ANATOLY SOBCHAK, mayor of Leningrad, has in recent years emerged as a leading advocate of radical change. A prominent member of the interregional group of deputies in the Supreme Soviet, he was also at the forefront of the leading liberal group in the largely conservative Soviet legislature.In the aftermath of the failed coup and subsequent anti-Bolshevik revolution, Mayor Sobchak has joined other key political figures in the Russian republic in advocating preservation of the Soviet Union - but in a new form. Sobchak is a lawyer by training, taught at Leningrad State University's law school. He spoke with the Monitor on Aug. 27. Excerpts follow: On why some democratic leaders in Russia favor Baltic independence, but oppose it for many other republics: The question is not that we do not want them to be independent. They can become independent, but not in this form and not under these circumstances. To become an independent nation, they should sit down at the negotiating table and settle all mutual problems vis-a-vis Russia.
On the possibility of civil war: I hope we will not reach this. It will not be just a civil war. It would be more serious - the return of the Communist structures. The Communist structure is still too strong. It has a million officials and the Army that still are not thoroughly reformed. The people who want to gain independence just are not thinking. We have not completed the most major task before us - the destruction of Communist structures. And they are now trying to tear the country apart.
On the Ukraine's announced intention to take control of Soviet armed forces in the republic, as well as Kazakhstan's desire to form a republican national guard. Given the fact there are nuclear forces deployed [in the Ukraine] and also the Black Sea fleet, this desire is insane. It is such an absurd political step that the people who proposed it should resign. If I was the president of the USSR, I would immediately issue a decree preventing the possibility of such action - a decree banning the breakup of the Army along republican fault lines. All that [Kazakhstan President Nursultan] Nazarbayev said [regarding formation of a republican army] and the decision ado pted by the Ukraine are very dangerous for those republics' independence first of all.
On what the Russian republic may do in response to moves by other republics toward sovereignty. They could provoke a reaction by Russia. Such steps would give momentum to the idea of creating a greater Russia. And Russia would then try to seize more for itself.... When everything is being torn apart by the republics, and in the complex situation that we face now, there would not be any other option for Russia but to take over the armed forces. The positions of the other republics just prompt Russia toward this. We have to realize nobody is against independence - Ukraine, Kazakhstan, or any other. We all want this. But we must solidify the relations among us before this can happen. It could take several forms, something like the British Commonwealth, a confederation or a system of bilateral treaties, but there should be one thing excluded - no nuclear weapons or armed forces ... should be controlled by the republics.
On what the top priority of the democrats should be: We haven't seen the end of the Communists, who are still blocking our way. We should finish the destruction of the Communists. But we've already opened another front - a front of political illiteracy, which was tossed into the political arena by this democratic wave that doesn't know what it wants.
On the role of the Soviet parliament in the current political situation. The preservation of the of the Supreme Soviet is necessary as a symbol of state power. There is a desire by some people to seize more for themselves, especially all these hasty declarations of independence and desires to form republican armies. People do not understand that we live in a country crammed with nuclear weapons. And they do not understand that they cannot make such irresponsible decisions. The economy of the country is in a very bad position. If we do not take necessary measures, we will lead our people to famine, even though we have the necessary resources. We cannot allow this to happen.