MOSCOW — PRESIDENT Mikhail Gorbachev and republican leaders pushed ahead with a proposal to rebuild the Soviet Union from the bottom up on Sept. 3, despite rising voices of opposition to their plans from the Congress of Peoples' Deputies.Speaking at the Congress, Russian President Boris Yeltsin said there should be no delay in overhauling union structures. At the same time, he reassured republican leaders Russia did not seek to dominate a new confederation. "The Russian state, which has chosen democracy and freedom, won't be either an empire or older or younger brother," Mr. Yeltsin says. "It will be an equal among equals." Yeltsin stressed the need to preserve a single economic entity, adding that all 15 republics were ready to sign an economic agreement. He called for the preservation of the unified armed forces but insisted on military reforms and defense cuts. Human rights also topped his priorities. The powerful Russian leader warned that conservatives could still try to remove Mr. Gorbachev. "We must not rule out attempts at doing this at the Congress, using constitutional means," he told reporters, according to the Tass news agency. Republican delegations backed the reorganization plan Sept. 2, after it was introduced by Kazakh-stan President Nursultan Nazarbayev. Opponents were silent, apparently caught off guard. "Many deputies were in shock and didn't understand what was going on," Semyon Platon, a deputy from Moldavia, said of the developments. "But the conservatives now have had time to think.... There will be very sharp discussions." The Congress is comprised mostly of conservative legislators, elected in 1989, who do not necessarily represent the political mood in the country. The core opposition appeared to be mounting a counterattack Sept. 3, questioning the constitutionality of the proposed changes.
Attack applauded Byelorussian deputy Alexander Zhuravlev was widely applauded after attacking the plan, playing on some deputies' fears that they may be unemployed after its adoption. "You will cease to be deputies a few days after the union treaty is signed," Mr. Zhuravlev said. "It is impossible to be deputies of a nonexistent country." The plan, worked out by Gorbachev and leaders of 11 republics Sept. 1, would destroy the Soviet Union in order to prevent chaos. Under the program, republics would be "free to choose the form of participation [in the new union]: federation, confederation, associate member, or member of economic union," Yeltsin said. In addition to the signing of an economic agreement linking all 15 republics, the parliament would be replaced with an organization comprising 20 representatives from each republic. A new state council, acting as a collective presidency, would make executive decisions concerning internal and foreign affairs of interest to all republics.
Power to republics The new proposals reflect the desire of many republican leaders, particularly Yeltsin, to make the republics the ultimate source of authority. It differs substantially from the Gorbachev-devised union treaty, which was never signed because of the coup. Under that plan, the Kremlin would have remained supreme, while the republics would have enjoyed a limited increase in authority. "In the new conditions, the sense of the central structures lies in coordination and not in the giving of commands and orders," Yeltsin says. "The republics are the major source of stabilization." The proposed reorganization has not only conservatives but also some democrats voicing apprehension. For example, the leading liberal newspaper, Komsomolskaya Pravda, carried commentary Sept. 3 with the headline "First the putsch - now the coup," a reference to last month's failed power-grab. "We should learn some very simple lessons," the newspaper commentary said. "It is impossible to build a law-governed state using illegal methods." Many supporters of the plan don't dispute the fact it violates the Constitution, but add such action can be excused given the nature of the political and economic crisis the nation is facing. "Of course it's unconstitutional, but our Constitution was a constitution of slavery, and we now live in a free country," said Svyatislav Fyodorov, a leading liberal deputy. The Congress voted on Sept. 2 to accept the plan as the basis for discussion, but contrary to earlier reports, the plan has yet to be approved in principle. Some prominent democrats said the plan could still be defeated. "Even if they don't have a majority, they have enough votes to sabotage any decision," said Leningrad Mayor Anatoly Sobchak, referring to the conservatives. Levon Ter-Petrosyan, chair-man of the parliament in the republic of Armenia, said getting a two-thirds majority for constitutional changes could be difficult. Even if the the reorganization is approved, some adjustments could likely be made to the plan. Some deputies from Russia and the Ukraine say the provision granting equal representation in the future national governing body was unfair.
New opposition expected Some deputies also expected opposition to grow to granting independence to republics such as the Baltics. The independence issue was on the agenda, but Endel Lippmaa, a representative from Estonia, said the Congress might balk at making a final decision. "A vote isn't necessary," Mr. Lippmaa said. "Gorbachev should sign a presidential decree recognizing Baltic independence. That would be in everyone's best interests." While debate on the program was proceeding at the Congress, the disintegration of the union continued. Nagorno-Karabakh, the mainly Armenian area of Azerbaijan, declared independence from the republic Sept. 2. 11