Gorbachev demands new control of media reformists react with outrage

January 17, 1991|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,Moscow Bureau of The Sun

MOSCOW -- President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, enraged by press criticism of the Soviet army assault in Lithuania, stunned the parliament yesterday by calling for a return to control of the media, just months after censorship was officially ended.

"I support the Suprme Soviet's taking control of all radio and television channels and all newspapers, so that all points of view get included," Mr. Gorbachev said. He proposed that the new Law on the Press, which took effect Aug. 1, be suspended, but later said he would not insist on the suspension.

Reformist deputies were horrified, and the U.S. State Department said a return to state control of the press would be "a step in the wrong direction."

"The only thing we've achieved since 1985 [when Mr. Gorbachev came to power] is relative freedom of the press," said Genrikh Igityan, a deputy from Armenia. "So I think what Mikhail Sergeyevich proposed is simply unacceptable."

"I remind the president that we suspended freedom of the press once before, in 1918, and for 73 years we couldn't put it back into force," said a Russian writer, Yuri Karyakin.

The Supreme Soviet subsequently voted to have its committee on the press and the parliamentary leadership study how to ensure press objectivity.

As several hundred thousand people turned out yesterday for the funeral of the victims of Sunday's army attack in Vilnius, the political aftershock of the violence continued to rock the Soviet Union.

In Riga, Latvia, a "black beret" Ministry of Internal Affairs serviceman shot and killed the driver of a government van on a bridge near a military base, the parliament's information said. The motive for the killing was not clear.

"The violence by the black berets is the most destabilizing factor in Latvia at the moment," said Latvian President Anatolijs Gorbunovs. He said the republican leadership had decided for now not to remove makeshift barricades guarding the parliament from a possible Soviet attack.

In the reformist weekly Moscow News, 30 leading intellectuals -- including Mr. Gorbachev's top two economic advisers and the mayor and deputy mayor of Moscow -- denounced the Vilnius assault as "the crime of a regime that doesn't want to leave the scene."

The declaration said that "the last hour of the regime is near." After Mr. Gorbachev justified the killing in Vilnius Monday, it said, "almost nothing remains" of such oft-pronounced Gorbachevian principles as "human socialism," "new thinking" and "common European home."

Stanislav S. Shatalin, until now a top economic adviser to Mr. Gorbachev along with co-signer Nikolai Petrakov, declared in an interview with the newspaper that he was "no longer a player on the president's team."

Vadim A. Bakatin, a past Gorbachev ally, dismissed as Minister of Internal Affairs recently at the demand of conservatives, told Komsomolskaya Pravda he was baffled by Mr. Gorbachev's retroactive approval of the army's attack, which he said contradicted the principles of reform.

It was the package of Moscow News articles on the Vilnius events that so infuriated Mr. Gorbachev.

But much of the media, under heavy pressure, continued to give the official view of the assault on Lithuanian broadcast facilities: that it was necessary to stop "anti-Soviet and anti-army propaganda."

The evening news program "Vremya" (Time) spoke of the Lithuanian victims as "killed in battle," though witnesses say that all or nearly all of them were unarmed. The program also carried a Defense Ministry denial that anyone was crushed by a tank -- despite grisly photographs in the Lithuanian press of a man's body under the treads of a tank.

A televised tribute to the 160 paratroopers who seized the Vilnius broadcasting tower, filmed by the popular Leningrad TV journalist Alexander Nevzorov, called for statues of the paratroopers, who Mr. Navzorov said had "saved Lithuania." Omitting any shots of the actual assault and accompanied by heroic Wagnerian music, the film had a militaristic, Russian-nationalist tone, suggesting that the troops were protecting Slavs from Lithuanian discrimination.

Among the growing number of protests against the army violence in Lithuania, which left 15 dead and 163 injured, was a one-day strike by the national weather service, cutting the usual forecasts from radio and TV broadcasts. Dozens of other institutions, mostly scientific research institutes in Moscow and Leningrad, also staged walkouts.

Coal miners in the Kuzbass region of western Siberia said they would strike beginning tomorrow to demand the withdrawal of troops from the Baltic states and the resignation of President Gorbachev.

Leaders of Democratic Russia, a broad coalition of reformist forces, called for a major rally in Moscow Sunday to stand up against dictatorship. Historian Yuri N. Afanasyev said the demonstration would be "anti-Gorbachev" in character.

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