Precinct near Kremlin displays its skepticism

March 18, 1991|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,Moscow Bureau of The Sun

MOSCOW -- President Gorbachev: Precinct 5, Sverdlovsk District, Moscow, has a message for you and your promise of a renewed Soviet Union:

Forget it.

In this little slice of the capital, skeptical young technocrats outvoted nervous pensioners yesterday and rejected Mikhail S. Gorbachev's plea for the preservation of the Soviet Union. They overwhelmingly endorsed direct elections for the Russian Federation president and for Moscow's mayor.

Precisely at 10 p.m. last night, the doors to the Glinka Museum of Musical Culture were locked, and volunteers on the second floor dumped ballots from wooden boxes onto three desks. An hour later, the results were counted: 719 against the union; 83 void, mostly because voters abstained by crossing out both yes and no; 573 for the union.

"I'm very pleased with my voters," said Vyacheslav A. Kabakov, 43, rubbing his hands together as the "No" pile grew and grew. A pilot-turned-politician and reformist member of the district soviet, governing council, Mr. Kabakov was present to see that there were no shenanigans with the count.

Precinct 5 is a minuscule pinch from the Soviet pie, fewer than 2,000 voters from approximately 200 million nationwide. But until results from the whole country become available late today or tomorrow, it sounds a preliminary note of caution from the heart of the Soviet empire.

In a way, the vote was breathtaking: A well-educated group of voters who live a mile from the Kremlin rejected the continued existence of their own country. Using their right to vote in real elections, returned to them by Mr. Gorbachev just two years ago, they rejected his vision of reform as insufficiently radical.

"I'm not against the union, but I'm against the dictatorship of the center," said Alexander Platkov, 41, an economist for a printing works.

"Even if there's a no vote, the union won't disappear overnight. We're stuck with each other anyway -- we won't fly away to Switzerland or France. But the center dictating everything is unacceptable."

But Mr. Platkov said he tried and failed to persuade his 68-year-old mother to vote against the union.

"She said, 'I've been living all my life in the union, and I don't want to stop now,' " he said.

MA That pattern held during interviews: Elderly voters generally

backed the union while younger people usually said they wanted more independence for the republics.

On the first floor, voters lined up at a snack bar loaded with pastries, a Soviet election day tradition designed to boost turnout -- which was 73 percent at Precinct 5.

On the second floor, as they filed through curtained voting booths to decide the fate of the Soviet Union, recorded American music, from Frank Sinatra standards to a choir singing hymns, kept their spirits up.

"I voted for the union," said Anna S. Klebnova, 66, a retired factory technician. "Take a single twig, and it's easy to break. But tie a bundle of twigs into a broom, and you can sweep and it won't break. That's why we have to stick together."

That argument held no water for Vladimir F. Nekhayev, 50, who just retired after working 25 years in Moscow's subway tunnels.

"It's really a vote on preservation of the old [Communist] Party policy," he said. "I think Gorbachev has outlasted his time."

But 79-year-old Sarafima Pavlovna, who refused to give her last name, said she trusts Mr. Gorbachev -- and voted for his union.

A no vote, she said, could lead to civil war. For her, she said, civil war was not just a phrase but a memory from the last one, after the 1917 Revolution.

"I was little, but I remember the hunger and the cold," she said.

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