Soviet official's daughter denounces his prosecution as human rights issue

September 16, 1991|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,Moscow Bureau of The Sun

MOSCOW -- The story sounds dismally familiar in this long-suffering land where power for centuries has held sway over law:

Four black Volga sedans speed up to a house outside Moscow in the middle of the night. Ten agents burst in and arrest a man whose politics conflict with those of the leadership. For three days his family cannot get authorities to tell them where he is being held. Now the family is convinced that a political show trial awaits him.

But this time there is a difference. The story is being told by Yelena A. Lukyanova, the 33-year-old lawyer who is the daughter of Anatoly I. Lukyanov, chairman of the Soviet parliament and the ultimate Kremlin insider. He is charged with masterminding the plot to unseat his law-school classmate and mentor, Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev.

The tables have been turned in Soviet politics. Now it is the Communists' turn to talk about human rights. And now it is the Soviet public's and the world's obligation to decide whether the Communists' complaints are false and cynical or merit investigation.

"My father figures that in a society where the Communist Party is being banned and Communists are being persecuted, it makes sense that he would be in prison," Ms. Lukyanova said.

"He says they cannot prove any crime against him -- certainly not 'betrayal of the fatherland' [with which he is charged]. So if he's convicted, it will be for his political beliefs. He's not a criminal. He's a political prisoner."

Ms. Lukyanova and her husband, Konstantin Tokmakov, gave their account of Mr. Lukyanov's behavior during the coup, his arrest and imprisonment in a three-hour interview with The Sun last night in their central Moscow apartment.

The spacious sixth-floor apartment they share with their 14-year-old son, Volodya, in a well-maintained building on a quiet street was a reminder of the privileged life of Moscow's nomenklatura -- the political elite.

Both Ms. Lukyanova and her husband, a mid-level bureaucrat in the Moscow city government, were Communist Party members until the party's activities were suspended after last month's failed coup.

But their privilege is only relative to the miserable living standard of most Russians. Only in Moscow, among world capitals, could an imported microwave oven seem such a striking luxury.

It is not surprising that Mr. Lukyanov's daughter and son-in-law believe that he is not guilty. Yet their tale is intriguing for its glimpse of the life of a Soviet leader. And some of the questions they raise bear pondering as the Soviet political culture, never steeped in democracy or justice, lurches away from Communist totalitarianism toward sometimes-strident anti-Communism.

Both Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin and Russian Prime Minister Ivan S. Silayev have publicly accused Mr. Lukyanov of being the coup's "chief ideologist." A number of parliamentary deputies have testified that during the coup, Mr. Lukyanov's statements were at best ambiguous, at worst clearly in support of the coup.

In his two years as deputy chairman and then chairman of the Supreme Soviet, Mr. Lukyanov, 61, earned a mixed reputation. It was as mixed as that of Mr. Gorbachev, whom he first got to know in the early 1950s in the law department of Moscow State University, where the two men lived in the same dormitory and collaborated as activists in the Komsomol, or Young Communist League.

In his role of parliamentary speaker, he was often accused of maneuvering to block radical change. But Mr. Lukyanov unquestionably played a central role in the passing of 130 laws since 1989 that reshaped the country, including those guaranteeing freedom of press and religion and moving toward a market economy.

Ms. Lukyanova said her father first heard that something unusual was happening in Moscow at about 5 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 18. He, his wife, Lyudmila, a prominent pharmacologist, and their daughter and her family were vacationing together at a lake resort 250 miles northwest of Moscow.

Mr. Lukyanov and his wife returned from a day of fishing and mushroom-picking as rain began to fall. The special telephone line temporarily installed in their vacation house began to ring incessantly, including at least one call from Soviet Prime Minister Valentin S. Pavlov.

"Something's going on in Moscow, but I can't tell you what's happening -- I don't understand myself," his daughter recalled Mr. Lukyanov saying to her. "The situation is serious. I should be at my post."

She remembered his saying that a plane had been sent south to the Crimea to bring Mr. Gorbachev back to Moscow. She said he gave no hint of believing that the Soviet president was in poor physical health, as coup leaders said at the time.

The family watched Mr. Lukyanov depart in a government helicopter and later tuned in "Vremya," the 9 p.m. television news program. The broadcast gave no hint of the brewing crisis.

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