Mayors of Moscow, Leningrad oppose celebrating the revolution this year

September 11, 1990|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,Moscow Bureau of The Sun

MOSCOW -- The mayors of Moscow and Leningrad called yesterday for cancelling the annual celebration of the Bolshevik Revolution this fall, saying either the traditional staged demonstration or counter-demonstrations could provoke serious disorder.

The appeal by Moscow's Gavriil K. Popov and Leningrad's Anatoly A. Sobchak marked both the sinking reputation of the revolution with the Soviet public and the volatile political atmosphere created by worsening shortages, lately including even bread.

"It's obvious to us that in 1990, the traditional celebration and traditional decorating of cities for November 7 is unacceptable," the two mayors wrote in an open letter to city councils throughout the Russian Federation.

"The entire current situation -- crisis in the economy, difficulties in gathering the harvest, shortages and lines -- does not lend itself to any sort of exultation," they wrote.

Mr. Popov told a press conference that "in the present situation, the celebration of the holiday sould be another chance for unrest, and we don't want this to happen."

As an alternative, Mr. Popov and Mr. Sobchak, both popular progressives who quit the Communist Party last summer, suggested that Russians spend the holiday planting bushes and insulating buildings for winter.

In a separate television interview, Mr. Sobchak said a state of emergency might have to be declared this fall and winter to stave off "a catastrophic explosion" while radical economic changes are beginning.

"Without tough executive power, democracy turns into chaos. And that's happening before our eyes," Mr. Sobchak said.

Also yesterday, Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev sent a telegram to republican and local leaders across the country warning against the danger of growing "lawlessness" reflected in everything from street crime to neglect of economic contract obligations.

Mr. Gorbachev warned that "legal nihilism" threatens "the decomposition of the system of legislative, executive and judicial power."

He has increasingly resorted to such urgent public appeals, most recently one demanding fulfillment of state orders for grain. But in the absence of a credible economic program, his telegrams may contribute more to the atmosphere of panic and anarchy than resolve it.

Today, Prime Minister Nikolai I. Ryzhkov is expected to present to the Soviet parliament the latest attempt by the leadership at a coherent economic reform plan.

But the run-up to the presentation has been marred by high-level bickering and confusion that is undermining public confidence as the Soviet Union tries to part with rigid central planning and create a market economy.

There have been two alternative plans: Mr. Ryzhkov's more cautious program, a revised version of the plan rejected by the lTC parliament last May; and a more radical plan, drawn up by young economists allied with Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin and reworked by a team headed by Gorbachev advisor Stanislav Shatalin.

The country's most popular politicians, including Mr. Yeltsin, Mr. Popov and Mr. Sobchak, all have demanded the resignation of Mr. Ryzhkov, the rejection of his program and the adoption of the Shatalin plan.

But Mr. Gorbachev, wary that the prime minister's resignation could destabilize the country, has insisted that the two plans be combined and that Mr. Ryzhkov stay on.

Thus Mr. Ryzhkov is expected today to present a hybrid plan. But combining the two schemes -- likened by Mr. Yeltsin to mating a hedgehog with a snake -- did not work entirely, officials said yesterday. So key questions about prices and timing reportedly will be left to the union parliament and republican parliaments to resolve.

It is precisely this atmosphere of disarray, and the public's deep disillusionment with both the Communist system and with halting attempts to replace it, that prompted the mayors' letter concerning the Nov. 7 anniversary.

Rivalled only by New Year's and May Day as Soviet holidays, Revolution Day has been marked by a military parade followed by a staged "workers' demonstration" on Red Square. The Communist Party Politburo has stood atop Lenin's Mausoleum looking on.

But last Nov. 7, the traditional celebration was upstaged by a counter-march of about 10,000 people who were kept away from Red Square only by a massive troop presence.

For this year's May 1 celebration, the radical new Moscow City Council under Mr. Popov, allowed counter-demonstrators onto Red Square. Faced with acerbic anti-Communist posters and chants, Mr. Gorbachev and the other leaders stalked off the mausoleum, provoking cries of "Resign!"

A telephone poll of 600 Muscovites conducted in April and repeated in May and August showed a steadily declining public image for the October Revolution. (It is so-called because it took place October 25 by the old calendar, November 7 by the new calendar.)

Between April and August, the proportion of people ranking the revolution "positive" or "somewhat positive" fell from 49 percent to 39 percent, according to Sotseksi, a private polling firm.

Those ranking it "negative" or "somewhat negative" rose from 38 percent to 49 percent.

The same poll documents a steady rise in popularity for Mr. Yeltsin, a slight decline for Mr. Gorbachev and a sharp decline for Mr. Ryzhkov.

Of the 600 respondents in the August poll by Sotseksi, the percentage giving the various leaders either a 4 or 5 on a five-point scale were as follows: 78 percent for Mr. Yeltsin, 70 percent for Mr. Sobchak, 59 percent for Mr. Popov, 47 percent for Mr. Gorbachev and 23 percent for Mr. Ryzhkov.

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