen months in prison.

One purpose of the conference, which was organized by the 'Club of Social Initiatives', was to unite the new informal groups round a common platform. The most contentious issue was whether it would be explicitly labelled 'socialist'. The conference split on the point. One group, led by Oleg Rumyantsev (who later went on to found the Social-Democratic party of Russia and, as a member of the Russian Supreme Soviet, was in charge of rewriting Russia's constitution) favoured a relatively loose 'Circle of Social Initiatives'. The other group, led by Kagarlitsky (who later became a member of the Moscow city council and founded the Party of Labour) formed a Federation of Socialist Clubs.

Both groups agreed on what they called the 'Three Nyets': No to violence and the propagation of violence; no to ideas of racial or national exclusiveness; and no to claims to a monopoly on the truth in detriment to people's right to search for it independently themselves. The manifesto of the Federation of Socialist Clubs, adopted at the conference, acknowledged the constitutional role of the Communist party of the Soviet Union, but said the party was not united: 'Its ranks include people who bear responsibility for the abuses and miscalculations of the past, and who formed that mass of bureaucrats and officials who cut themselves off from the hopes and needs of their people. Our aim is to support the healthy and progressive forces in the party's leadership and the rank and file'.'

Many of the manifesto's proposals echoed what dissidents had been saying in underground bulletins and appeals in the 1960s and 1970S. Now, amazingly, they were being outlined at an officially permitted conference. But this was still 1987, and glasnost - what some critics called 'a licence to speak' - had some way to go. The Soviet press's failure to publish the manifesto suggested it was still considered too radical, and that the party leadership was not willing to be overtaken by independent groups 'from below'. But these first political 'informals' would soon infiltrate their ideas into the mainstream, via the democratic reform groups which were to emerge inside the Communist party. The Komsomol, the Young Communist League, was the first official organization to be infected with the spirit of change. One Soviet paper reported that 60 per cent of the informals were members of the Young Communist League.2 Some of their ideas were later to be adopted by Gorbachev, whose speeches in 1988 and 1989 often sounded like the dissident tracts of the 1970s.

The summer of 1987 saw the first public demonstrations in

 

 

The rest of his programme was radical. He called for a law on land, to give private peasants greater rights. He wanted an end to nuclear testing on Russian territory. He proposed legislation to bring the various security organs under a single minister responsible to parliament. The KGB should no longer be at the service of a single political party. He advocated a gradual move to a professional army, and the provision in the meantime of alternative service for conscripts with conscientious or religious objections. He suggested the formation of a Council of Economic Advisers to work out a transition to a market economy. He called for a law on Russian sovereignty, a new Russian constitution and direct elections to a new executive presidency for Russia. He talked of shifting prices to international levels and a convertible rouble. After failing to win on the first ballot, Yeltsin modified his position to win over deputies from the army, promising them that he favoured keeping the Soviet army and not allowing it to break up into republican armies. On the third and fourth ballots Vlasov came back in and Polozkov withdrew. Yeltsin won 535 votes, just four more than needed.

Within two weeks Yeltsin had fulfilled his promise and brought to the Congress a declaration of Russian sovereignty, which was passed by an overwhelming 98 per cent of the deputies. Yet even with this declaration Yeltsin showed no sign of wanting to undermine the Soviet Union. The handful of deputies who voted against it were unhappy with an amendment brought in so as to win conservative support. This said that while the constitution and laws of the Russian Federation were supreme on Russian territory, any disagreement with Soviet law should be resolved in line with the Union treaty. The critics pointed out that the Union treaty gave primacy to Soviet law, so that the two clauses contradicted each other, meaning that the 'declaration is not a legal document but an empty political statement', in the words of Oleg Rumyantsev, who later became executive secretary of Russia's constitutional commis­sion. But even as a purely political statement the declaration had enormous force. The very next day Gorbachev's spokesman, Arkady Maslennikov, announced that the president favoured a completely

 

that breaking up the monopolies should have preceded the freeing of prices. He said the transfer to the market should be administered by a strong centre which would gradually dismantle the monopolies and promote competition and labour discipline. While he supported foreign investment, he was suspicious of foreign loans administered by the International Monetary Fund, which were tied to Western monetarist prescriptions - 'free cheese in a mousetrap', as he phrased it once.

