Soviet congress snubs Gorbachev reform plan Session extended in drive for passage THE SOVIET CRISIS

September 05, 1991|By Kathy Lally | Kathy Lally,Moscow Bureau of The Sun

MOSCOW -- Obstructionist legislators threw the future of the Soviet government into grave doubt yesterday when they refused to accept a radical restructuring proposed by Mikhail S. Gorbachev to lead the nation away from chaos.

Despite putting his considerable political skills to work, President Gorbachev failed to persuade the necessary two-thirds of the 2,000-member Congress of People's Deputies to vote for a plan to set up a transitional government.

If the measure had passed, the deputies would have been throwing themselves out of office and stripping themselves of official privileges as their authority was supplanted by a new state council.

But Mr. Gorbachev gave no sign of giving up. He said amendments would be accepted during the night for a "final" proposal that would be submitted today as the congress' session went into an extra day.

Perhaps offering a display of the options left to him, Mr. Gorbachev reportedly will not ask the congress to vote on independence for the Baltics. Instead, his advisers said that he intends to grant independence by presidential decree, possibly today.

Yesterday, he did his utmost to control the unwieldy legislators. He sent them out twice for long recesses. He limited the time conservatives could talk. He allowed only a few amendments to be submitted.

The proposal, worked out by Mr. Gorbachev, Russia's President Boris N. Yeltsin and the leaders of nine other republics, would have established a temporary council to govern the country until a new constitution was approved. The council would be made up of the Soviet president and the presidents of the republics.

Now, the future is more unclear than ever. The central government has effectively lost all authority, and nothing has been created to serve in its place.

At this point the congress seems more likely to destroy itself by inaction than by a vote because Mr. Gorbachev has threatened to take on the powers he wants by virtue of decree, if he does not get them through legislation.

Yesterday, the congress' conservatives were out in force, apparentlyhoping to salvage something from the collapse of the Communist Party and the Soviet Union. The debate produced angry exchanges.

Some opponents likened the Gorbachev proposal to what the Bolsheviks did when they took power and dissolved the fledgling Constituent Assembly in 1918.

"People will not forgive us," Col. Viktor Alksnis, a member of the conservative Soyuz group, told the congress.

Other legislators accused Mr. Gorbachev of dismissing them like schoolchildren when he called a four-hour recess in an attempt to work out compromises and to avoid "drowning in debate."

"You're insulting us," furious deputies said.

"If you behave like that," Mr. Gorbachev responded, "it won't make our work any easier."

The democratic forces also made their arguments. Deputy Galina Starovoitova urged her colleagues to face the future gracefully. She asked them to take the "historic chance to begin the construction of a new community of nations in a bloodless, civilized and peaceful manner."

While the congress at first accepted Mr. Gorbachev's proposal in principle, he was unable to win the two-thirds vote he needed for passage.

The fractious mood of the country was in evidence once again when Sverdlosk voted to restore its original name of Yekaterinburg.

The city, named after Czarina Catherine I, was renamed Sverdlovsk in honor of one of the men who ordered the shooting there of Czar Nicholas II and his family in 1918.

The name change for the city, in the Urals, would require $H approval from the Russian parliament.

Sverdlovsk follows the lead of Leningrad, which wants its name restored to St. Petersburg. That change also awaits legislative approval.

The Congress of People's Deputies also went through the formality yesterday of officially firing Anatoly I. Lukyanov, former chairman of the Supreme Soviet, and Vice President Gennady I. Yanayev, both of whom already are in jail in connection with the failed coup of two weeks ago.

The Soviet Interior Ministry said that the wife of Boris K. Pugo, the former interior minister who committed suicide after the coup failed, had died. She tried to kill herself after her husband shot himself.

Tass, the official news agency, reported yesterday that the new KGBchief, Vadim A. Bakatin, has given Sweden five KGB documents relating to the disappearance of Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat.

Mr. Wallenberg, who helped save thousands of Jews from Nazi concentration camps, disappeared from Budapest, Hungary, in 1945. The Soviets say he died soon afterward, but there have been persistent reports of him being sighted in Soviet prisons.

"These documents do not, unfortunately, throw full light on this case," Mr. Bakatin told Tass.

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