What really happened when Gorbachev fired his colleague. THE YELTSIN AFFAIR
Five weeks after Moscow Communist Party chief Boris Yeltsin exploded in anger at a party Central Committee meeting, the Yeltsin affair continues to reverberate in Soviet society. ``We spend a lot of time trying to piece together what Yeltsin said at the plenum,'' a Soviet academic commented this week. ``Then when we've done so, we ask ourselves - why was this man fired?''Skip to next paragraph
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Interviews with four well-placed sources, carried out separately over the last three weeks, provide a composite version of the speech. The sources include two people who were present at the Oct. 21 plenum: Alexander Baranov, editor of the newspaper Socialist Industry, and a candidate member of the Central Committee who requested anonymity. The other two sources were a senior Soviet official and an East European source, both of whom have in the past proved reliable.
The accounts concur on the following points:
Mr. Yeltsin's speech was emotional and probably spur of the moment. Mr. Baranov says it was an ``explosion'' that lasted ``about three minutes.'' The Central Committee member described the speech as ``disjointed.''
Yeltsin described the reform policies - both in Moscow and nationwide - as being at a ``dead end.''
He attacked the Central Committee Secretariat. Baranov says he complained that the Secretariat was ``dumping on'' him.
He almost certainly criticized Yegor Ligachev, the second-ranked Soviet leader, and possibly threw in criticism of Viktor Chebrikov, the chief of the KGB (the Soviet secret police). The Soviet official and the East European source are both definite about the attack on Mr. Ligachev. Baranov sidestepped a question about Ligachev, but noted in his reply that Ligachev ``does lead the Secretariat.'' The Central Committee member refused comment.
Yeltsin did not criticize either Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev or his family. Baranov denies there was any reference to a ``personality cult'' surrounding Mr. Gorbachev. ``He did not pronouce a single word about Gorbachev or his family,'' the Central Committee official volunteered. The other sources concur.
There is, however, a second version of the speech circulating in Moscow - a version considerably more damaging to Gorbachev. In it, Yeltsin attacked an alleged personality cult that was growing up around Gorbachev, and complained that Raisa Gorbachev, the Soviet leader's wife, was too much in the public eye. Some reform supporters theorize that this version was spread deliberately to discredit Gorbachev. It has already served to crystallize criticism of Mrs. Gorbachev's prominence. Western visitors say a number of their Soviet counterparts devoted time last week to criticizing Raisa Gorbachev.
Even now it is difficult to know for certain what Yeltsin said. The main item on the agenda of the Oct. 21 meeting was the draft of Mr. Gorbachev's Nov. 2 address, at a meeting to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. Some senior officials will not discount the possibility that the outburst was provoked in some way by disappointment at the draft. (Two intellectuals interviewed this week expressed disappointment with the Nov. 2 speech.)
Despite official assurances that reform is on track, intellectuals - in this case a senior administrator, an academic, an artist, and a journalist - express concern that reform has bogged down.