Gorbachev introduces 'crisis' plan Rules would restrict strikes, local officials

April 10, 1991|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,Moscow Bureau of The Sun

MOSCOW -- President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, fighting for his political survival, unveiled yesterday a program of severe measures, including dismissal of local officials who disobey Moscow's orders and a moratorium until the end of the year on all strikes and demonstrations during working hours.

Though many of its details remained obscure, Mr. Gorbachev's "anti-crisis program" seemed to combine a swift introduction of market forces in the economy with authoritarian measures to preserve political stability. The plan, reminiscent of the "Chilean model" of former military ruler Augusto Pinochet that is being widely debated here, will be presented to the Soviet parliament next week.

But the program faced immediate challenges from a declaration of independence in the republic of Georgia and from strikes spreading into industry from coal mines.

"We face danger to our statehood, to the Soviet federation," the 60-year-old Soviet leader told the Federation Council, made up of the top representatives of the republics, in one of his most somber addresses to date.

"There is the danger of economic collapse, with all the ensuing consequences for the interests of our people and the defense capability of our state. There is the danger of paralysis of the institutions of power and law and order.

"Putting aside our feuds, we must act, so as not to permit the country to careen into catastrophe," he told the republican leaders.

The Soviet government said yesterday that production was plummeting and that national income dropped 12 percent in the first quarter of the year. Many economists have predicted a sharp drop in living standards this year, as the old planned economy falls into disarray and private enterprise grows slowly to take its place.

Citing the March 17 referendum, in which 58 percent of all eligible voters supported the preservation of the Soviet Union, Mr. Gorbachev said he would take "decisive measures" to prevent the breakup of the Soviet state. He said republics that refused to sign a new union treaty would be required to pay hard currency to the union for raw materials.

"We must not permit under the banner of democracy . . . processes to develop that strike a blow against sovereignty, against the entire union state and against democracy, and put in doubt our whole course toward reform," he said.

There were immediate doubts that such a program as Mr. Gorbachev proposed could work, even if backed up by the army and the KGB, which are under his control.

As Mr. Gorbachev was declaring that the people had endorsed the integrity of the Soviet Union, the parliament in Georgia unanimously approved its independence declaration. Georgia LTC and five other republics refused to participate in the March 17 union referendum, and on March 31 more than 90 percent of eligible voters in Georgia endorsed independence.

President Zviad Gamsakhurdia acknowledged that there was a difference between "legal declaration of independence" and actual achievement of "liberation from the empire," as the three Baltic republics have found. But the declaration, timed for the second anniversary of Soviet soldiers' attack on peaceful demonstrators in Tbilisi, the Georgian capital, nonetheless represents another challenge to Mr. Gorbachev and his vision of a united Soviet state.

As Mr. Gorbachev proposed the strike moratorium, thousands of workers in Byelorussia staged a three-hour warning strike and prepared for a general strike and rally today. Like the 300,000 striking coal miners, who refused an offer last week to double their pay, the workers in the republic's capital of Minsk are demanding the resignations of Mr. Gorbachev, Prime Minister Valentin S. Pavlov and his government and the Soviet parliament.

Though Mr. Gorbachev said strict control had to be exercised over state spending to trim the gaping deficit, he insisted that defense and law enforcement spending be kept up and that such costly measures as indexing wages to inflation be initiated.

He pledged to stop the "war of laws" between Soviet lawmakers and republican parliaments. But his major challenger in this regard, Russian Federation leader Boris N. Yeltsin, just received expanded powers from his parliament and the chance to boost his authority by running for a popularly elected presidency in June.

Mr. Gorbachev made a positive reference to Mr. Yeltsin's appeal last week for dialogue and cooperation between Soviet and Russian officials. But he did not address Mr. Yeltsin's call for round-table talks and formation of a coalition government. Many economists and political analysts here doubt Mr. Gorbachev's ability to carry out tough economic reforms, both because of the tremendous pressure on him from the military, KGB and ministerial bureaucracy and because his popularity has sunk to near zero.

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