In Name of Law and Order, Yeltsin Crushes Opposition
MOSCOW — THE sun is setting as Lt. Alexander Sverin straps on his bulletproof vest and grabs his submachine gun to start a not-so-ordinary night shift at a highway police post on Moscow's outskirts.
With the Russian capital now governed under a state of emergency, including an 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew, security forces are talking tough and taking no chances.
``During the curfew, we'll thoroughly search all cars for weapons and other contraband. All violators will be dealt with harshly,'' Lieutenant Sverin says at the Mozhaisk Highway post. ``There is a great danger of armed provocation.''
President Boris Yeltsin and military authorities say the state of emergency and curfew are needed to deal with the security threat that still exists in the capital. They have moved quickly to crush the remnants of opposition following the failed uprising by neo-Communists and ultranationalists, as anti-Yeltsin snipers hiding atop central Moscow buildings have been ruthlessly ``liquidated.'' No serious incidents were reported overnight yesterday.
But there are accusations that President Yeltsin and his supporters are abusing the state-of-emergency regulations, stretching the rules to eliminate opposition. Anti-Yeltsin newspapers and television programs have been suspended, and strict censorship was imposed on publications still operating. In addition, radical presidential supporters are pushing Yeltsin to strike against institutions that have opposed him, including the Constitutional Court and regional legislatures.
Yeltsin already has removed Russia's top prosecutor, Procurator-General Valentin Stepankov, who hesitated before supporting the president. And Constitutional Court Chairman Valery Zorkin, who was accused of backing anti-Yeltsin forces, announced yesterday that he would resign as chairman but remain on the court.
``There's very little opposition left,'' says Rachel Denber, a Moscow-based researcher with the Helsinki Watch human rights organization. ``Russian television is controlled by the government, so there's no outlet for freedom of expression. That's a reason for concern.''
Meanwhile, Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov appears to want to use the state of emergency to clear out the city of ``criminal elements,'' raising concerns about human rights violations. ``We can only hope it [the emergency rules] won't be used to blame non-Russians for problems in the capital,'' Ms. Denber says.
The mood at the highway post, however, would not allay concerns about rights abuses. Sverin says he would be especially tough on anyone of Transcaucasian nationality. Caucasians, such as Chechens and Azeris, are widely perceived as responsible for the rising crime and Mafia-like activity in the capital.
Moscow, a city of 10 million, also still requires residency permits - known as propiskas - that restrict the ability to move into the city. Mayor Luzhkov wants to evict all illegal residents and has asked Muscovites to inform police about permit-violators, the Interfax news agency said.
Luzhkov says the state of emergency will remain in force in Moscow for as long as necessary. Other officials have indicated it could end as soon as Oct. 10. As long as the state of emergency is in effect, military units will remain in the capital, defense officials say.
The Yeltsin administration yesterday came under fierce domestic criticism for strict censorship rules imposed on all publications -
even those largely sympathetic to the president's positions - the day before.
``It becomes clear that [censorship] was done to prevent analysis of extremely touchy problems, namely the wavering of the Army and other power ministries during the key moments of the Oct. 4 crisis,'' says Mikhail Berger, a respected commentator for the Izvestia daily. (The power ministries include the ministries of defense, interior, and security.)
The government yesterday announced the lifting of pre-publication censorship. But Russian television said censors now would review periodicals after they were printed. If objectionable material is found, the press run will be prevented from being distributed.
Acting Press and Information Minister Vladimir Shumeiko also told journalists they should practice self-censorship ``for the sake of ensuring tranquility and order,'' the Itar-Tass news agency said.
Newspapers, such as the liberal Nezavisimaya Gazeta, left blank spaces in their publications where censored articles would have appeared. One of four Nezavisimaya Gazeta items that was not approved for print yesterday was an editorial by editor Vitaly Tretiakov that criticized Yeltsin's handling of the crisis.
The editorial, obtained by the Monitor, placed partial blame on Yeltsin for the events, including the assault on Russia's White House. Mr. Tretiakov also condemned the censorship and suggested the Russian government was underreporting the death toll from the uprising to soften popular reaction to the use of force. Government officials say 150 have been confirmed killed in fighting at the White House and at the Ostankino television center.
Tretiakov also warned that the military's involvement in the political struggle between Yeltsin and former legislators could harm democracy's development in Russia.
``Having resolved the issue once, they [the Army] reserve the right to define the further development of events,'' he wrote.
Helsinki Watch's Denber says the suspension of opposition media, including the former Communist Party daily Pravda, could be counterproductive. ``It could force the opposition underground, making the situation much more intractable,'' she says. ``It's not solving a problem, but pushing it into a more unpredictable, and possibly violent, arena.''