Rutskoi's views put him firmly in the camp of Russia's national entrepreneurs and state capitalists. His career gave him natural support among the military, but he strengthened this with repeated appeals for tough action to protect Russian minorities abroad, though without specifying exactly what he meant. His advocacy of the use of troops to put down Chechenya's unilateral declaration of independence in November 1991 was repudiated by the Russian parliament and by Yeltsin, and could have led to a fiasco. But Rutskoi survived the row. The vice-president's background as a chairman of the Society for the Revival of Russia naturally led him to the notion of 'Great Russia'. This did not mean a revival of the Soviet Union or a change in Russia's borders. It was meant to be a patriotic unifying idea which could encourage Russians to feel self-confident again and accept the hardships of the switch to a market economy. Although he wanted a gradual shift, Rutskoi accepted that it would be a difficult process.

Rutskoi drew a distinction in early 1992 between 'enlightened patriotism' and 'primitive patriotism'. It struck a powerful chord, and his popularity ratings rose steadily thereafter. The phrase made the notion of patriotism respectable to those who had previously seen such appeals as a cynical device by the old nomenklatura to maintain their positions. Rutskoi's views were increasingly echoed by other politicians of the new generation with impeccable democratic positions. Two, in particular, could not be labelled conservatives, or ignorant of the West.

I first heard of Oleg Rumyantsev in 1987 when he was a young researcher at the Institute of the Economics of the World Socialist System, and a founder of the Club for Democratic Perestroika. He played a key role at the first conference of political clubs that August (see Chapter i). A specialist on Hungary, he travelled several times to Budapest as the democracy movement unfolded there, and as a founder of Russia's Social Democratic party attended conferences of the German Social Democrats and the Socialist International. Rumyantsev came from what he describes as an unpolitical family, though his parents had joined the Communist party for career reasons. They were not happy with the way he used his room in their flat, which I regularly visited, for printing leaflets on his computer and conducting his campaigns. Rumyantsev was never in the party nor an activist of the Komsomol, the Young Communist League. He decided to enter politics, he said, 'out of a wish for modernization, and when I saw that reforms in Hungary were going well. It also seemed a way to fulfil myself. Four years later, disappointed with the West's policies towards Russia and by then a member of the Russian parliament, Rumyantsev joined the band of Rutskoi supporters, advocating a combination of democracy and patriotism but remaining independent of any faction.

Sergei Stankevich, another prominent young politician, also entered public life through the grass-roots clubs, in his case the Moscow Popular Front. Inspired by perestroika, he joined the Communist party under Gorbachev to try to increase the power of the reformers. He was elected to the Soviet parliament and the Moscow city council, where he became deputy mayor. After the coup he switched to Yeltsin's side and was appointed a State Counsellor. He travelled to Moldova with Rutskoi in April 1992 and became an adviser on ethnic issues. It was in this capacity that he too started to argue the cause of 'enlightened patriotism', warning the West that excessive insistence on an economic revolu­tion could lead to a backlash.

If Rutskoi was the politician who first raised the banner of enlightened patriotism, the man who carried it most prominently on the economic front was Arkady Volsky. He, too, was primarily a politician rather than an economist, but he was not a member of the

 

enough for the court to start work. The judges chose one of their number to be the chairman. Some deputies were unhappy with the speed of the selection process. They had only five minutes to question each candidate. Other deputies complained there were not enough representatives of ethnic minorities, and only one woman.

What remained obscure at the end of the Communist party case was why the court had taken so long to decide to hear the Communists' petition against Yeltsin's ban. There were strong suspicions that Valery Zorkin, the chairman, was delaying it so as not to embarrass the president. The court was 'saved' in May when Oleg Rumyantsev, the executive secretary of the Russian Congress's constitutional commission, brought his petition questioning the party's constitutionality throughout its time in power. This second petition muddied the waters, and meant that when the case opened both sides were on the defensive. Rumyantsev had only just man­aged to get the Russian Congress of People's Deputies to pass an amendment to the constitution one month earlier allowing the court to rule on the constitutionality of parties. He did not explain his purpose at the time. Had the second petition been worked out with the government's lawyers? I asked Rumyantsev later. 'No,' he replied. 'It was my personal initiative, which I worked out after consultations with Zorkin. He headed a group of experts working with our constitutional commission and I knew him well.'

