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Nationalists Link Chain of Protest

Ukrainian activists call for ouster of party leader, greater share of region's resources. SOVIET UNION

By Paul Quinn-JudgeStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / September 11, 1989



KIEV, SOVIET UNION

DESPITE Moscow's continuing concern at the upsurge in nationalist self assertion in the Soviet Union, the final and largest link in a chain of independent political organizations stretching from the Baltics in the north to the Caucasus in the south was forged this weekend. About 1,000 delegates gathered in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev for the founding congress of the Ukrainian Movement for Perestroika, known by the Ukrainian word for movement, Ruk.

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The official line at the founding congress stopped short of calls for independence, but many of the delegates did not. Virtually all speakers, however, called for the resignation of longtime Ukrainian Communist Party chief Vladimir Shcherbitsky.

The congress was attended by activists from the Baltics, the southern republics of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Uzbekistan, by Crimean Tatars, and by a six-member delegation from Poland's Solidarity, traveling on Polish diplomatic passports.

The spectrum of opinions represented at the congress was enormous. ``The only thing that unites all these people is their hate for the regime,'' said Yuri Shcherbak, an independent Ukrainian member of the country's Supreme Soviet.

Views ranged from demands for a greater share of the Ukraine's enormous natural resources to calls from activists for total independence for the republic's 52 million inhabitants.

On one end of the spectrum is Vladimir Sukhy, a 30-year veteran of the Communist Party from Rovno, an industrial area northwest of Kiev. The vast majority of party members in his factory were Ruk supporters, he said. They wanted ``social justice,'' in particular, a better standard of living.

Sergei Naboka is on the other end of the Ruk spectrum. ``We want to be a normal, independent country,'' he said in an interview.

Most Ruk supporters shared the aim of eventual independence, Mr. Naboka asserted. ``The word independence may not be on the tongues of Ruk's official leadership,'' he said. ``But it is in the back of their minds.''

But independence would take decades to achieve, Naboka added. ``It will be a longer and more difficult process than in the Baltics.''

Naboka also voiced the view heard with increasing frequency among the most radical edge of the political spectrum. The collapse of perestroika (restructuring) would probably lead to a brutal crackdown on nationalist movements, he theorized.

``We are much closer to the Chinese model of events than the Polish one,'' he said.

But, he added, the failure of perestroika would not be an unmitigated disaster. ``It's time to put an end to the illusions of the last 70 years'' that socialism can achieve anything worthwhile, he said.

The Solidarity delegation was cautiously supportive of new movement. Delegation leader Adam Michnik was careful in his comments to the press. And in private, delegation members seemed worried that the radicalism of some Ruk activists was dangerous.

Unlike Ruk radicals, the Solidarity activists seemed to see the success of their movement very much in terms of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's political survival.

The delegation had been scheduled Saturday to meet some of the leaders of last July's coal strikes in Ukraine's Donbass. But there was a snag, the Poles claimed: They were late, and after waiting an hour the strikers went home.

The new movement is strongest in Kiev city, where it claims some 30,000 members, and in the western Ukrainian region of Lvov, where it is said to have 50,000 members.

The first Ruk show of strength will probably be in Lvov on Sept. 17. Activists from the area plan to hold two demonstrations that day. One will mark the 50th anniversary of the Soviet occupation of the area, formerly part of Poland, on the outbreak of World War II. The second will call for greater religious freedom.

The response of the Ukrainian Communist Party leadership to the congress was ambiguous. Kiev's city council refused permission for a prayer rally Saturday night. The Communist Party news media spent most of their coverage taking swipes at the movement.

In retaliation Ruk barred its main tormentor, the republic's main newspaper, Pravda Ukrainy, from the congress. Other journalists from the official Ukrainian news media complained that their coverage was being sharply curtailed by their editors.

OUTSIDE the hall where the congress was taking place, a small group of heavies - decribing themselves variously as ordinary citizens or members of an informal group that they were reluctant to identify - staged a counter demonstration.

One carried the official flag of Soviet Ukraine. Another was holding a two-way radio. Ruk supporters, carrying the still-forbidden blue and yellow flag of independent Ukraine, described the men as plainclothes policemen. Rain seemed to drive the counter-demonstrators away.

Inside the hall, however, the Ukrainian party official in charge of propaganda, Leonid Kravchuk, sat calmly and good-naturedly through speeches which usually denounced the party leadership, and often called for a free Ukraine. He was careful to make himself available to reporters and delegates.

Another party official, Ivan Saly, the chief of a Kiev city district, addressed the congress, adding his voice to calls for Mr. Shcherbitsky's resignation.

Could the party work with the new organization, a reporter asked him later.

``We have to,'' he snapped back.