Gorbachev's defiance of court creates a constitutional crisis he calls 'comedy'

October 01, 1992|By Will Englund | Will Englund,Moscow Bureau

MOSCOW -- Mikhail S. Gorbachev may soon find himself LTC hauled into court by an irritated judge who happens to think that no Russian is above the law.

Citing "moral reasons," the former Soviet leader has refused to testify in the long-running, landmark case of the Communist Party now being heard in Russia's Constitutional Court.

He says he stands on principle. Valery Zorkin, the chief judge, says Mr. Gorbachev stands somewhere else: In contempt of court.

Yesterday, Mr. Zorkin said the court may need to compel Mr. Gorbachev to testify, enlisting the aid of the Russian government if necessary.

Mr. Zorkin's court is trying to carve out a rule of law in Russia and that has set the stage for the showdown with Mr. Gorbachev.

The case involves a lawsuit by the Communist leadership against Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin seeking to overturn his decree banning the party. Mr. Yeltsin's side has used the hearings, which began in July, as more or less a trial of the Communist Party itself.

Testimony has been lengthy, varied, specific, vague, telling, off the mark and occasionally off the wall.

Last week the court issued a subpoena to Mr. Gorbachev.

He replied by way of an open letter in Komsomolskaya Pravda in which he said that "with all due respect for the Constitutional Court as an important democratic institution, I nevertheless do not feel I could take part in the proceedings."

The court, he said, "has become a hostage of political confrontation, something that has harmed its prestige and aggravated the social and political situation in the country."

In a press conference Tuesday, he went a little further and said he had no intention of taking part in "this comedy."

Mr. Zorkin, who was especially exasperated at learning of Mr. Gorbachev's response to the subpoena by reading about it in a newspaper, called his refusal to appear "a challenge to the Russian people."

Although Mr. Gorbachev criticized what he called the "clearly political nature" of the proceedings, a less philosophical motive appeared to be on his mind as well.

He said both sides were trying to make him a scapegoat for all of Russia's current problems.

The Constitutional Court has gone into recess for the rest of the week.

Will next week see a citation, a bailiff, a chastened former general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union? And will he spill the secrets of his six years at the top?

No, says Mr. Gorbachev. "I will not say anything," he wrote recently in the magazine Svobodnaya Mysl. "Even if I am brought to the court in handcuffs."

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