IN one of the most concentrated pieces of drama yet at the new Soviet parliament, a former party chief of Georgia on Tuesday described the involvement of high-level officials from Moscow in the decision to suppress a demonstration in which about 20 people died. Dzhumber Patiashvili, who resigned as Georgian Communist Party chief immediately after the killings, described how in early April he had informed two Politburo members about tension in Georgia. He then recounted how a deputy minister of defense was sent to the republic without his knowledge, how KGB troops were sent into the republic just before the killings, and how Gen. Igor Rodionov, commander of the Transcaucasian military region, firmly announced that he had been put in charge of the operation against the demonstrators.
The speech went a long way toward confirming the suspicions voiced by radical supporters of reform that the suppression of the demonstration was not simply a local blunder, but a decision taken by senior officials in Moscow in the absence of Mikhail Gorbachev, who was in London when the crisis blew up.
The debate was also remarkable for the way that the traditions of party secrecy broke down under new conditions of open and passionate debate. In the past such fights, if they ever happened, took place behind closed doors and in deep secrecy. But Tuesday's dispute between a three-star general and a member of the party Central Committee was carried live on nationwide television and radio.
Nationalist tensions began to rise again in Georgia in early April, Mr. Patiashvili told the congress this afternoon. Patiashvili says he informed two Politburo members, Viktor Chebrikov and Georgy Razumovsky, of this. Mr. Razumovsky, who is thought to be close to Gorbachev, holds overall responsibility for nationality issues. Mr. Chebrikov, one of the longest standing Politburo members, headed the KGB until last year. His public statements in the past have indicated a cautious and somewhat disciplinarian approach to reform.
A few days later, according to Patiashvili's chronology, the Soviet defense ministry and the KGB began to pay close attention to the unrest. On April 7 Defense Minister Dmitri Yazov told him that General Rodionov and First Deputy Defense Minister Konstantin Kochetov would soon be coming to see him. Patiashvili told the parliament that he had not been aware Kochetov, who is normally based in Moscow, was in the republic. And until the phone call, he thought that Rodionov was in Armenia. On the same day he was informed by the republic's KGB chief, Givi Gumbaridze (who succeeded Patiashvili as party chief after the killings) that a detachment of KGB troops was arriving in Georgia.
Patiashvili said that the Georgian party did not put Rodionov in charge of quashing the demonstration. Instead Rodionov, in the presence of deputy minister Kochetov, announced that he was taking control. Patiashvili said that he did not ask at the time who had given Rodionov the authority to do this. ``But I am asking it now.''
Along with representatives from the Interior Ministry in Moscow, Rodionov drew up plans to disperse the demonstration, Patiashvili said. The operation was supposed to be peaceful. Instead demonstrators were caught in a ring and cruelly beaten, he told the Congress.
Called on by members of Congress to explain his actions, Rodionov - also a member of parliament - said the crowd was anything but peaceful. ``It was a provocation, not a popular gathering,'' he said.
He admitted that gas had been used by the internal troops, armed units under the control of the Interior Ministry. He said soldiers had used spades when they moved against the demonstration. But he then attacked the media coverage of the killings, and asserted that senior military commanders had not been allowed to appear on television to explain what had happened.