Will Russian Power Become Too Great?

ANOTHER coup is under way in Moscow. Russian president Boris Yeltsin is slowly shoving Mikhail Gorbachev aside and taking control over the institutions of the USSR.Yeltsin swiftly moved his prime minister, Ivan Silayev, to head the committee that will reshape the Soviet government. He placed his confidant, Victor Barannikov, in charge of the interior ministry of the USSR - giving him control over thousands of troops. Two other Yeltsin associates, Igor Lazarev and Andrei Zvcerev, took over the all-union finance ministry and the central bank. They kept their portfolios in the Russian government though - indicating a merger of Russian and Soviet finances. I feel Gorbachev's resignation is only a matter of time. What will the new Russian power structure be like? Will new Russian leaders fulfill their pledge of democracy? Those are the important questions today. The picture is not encouraging. The first thing the revolution brought was a purge unseen since Stalin. A television channel controlled by Yeltsin regularly advertises a telephone number to report on anyone you suspect of complicity with the plotters. If you want trouble for your neighbors or colleagues, call up. So-called "revolutionary committees" are busy identifying and finding "coup sympathizers." The new KGB chief, Vadim Bakatin, talks to foreign correspondents about plans "to get rid of the reactionaries and keep the honest people." Sounds fine. But the question is who determines who is reactionary and who is honest? Who will that new commissar be? Will the population be sorted out again into "reds" and "whites"? Revenge is in the air. At least two newspapers, Pravda and Rabochays Tribuna, were shut down by Yeltsin. This was not a big cultural loss - both papers belonged to the Communist Party and advocated dubious values. What is deplorable is the selective use of the law, which undermines the feeble Russian democracy. In Leningrad, a popular television news program, "600 Seconds," was banned because its anchor, Alexander Nevzorov, a Russian nationalist, has been increasingly critical of the pro-reform movement. Was he implicated in the coup attempt? No evidence has been produced, but nevertheless, the news program was taken off the air. What is the result? Newspapers critical of Yeltsin have been silenced. TV programs that criticize the reformers are gone. A number of journalists have been fired including the editors-in-chief of "Ogonyok" and the "Literary Gazette," Vitally Korotich and Fyodor Burlatsky. They were accused of failing to call off their trips and return to Moscow in time "to fight the hard-liners." Present-day commissars who now terrorize the country with the question, "What did you do on August 19?" apparently ignore the fact that the fired editors did more for the transformation of the Soviet society than any of the politicians sitting now in the Russian government. Korotich, for instance, was publishing articles that defied the Communist authorities in 1987, when Yeltsin had the courage only to beg his Communist comrades to forgive his "past mistakes" and say he could not imagine life without the party. HISTORIC similarities are striking. On July 6, 1918, the leadership of the Socialist Revolutionary Party, the only party that functioned legally in Russia after the Bolshevik coup of 1917, organized a similar putsch to topple the communists. It was thwarted, and the Bolsheviks moved swiftly to ban the Socialist Revolutionaries. It was the day the communist totalitarian system was born: Russia became a one-party state. There is no basis yet for a direct comparison of those events to the revolution in Russia now. Still, similar patterns have emerged. Whether we like it or not, with the suspension of the activities of the Communist Party Yeltsin has destroyed the only meaninful opposition to his movement and created a serious danger to the new Russian democracy. What he did amounts to a left-wing counter-coup, which could be as tragic as the plot engineered by the hard-liners. This is not to defend the Communist Party. The Soviet authorities were right to order an investigation of Communist activities. Party crimes and wrongdoings have to be exposed. The party's property should have been seized. In most cases, it was acquired illegally, by robbing the state. But the party should not have been suspended entirely since the Communists could constitute an opposition force necessary to prevent the country from slipping into arbitrary rule. The greatest tragedy of Russia is that through its history it knew only revolutions that replaced one totalitarian ruling group with another. The revolution currently under way in Moscow still has a good chance to make an inspiring departure from this tradition. It is important to use this chance.

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