Behind the Crackdown in Georgia. CONSPIRACY AGAINST REFORM?
MOSCOW — TBILISI, Georgia, April 9: Galina Kornilova remembers being awakened early in the morning by a piercing scream from the street. Looking out the window she saw a man running barefoot down the street shouting, ``Why are you sleeping when they are killing people?'' Shortly before, at least 16 people had been killed when troops broke up a demonstration. The protests, which had been organized by a loose coalition of Georgian nationalists, had been going on for several days. Ms. Kornivola, who had witnessed the rallies in the days preceding the killings, described them as generally low-key and nonviolent.
She told her story Saturday to a hushed group of prominent Moscow intellectuals that included space pioneer Roald Sagdeyev and physicist Andrei Sakharov. The group, an unofficial political organization known as the Moscow Tribune, voiced fears that the Georgian killings were an attempt to undermine Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's reforms and called for a demonstration in central Moscow Sunday.
Speaking at the demonstration, Mr. Sakharov described the killings as a ``provocation against Gorbachev'' and said he believed the decision to use troops had been taken not in Georgia but at a higher level.
Meanwhile the Communist Party daily, Pravda, Sunday published a remarkably tough speech in which Eduard Shevardnadze, Soviet foreign minister and former party chief of Georgia, accused the Georgian leadership of losing contact with its own people, and resorting to the mailed fist instead of dialogue.
Earlier comments by the Moscow leadership had placed the bulk of the blame for the killings on nationalist activists. But Mr. Shevardnadze excoriated the Georgian party leadership for trying to ``talk to the people from behind tanks and armored personnel carriers,'' and hinted that some of them could come under legal investigation.
He also revealed that the decision to deploy troops against the protesters had been been taken by the Georgian government, and was opposed by the military commander of the Transcaucasian military region.
Well-known supporters of Mr. Gorbachev's reforms, among them playwright Alexander Gelman, the editor of Moscow News, Yegor Yakovlev, and Mr. Sagdeyev, attended the funerals of the some of the victims held Saturday in Tbilisi. Sagdeyev returned to Moscow in time to hear Kornilova give her account of the demonstration, based, she said, on testimonies gathered in the three days immediately following the killings.
Among her accusations:
Sapper spades and toxic gas were used against the crowd.
Women were deliberately attacked.
Ethnic Georgian police who tried to protect the demonstrators were set upon by the military. Two days before the incident, the police had been disarmed.
Troop movements around Tbilisi in the days before the killings were ``provocative,'' and appeared intended to heighten tensions.
Another speaker, Viktor Bogachev, said the same thing. Mr. Bogachev, an economist in the Academy of Science's Economics Institute, had also been visiting Tbilisi during the killings.
In his speech delivered Friday Shevardnadze told the Georgian Communist Party Central Committee that the republic's leadership had lost control of the situation, and forgotten how to communicate with the public.
``If you were preparing to defend democracy and perestroika with tanks,'' he said sarcastically, ``then at least tell people, warn them, and prepare them for this.''
Shevardnadze also attacked the leaders of the demonstration. ``People talk about the peaceful character of the events preceeding April 9th, but they are silent about the far from peaceful slogans heard the day before.
Speaking to journalists Saturday, a member of one of the groups that had organized the demonstration conceded that some slogans had called for Georgia's secession from the Soviet Union. The activist said that his organization, the Ilya Chavchavadze Society, had since then issued a call for calm. It has also demanded that representatives of the International Red Cross take part in the inquiry into the killings.
Official Soviet reports have referred to allegations that troops attacked the crowd with spades, and to claims that the soldiers involved were drunk. They add, however, that examinations have produced no sign of wounds caused by slashes or cuts.
Until Friday a commission of inquiry was headed by the republic's prime minister, Zurab Chkheidze. But then he and the republic's other two top leaders - party chief Dzhumber Patiashvili and Georgian president Otari Cherkeziya - resigned. Mr. Patiashivli was replaced by the KGB (security) chief, Givi Gumbaridze.