Democrats in Russia Battle Among Themselves
Reformers say that the republic's new leadership is adopting authoritarian methods of old
MOSCOW — THE ornate hall on the second floor of the Moscow City Council building has been transformed from a reception room into a battle-planning center.Amid the gilt, mirrors, and red wallpaper, chairs have been pushed aside to make room for the cots of 11 City Council deputies entering their third week of a hunger strike. The action stems from a dispute between some council members and Mayor Gavril Popov over naming a new police chief. "This is a political protest against the misuse of power," said Vyacheslav Titov, a hunger-striker. "We are struggling to resist anti-democratic methods used by Popov." The 11 council members aren't alone in complaining that the nation's new democratic leaders, who greatly increased their stature following last month's failed coup, are usurping authority from elected bodies. After facing down the common threat, democrats in Russia have begun to battle among themselves. For example, the 300,000-strong Democratic Russia movement, once a supporter of Boris Yeltsin, has backed away from the Russian president, with some saying that the new leadership is acting no better than the old. Since the coup, "those in power have shown a tendency to monopolize politics, the economy, and the media," said Democratic Russia leader Vladimir Bokser at a news conference. Mr. Bokser said Russian authorities had limited television to presenting only Mr. Yeltsin's point of view. Other leaders complained about a lack of action on economic reform, especially from special Yeltsin appointees serving as presidential trouble-shooters in outlying regions of Russia. "The uncontrollable strengthening of the executive power can lead to the suppression of the legislative arm and the emergence of a new authoritarianism," warned Lev Ponomarev, another Democratic Russia leader. Pavel Voshanov, Yeltsin's press secretary, dismissed suggestions that the president sought unlimited power. He said Yeltsin had already canceled some decrees that enhanced his authority during the crisis days of late August, such as an order making him commander in chief of the Army. "President Yeltsin seeks to act only within the framework of the Constitution," Mr. Voshanov said. "Everyone must remember these are extraordinary circumstances and not the norm." But Democratic Russia will continue to distrust Russian authorities until direct multiparty elections are held at all levels of government, leaders say. The elections could be held as early as next year. In the meantime, the movement is preparing to form a shadow government, Interfax news agency reported. Georgia is already an example of democracy gone astray, democratic leaders say. Earlier this year, the Transcaucasian republic elected former dissident Zviad Gamsakhurdia president in a landslide. But Mr. Gamsakhurdia has moved quickly to establish a one-party, police state. "Who could have imagined, years ago, that Gamsakhurdia could go from political prisoner to dictator," said Alexander Shmukler, an executive committee member of VA'AD, an umbrella group of Moscow-based Jewish organizations. For the last week, the republic has been buffeted by daily anti-Gamsakhurdia protests. On Monday, a chief opposition figure, Georgi Chanturia, was arrested. The official charge against Mr. Chanturia, leader of the Georgian National Democratic Party, is disturbing the peace. Party spokesmen say Chanturia is being held for political reasons. The dispute in Moscow appears less volatile than in Georgia, but it too could explode, especially if the hunger strike continues. The strikers all say they're prepared to continue the protest until death. In the dispute over the police chief appointment, the mayor is pushing Arkady Murashov, a Democratic Russia leader, while many deputies want Gen. Vyacheslav Komissarov. The general was earlier approved for the post but the appointment was blocked by then-Interior Minister Boris Pugo, a leader of the failed coup who subsequently killed himself. On Monday, the City Council presidium backed the hunger-strikers, threatening to escalate the clash between the municipal executive and legislative branches. The hunger strikers say the struggle goes much deeper than their battle for Komissarov. "The goal is to establish a civilized society, as in the West, where there are well-defined divisions of power in the judicial, executive, and legislative branches," said Mr. Titov, a Democratic Russia supporter, and an early fan of Popov. "What we've got now are extremely strong executives in Russia and in Moscow," with little power in the legislative branch, he continued. "Popov is simply disregarding the wishes of the council." Titov also charged Popov with using his influence to redistribute property confiscated from the Communist Party to political allies such as former Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze, who along with the mayor is a leader of the Movement for Democratic Reform. Such an allegation is ridiculous, says Yelena Kotova, a Popov supporter who is a director of the state agency in charge of redistribution. Ms. Kotova, a municipal deputy, says many councils, including Moscow's, which has about 500 deputies, are too cumbersome for effective local government and must be streamlined, adding strong executives are needed for the time being. "You can't blame some deputies for resisting the mayor. It's natural to want to retain power and privileges. These disputes are all part of the natural evolution of democracy in Russia," she says.