Communist Party challenges Yeltsin through courts

July 05, 1992|By Will Englund | Will Englund,Moscow Bureau

MOSCOW -- The Communist Party is unlikely to regain its former position here, but a forthcoming court ruling on its banishment could cause President Boris N. Yeltsin a lot of trouble if it goes against him.

At stake are billions of dollars worth of property, seized by the government, and even, some aides worry, the president's job itself.

Thirty-seven legislators have sued Mr. Yeltsin, arguing that he had no legal standing when he banned the Communist Party after last August's failed coup by hard-liners in the party, military and KGB.

The suit is scheduled to be argued Tuesday before Russia's Constitutional Court.

Sergei Shakrai, a former Yeltsin aide who is leading the president's defense, said he doubts that, even if the Communist Party wins, it could actually resume power. But, he said, it seems clear that the party is doing all it can "to slam the door on the way out."

Mr. Yeltsin's defense is that the party held an extraordinary position in Russian life -- that it acted as the right arm of the government and that at the same time it looted that government of many millions of dollars. He moved against it, according to this argument, not as a political association but as a predatory wielder of power.

"We do not ban you for your ideology," Gennady Burbulis, the Russian state secretary, said yesterday. "We do not prosecute you for your philosophical ideas."

But, he continued, it was necessary to "neutralize the structures" that existed alongside the government. And he argued that Mr. Yeltsin had every right to do so.

The government released a study yesterday that said that the party had taken more than $750 million from the government between 1981 and 1991. Additionally, the party owned thousands of office buildings, vacation retreats, sanitariums and hospitals across the Soviet Union.

Mr. Yeltsin's lawyers argue that because the party was really a part of the governing structure, the seizure of its assets wasn't a confiscation but merely the government taking back what was rightfully its own property.

The case has led to several ironies. One is that the pro-Communists who brought the suit now argue that the party leadership -- the Politburo -- could not possibly be considered an arm of the state precisely because it was so unrepresentative of the Russian people.

The official Communist Party doesn't amount to much now. A semi-secret congress of the party was held yesterday in the town of Pushkino, about 20 miles outside Moscow, but party leaders stayed away, and local authorities felt it was not worth their while to shut the congress down. About 90 people showed up.

But party bureaucrats still fill the offices of government and state enterprises, and their influence is considerable.

Some of Mr. Yeltsin's aides worry that if he loses the case, it will bring immediate calls for his ouster and a possible summoning of the Russian Congress of People's Deputies, a powerful body that is full of Communists and that nearly tripped Mr. Yeltsin up in April, when it last met.

Konstantin Nikolaev, a member of the Communist Party's Central Committee, says that Mr. Yeltsin's arguments are nothing more than a lot of "Communist-baiting."

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