One Soviet's sober assessment of conference

While some Western observers are abuzz with excitement over this week's Communist Party conference, Soviet observers are taking a more low-key approach. Here are the views of one longtime Soviet observer of the political scene after the first day's proceedings.

On Gorbachev's speech:

``It was a decent performance. Though of course there were some crazy ideas - like the proposal to make party first secretaries the heads of the local soviets [representative bodies]. Where did an intelligent man like Gorbachev get that idea from?

Fortunately Abalkin [Leonid Abalkin, a leading economist who was one of the first to speak after Gorbachev] jumped on that idea pretty quickly.''

On the presidential system: ``Of course Gorbachev has designed it for himself. But I just don't see it happening - I can't see a new system being put in place from top to bottom.''

On what the conference might achieve:

``I don't think we're going to see any concrete results. One thing it should try to do is push ahead on glasnost [openness]. We have to resolve the issue of censorship once and for all.

I want to have a list of things on my desk when I am writing that are defined as state secrets. We don't have that yet.

When I go to the archives to consult documents, I am told `get permission first from the Central Committee.' We need a law on glasnost. The conference can at least push that subject along.''

But ``if we want to become a civilized society'' the main thing is to keep moving forward, he commented. ``Right now we're in a transitional period.''

Isn't it a long transition, he was asked.

``What do you want, we're not Luxembourg. If we were, we could move faster. If we were, perhaps even [second-ranking Yegor] Ligachev could handle things.''

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