Empowered Russians To Overhaul System
SOVIET President Mikhail Gorbachev has been restored to power, but Russian President Boris Yeltsin is moving quickly to dismantle the Soviet system following collapse of the coup staged by hard-liners."Russia has saved the world," said Mr. Yeltsin, who was protected by bodyguards carrying three bullet-proof shields as he addressed a triumphant crowd from the balcony of the republic's parliament. The crowd of 100,000 roared its approval when it was announced the old hammer and sickle had been officially replaced as the republic's flag by the old imperial red, white, and blue tricolor. The three-day coup dissolved Wednesday afternoon almost as quickly and unexpectedly as it started. Interior Minister Boris Pugo, one of the members of the State of Emergency Committee that led the coup, has committed suicide, the Tass news agency said. Six of the remaining conspirators were in custody and will eventually be put on trial, Russian officials said. Two reportedly had parliamentary immunity. Gorbachev arrived back in Moscow early yesterday and was "healthy, clear-headed, alive, and intact," said Russian Vice President Alexander Rutskoi. In a subsequent radio address, sounding completely drained, Gorbachev thanked the people for resisting the coup. "Everything we have done since 1985 has yielded results," Gorbachev said. "The people have permanently changed." The Russian parliament is now acting as a de facto federal parliament, and is pushing hard and fast for institutional changes. A parliament resolution Wednesday gave Yeltsin extended powers. The Russian president quickly used them to remove Soviet state television chief Leonid Kravchenko, one of the most hated men in the union, who may face criminal charges for his role in broadcasting the Emergency Committee's programs and resolutions.
Changes in the government During his speech, Yeltsin attacked Soviet parliament speaker Anatoly Lukyanov, a close friend of Gorbachev's for 40 years, calling him the "chief ideologue of the junta." Yeltsin suggested the federal legislature would be overhauled. Changes in the federal government would also be forthcoming. "The union structure has shown itself to be conservative," he said. "We must form a government the people can trust." Yeltsin said he would remove all republican officials who collaborated with the coup leaders. "Put them all on trial," the crowd chanted with passion never heard during demonstrations before the coup attempt. In an emergency session of the Russian parliament, some legislators were even more vocal in their desire to completely sweep away the vestiges of the old system. From the floor, deputies demanded the forced "resignations" of all leaders in other republics that did not demonstrate sufficient resolve to resist the coup, particularly Ayaz Mutalibov, president of Azerbaijan. Other legislators demanded a complete reorganization of the military, as well as liquidation of the KGB. Yeltsin announced the creation of a Russian national guard to be organized by Mr. Rutskoi, an Afghan War hero. Many Russian legislators said they hoped the new union treaty, which will devolve much of the Kremlin's powers to the republics, will be quickly signed. The pact, which prompted the coup attempt as hard-liners feared a permanent loss of influence, had been scheduled to be signed Tuesday, but was quickly canceled after the conspirators seized power. But Yeltsin said the treaty would not be signed until major changes were made to permanently weaken centralized power. "Some of the articles of the union treaty are too weak and must be strengthened," he said, pledging to move quickly on democratization and market-style reforms.
Revenge on Communists Parliament members and people in the crowd took vows of revenge against the Communist Party for 73 years of dictatorship. Shortly after the coup collapsed, some statues of Communist heroes were toppled, such as that of Pavel Morozov, a Ukrainian boy who informed authorities his father was hoarding grain during the 1930s famine. His example was used to indoctrinate generations of Soviet youth. During the parliament session, deputies said the party should be neutralized, with all property nationalized and all party-controlled media closed. The crowd spontaneously and repeatedly chanted "Down with the Communist Party" and "Put the Communists on trial," their fists shaking above their heads and venom in their voices. "We don't need them anymore. That's clear," Ruslan Khasbultaov, the Russian parliament chairman, said during the emergency session. Yeltsin said the Russian Communist Party, dominated by hard-liners, was illegal because it hadn't been officially registered. The backlash against the Communists was felt in other republics. The Baltic republic of Lithuania, scene of a crackdown in January, was quick to ban the publication of Communist newspapers. In the Central Asian republic of Kirghizia, members of the Central Committee fled for an unknown destination, the daily Komsomolskaya Pravda said.
Gorbachev's loss of stature The feeling in the crowd around parliament towards Gorbachev's continued leadership of the union was generally negative. Many people and legislators considered the Soviet president to be politically dead, to be kept around until the presidential election provided for under the new union treaty. "Gorbachev must go," said Margarita Vasilieva. "He was the one, after all, who personally selected the eight ringleaders." Though the actions of Yeltsin and the Russian legislature are being welcomed by the West, a diplomat attending the session was concerned a witch hunt could start that could easily grow out of control. "They'll screw it up if they're not careful," he said. In his address, Yeltsin said the failed coup serves as a valuable lesson on how fragile democracy remains in the Soviet Union. "We found out again that reforms being carried out in our society are not irreversible," he said. "Those people who want to reverse the reform process still have options available."