It was an astonishing disclosure, since in any system with a true separation of powers such a move by the country's top constitutional judge would be inadmissible. Moreover, the law establishing the court forbids judges from giving opinions on executive decisions before a case is brought. But, according to Rumyantsev, he only 'consulted' Zorkin. Zorkin decided that while Russia's new institu­tions were still feeling their way forward he should say what he thought. He justified his action by reference to the law's preamble which says the court's aim is to serve to strengthen Russia's constitutional order. His interventionist line upset several members of the court. Viktor Luchin, one of the most outspoken judges, said at a Foreign Correspondents' Association lunch in January 1993

 

police, but this alone does not explain their abandonment of the cordon round the White House. Lieutenant General Kulikov himself admitted it was a policy decision.

The second argument against the notion of a 'provocation' is that President Yeltsin had left Moscow on Saturday for his country house, and eyewitnesses who were in the Kremlin on Sunday evening when news of the attack on Ostankino was coming in reported a mood of panic. This, it is claimed, shows that Yeltsin and his team had not expected the 'break-out' by the White House supporters.

The argument is weak, since anyone running a 'dirty trick' of the kind which appears to have been perpetrated on 3 October would hardly bring more than a handful of senior people into the plot. Those who did not know of it would quite likely have panicked. As for Yeltsin's absence from Moscow during the early part of it (he flew back 'to take charge' that evening), this looks like an alibi. Or it may have been that the president himself was not told of the plans so that he could later deny involvement, if necessary. The radicals among his senior staff could have concocted the plot with General Yerin alone, although General Yerin seemed to give the lie to that at his 7 October press conference. Asked about his contact with the president during the events, he answered thus: 'During all these critical days and nights, I had permanent communication with the president. Sometimes we were in contact several times an hour.'

Many of the details of the assault on the White House are as obscure as what went on the day before. Endless arguments erupted afterwards over the casualty figures. The official death toll at the White House was put at 46, but eyewitnesses said that when they left the building they had seen corpses lining the corridors, and claimed that several hundred were killed. Deputies who surrendered were treated arbitrarily. Some were escorted out by government forces and allowed to go home unharmed. Others suffered beatings in a nearby stadium or in the entrances and darkened courtyards of ordinary blocks of flats. Oleg Rumyantsev, the young executive secretary of the Constitutional Commission (see Chapter Thirteen), had one of the worst ordeals. He was led by a group of men from the former KGB's Alpha unit to a nearby building. 'They left, but from the doorway an "Omonovets" - a member of the special police troops - jumped out with an automatic rifle and shouted "Lie down, you bastard,",' Rumyantsev recounted later. 'They pushed me into the entrance-hall. A drunken face grabbed me by the beard: "Come here, Jewish shit." They hit me tree times in the face. Then they searched me. I had no money, only a small Sony radio. They hit me again in the ribs and the stomach. Then they pushed me out again. An officer whispered to me, "They're shoot­ing in the yard. Run over to that entrance." We ran there. I was with an artist I had met in the White House. It was the same picture in the next entrance, the same hell, just a different group. The police were beating two young kids, not more than seventeen-year-olds, who were stripped to the waist for some reason. The police grabbed me and beat me several times in the testicles. For a week afterwards I was urniating blood. They used their rifle butts to push us into the courtyard. There was indeed shooting going on there. It was not clear who they were shooting at, but we heard single shots'.

Rumyantsev's fearful experience went on a further ten minutes. Another policeman accosted him. 'Imagine it. A drunken man with a rifle, his eyes with nothing human left in them, at his feet someone's corpse. "It's all over, you bastard, say goodbye to life," he told me. He spat twice in my face, then shouted, "Turn round." I turned round. "Kneel." Then he fired over my head. I lay there, without the strength to get up.' Eventually, he managed to run into another entrance, and dashed upstairs. He rang a doorbell, and told the woman who opened it, 'I'm a deputy, Rumyanstev.' 'We recognize you. Come in,' she said. It was a one-room flat with a family of three. Rumyantsev stayed there for several days, slowly recovering.

Flushed by victory, Yeltsin also allowed euphoria to overcome better judgement, just as it had overwhelmed the hardline defenders

 





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