Clash brews over Soviet anniversary Leadership attempts to halt Nov. 7 protest

November 02, 1990|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,Moscow Bureau of The Sun

MOSCOW -- The Soviet leadership headed for confrontation with democratic and anti-Communist forces yesterday by calling for cancellation of all unofficial demonstrations on Wednesday, when Communists will mark the 73rd anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution.

The decree of the Presidium of the U.S.S.R. Supreme Soviet -- issued without a vote by the parliament itself -- came despite plans for several anti-Communist alternative demonstrations, including one led by a number of parliamentary deputies.

The decree does not use the word "ban," rather saying it is "inadvisable" to hold demonstrations and "recommending" to demonstration organizers that they cancel them. It was unclear whether the government would order police and troops to break up rallies other than the staged "demonstration of the working people" annually organized by the Communist Party.

President Mikhail S. Gorbachev said he backed the order, and it appeared certain that he was among its initiators, though he is not a member of the Presidium. He said that for him, Nov. 7 is "the most important holiday" and a "sacred tradition."

He said the Soviet leadership is "against permitting on this day demonstrations against the government -- anti-Soviet, anti-revolution demonstrations."

"I consider this point of view is in the interests of our people -- at least its overwhelming majority," he said. "Those who want to go out on the streets, let them go out and demonstrate, but at another time. On the holiday to go out in order to create a conflict -- this makes us wonder again: What are the goals of the organizers of these actions? I think it's not useful to the idea of consolidation."

Anatoly I. Lukyanov, Presidium chairman, said the decree was motivated by "concern over the safety of citizens" and meant to prevent "conflicts or clashes."

He said alternative demonstrations could be rescheduled for any day other than Nov. 7 or Nov. 8. But activists and some Moscow officials insisted that rallies would go ahead as planned.

Earlier yesterday, about 50 Moscow students began a 24-hour "warning" hunger strike outside the Kremlin, demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Nikolai I. Ryzhkov's government. They also were seeking nationalization of Communist Party and Communist Youth League property; an end to Communist control of the army, police and KGB security agency; and the creation of an alternative to military service.

With a few exceptions, Soviet students have remained passive and apathetic during the stormy street politics of the last three years. But in a sharp turnaround this month, a hunger strike by students in Kiev forced the resignation of Ukrainian Prime Minister Vitaly Masol.

Mr. Gorbachev showed yesterday that he takes the threat of student protests seriously by meeting for four hours with a few dozen carefully selected students. Unlike the shaggy-haired hunger strikers outside, the clean-cut students invited to meet the president seemed to have few political concerns and mainly asked for bigger stipends and increased funding for higher education.

Mr. Gorbachev also took the time to receive a group of parents of soldiers who have died in non-combat situations in recent years, some as a result of hazing or interethnic conflict. The parents' group had threatened to lie down in front of the tanks as they approached Red Square Nov. 7.

Last year, in addition to the usual official parade and march, Nov. 7 was marked by a counterdemonstration of about 10,000 people who were prevented from entering Red Square but permitted to rally elsewhere in the city.

On the May 1 holiday, the usual Communist "demonstrators" carrying pre-printed signs were followed by thousands of anti-Communist protesters, who jeered and yelled "Resign!" as Mr. Gorbachev and other Soviet leaders stalked off the reviewing stand atop V. I. Lenin's mausoleum.

The dispute over how to mark Revolution Day this year began Sept. 10, when Moscow Mayor Gavriil K. Popov and Leningrad Mayor Anatoly A. Sobchak proposed canceling the traditional "demonstration" and limiting the event to a single military parade in Moscow.

But Mr. Gorbachev ordered military parades in Moscow and every republican capital. The Moscow Communist Party said it would go ahead with the usual pro-revolution demonstration, though in a less staged, more spontaneous way.

A dozen other groups applied for permission to hold counter-rallies, notably a group of radical deputies including activist Galina Starovoitova, former corruption investigator Telman Gdlyan and former KGB Gen. Oleg Kalugin. Their demonstration is meant to be a protest against "Communist genocide."

The anti-revolution feeling in Moscow, however, is mild compared to that in many other republics, where anti-communism is often tinged with nationalism.

The Estonian parliament has voted to ban any military parade, despite Mr. Gorbachev's order to the contrary, and conflict over planned parades is likely in many other cities. Lvov and Ternopol in the Western Ukraine have declared Nov. 7 and Nov. 8 ordinary working days.

Alexei Blennikov, 21, a Moscow Aviation Institute student participating in the hunger strike yesterday, said he considered the 1917 Revolution "a tragedy for Russia that held up normal development for decades and cost many lives."

He said most students are unwilling to join political actions. "They've learned apathy for 70 years," he said.

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