Soviets at odds on role of party in armed forces

October 04, 1990|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,Moscow Bureau of The Sun

MOSCOW -- A fierce debate over the Communist Party's continuing control of the armed forces, KGB and police came to a head yesterday in the Soviet parliament, blocking passage of a landmark bill giving a legal basis to the new multiparty system.

Many deputies argued that the party units that have traditionally overseen every move of the army and security services must be dissolved and party activity banned to prevent party bosses from using troops to preserve their power.

"The army should be outside politics," declared Col. Vilen A. Martirosyan, 50, one of a group of progressive army officers in the parliament. "We have a military oath. We have rules. Why do we need party rules and membership in a party?"

But the military brass and Communist conservatives said that any party ban would violate human rights, undermine discipline in the armed forces and destabilize society.

Marshal Sergei F. Akhromeyev, 67, President Mikhail S. Gorbachev's top military adviser, said that for better or worse, party organizations have for decades "penetrated all the activity of the armed forces."

"They are now really an inseparable structural part of the armed forces," he said. "If today we with a wave of the hand, in some two or three months, liquidate these structures, it will be the same as when we liquidated the command-administrative system of managing the economy and created nothing to replace it. . . . That we cannot in any case do."

Three variants have been proposed for the controversial Article 16 of the Law on Public Organizations:

* To require that a person suspend all "political activity" while in the armed forces or law enforcement organs.

* To ban formal party organizations inside the army, police and KGB while permitting individuals' political activity after hours.

* To postpone any change until separate laws are drafted to regulate the military and police organs. None of the proposals has received the necessary majority.

After a second day of discussion failed to resolve the question, the Law on Public Organizations was returned to committee late yesterday for another attempt at compromise. The law is designed mainly to regulate the activity of the political parties that have appeared since the Communist Party's monopoly on power was dropped from the constitution in March.

The question of the party's role in the army is far from purely theoretical.

In the last few weeks, the movement of large numbers of troops into the Moscow area, equipped with riot-control gear and for a time on military alert, set off speculation about the possibility that authorities were planning for a military coup or other crackdown.

Despite repeated denials from Defense Minister Dmitry T. Yazov and other top officials, who say the soldiers are helping pick potatoes and practicing for the Nov. 7 Revolution Day parade, many parliamentary deputies flatly reject that explanation.

The deputies, citing reports from renegade officers, say the troops are on hand to defend Communist Party interests against other political groups and an angry population.

At least three issues provide possible flash points for conflict over the Communist Party's role in the military in the near future:

* The Nov. 7 celebration of the 1917 Revolution. The radical mayors of Moscow and Leningrad have appealed to the public not to support any demonstrations that day, while the Communist Party leadership issued an opposite appeal yesterday. A counterdemonstration is likely, with potential for clashes in the presence of thousands of troops.

* Economic reform. The "500-day" plan for transition to a market economy, approved in principle in the Russian Federation, calls for slashing defense spending 20 percent. It would bring to an abrupt end the privileged position of the huge defense industry in Soviet society.

* The military draft. The autumn draft is getting under way in the face of strong anti-draft movements across the country, particularly in the non-Russian republics. Many anti-Communist political parties are actively encouraging young men not to sign up for what they consider an occupying army.

President Gorbachev recently ordered the political units in the armed forces reorganized, apparently with a view to preparing them for a multiparty system. But the new political units, ironically, have become a haven for former officials of the Communist Party Central Committee.

The newspaper Argumenti i Fakti lists 17 Central Committee officials who have moved to the armed forces political units in recent weeks -- hardly evidence of the "de-party-ization" of the army, as it is called here.

The relationship of the KGB to the party is, if anything, even more problematic. One deputy said yesterday that she had been approached by several KGB officers who told her they could not effectively fight organized crime because party bosses interfere with probes to prevent from being implicated themselves.

But historian Roy A. Medvedev warned against too hasty a decision. He said that Josef V. Stalin had stripped the party of any control over the NKVD, the predecessor of the KGB, during much of his rule, to be able more ruthlessly to purge his opponents in the party. Thus the party at times has exercised some positive control over the secret police, he said.

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