Bitterness tempers hopes of Russia's first-time voters

June 13, 1991|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,Moscow Bureau of The Sun

BYKOVO, U.S.S.R. -- An ancient reel-to-reel tape recorder pumped out fuzzy Soviet rock-and-roll at the Bykovo House of Culture yesterday as most of this village's 1,234 voters made history by trooping to the polls to pick a president.

Women in white smocks sold grape juice in paper cups, slices of sausage on black bread and cookies. Eighteen-year-olds voting for the first time were given carnations and paperback detective novels to celebrate the occasion.

But there was no general sense of celebration, no feeling of victory from a people exorcising a heritage of despotism and paternalism. Villagers voted in the first popular election of a national leader in Russia's 1,000-year statehood with as much bitterness and anxiety as hope.

"Personally, if you ask me, we didn't have to start with this," said Anatoly P. Pyzhov, 41, the distinguished-looking, mustachioed chairman of Precinct 2223. "Sure, it will be interesting to see how political forces match up in the country. But look at the disorder we have now. We should have fixed the economy first, then tried politics."

As elsewhere across the Russian Federation, Bykovo cast most of its votes for the anti-Communist reformism of Boris N. Yeltsin: 628 votes or 58 percent for Mr. Yeltsin, compared with 118 or 11 percent for former Soviet Prime Minister Nikolai I. Ryzhkov, the next biggest vote-getter, Mr. Pyzhov said by telephone last night.

It will not be known at least until today whether Mr. Yeltsin, chairman of the Russian parliament, got the 50 percent-plus necessary overall to defeat the other five candidates outright and avoid a runoff.

A convincing win for Mr. Yeltsin would have more political significance than might appear. Though he already has headed the republic's parliament for a year, he was directly elected only by the voters of Sverdlovsk in the Urals. A broad endorsement from most of the 104 millionvoters of the biggest Soviet republic would greatly strengthen his hand in his rivalry with unelected Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev.

And if Mr. Yeltsin's fellow ex-Communist allies Gavriil K. Popov and Anatoly A. Sobchak win the mayoral posts in Moscow and Leningrad, respectively, market-oriented democrats will have received an indisputable mandate for radical change.

In Bykovo, voters responded more to Mr. Yeltsin's rejection of Communist ideology than to his advocacy of a market economy. He repeatedly was called "an honest man" and "a fighter."

"Boris Nikolaevich was a man not afraid to take a stand against the partocratia, the party bosses. He was not afraid to destroy the system," said Vladimir V. Khodov, 45, a technician at the Central Station for Artificial Insemination of Livestock, where most people here work.

And as for Mr. Ryzhkov, a Communist technocrat who says he'd move more slowly to a market economy? "He already showed what he could do -- and it wasn't much," Mr. Khodov said. "But to tell you the truth, I think it was the system that was at fault and not Ryzhkov."

"Yeltsin will get the most votes here," accurately predicted Nikolai V. Vlasov, 33, a former policemanelected last year to chair the village soviet (governing council). "But a lot of people don't really believe in anybody."

Just one in 100,000 Russian voters lives in Bykovo, an hour's drive into the lush countryside south of Moscow. It may be risky to draw conclusions here about the mood of an area that stretches from the Baltic Sea to the Sea of Japan.

But voting in Bykovo were a diverse lot: Ph.D. geneticists from the livestock breeding center and simple state-farm laborers, hunchbacked babushkas and punked-out teens.

A poster on the front of the House of Culture announced an old-fashioned class for teen-age girls on how to prepare for marriage: "You'll gain confidence in yourself, learn secrets of attractiveness, build your arsenal of 'little feminine tricks.' "

Lounging on the steps, as if in ironic counterpoint, were the long-haired members of Bykovo's own heavy-metal rock band, Bir Manat -- the Kazakh word for ruble.

People voting for Mr. Yeltsin often said, "He's our last chance" or "He's our only hope."

Some credited him with making it far easier to get a patch of private land on which to grow vegetables or potatoes. Others seemed to have only the vaguest idea of his program; one wrinkled old woman said she hadheard he would cut the price of a kilogram of smoked sausage from 40 rubles to 8 rubles. (In

fact, he advocates a gradual freeing of prices.)

But most people seemed puzzled and shaken by the disappearance of food and goods from the stores. They remembered with wonder how in 1980 and 1981, refrigerators and TV sets were freely for sale in the village store. They spoke of food supplies during the Brezhnev years with the same reverence that they spoke of the fabled supermarkets of America.

Asked what food is freely available today, Mr. Vlasov, the soviet chairman, replied: "Bread, more or less. Everything else is rationed."

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