Reformers wait to act when Yeltsin goes

March 27, 1993|By Kathy Lally | Kathy Lally,Moscow Bureau

MOSCOW -- The next generation of Russian politicians is quietly working in the provinces, unobtrusively preparing to step forward when their predecessors now quarreling in Moscow finish self-destructing.

They are young. They reached maturity during the days of perestroika. They are independent, making their own way as emerging entrepreneurs and businessmen. And they are pragmatic, learning from experience rather than ideology.

"For the first time since Peter the Great," said Pyotr Gladkov, the 35-year-old president of the Russian Scientific Fund, "the power is moving out of Moscow."

This shift of power has been both ordered and assumed. President Boris N. Yeltsin, his own reforms caught up in Moscow's political battles, has told the regions to assume more responsibility.

And ever since the August 1991 coup, local administrations have been demanding more and more autonomy from a diminished central government.

Much of the vast Russian heartland, unaccustomed as Moscow is to the art of political compromise and horse-trading, has made little use so far of the new possibilities. They, like their former masters in the capital, have been seized up by infighting and power grappling.

But in Nizhny Novgorod, a new generation of leaders is showing the way. There, in the once-closed city known as Gorky where Andrei Sakharov was exiled from the world, progress is palpable.

Led by a young governor appointed by Mr. Yeltsin, Nizhny Novgorod has been able to foster a working political system along with ambitious economic reform.

Much of the credit goes to the leadership of Gov. Boris Nemtsov, a 33-year-old physicist. Unlike the typical Russian politician who advanced through the Communist Party, Mr. Nemtsov was drawn to politics when he organized resistance to a nuclear power plant.

With the support of the equally youthful mayor and a like-minded physicist who is chairman of the regional council, Mr. Nemtsov has vigorously pushed a massive privatization plan in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia's third-largest city.

He has had the help of the economist Grigory Yavlinsky, author of an economic recovery plan for the nation that never got under way because of the shifting political scene.

The Nizhny Novgorod leaders have grown so confident and assertive that yesterday they did the once unimaginable -- they told Moscow to try doing things the way they're done in the provinces.

Nizhny Novgorod has a coordinating council that meets twice a month to settle problems springing up among the various governmental bodies there.

Why not do that in Moscow, they suggested, setting up a council to settle arguments between the president and legislature?

Leaders like those in Nizhny Novgorod, Mr. Gladkov said, will begin to emerge on the national landscape over the next months and years.

"Once new elections are set," he said, "there will be a crystallization of new political forces. The next generation is keeping under the surface now, they are waiting. Right now it's political suicide to get involved in what's going on."

In a recent round table discussion arranged by Moscow News, Valery Pisigin, vice president of the League of Cooperatives of Russia, said the new politicians are forming in the middle class and are beginning to make the money they will need to finance real political campaigns.

"The new wave will come from the provinces," said Mr. Pisigin, who is from Tatarstan and might well emerge as one of the new leaders. "There are already people there who have been weaving this cloth without fuss, undue noise and declarations."

Yevgeny Gavrilenkov, an economist, said the change will

inevitably take time: "A new generation will emerge only in a few years, when the young boys who are now selling gas canisters at gas stations come of age. They will not ask anything from the state and will bring forward their own politicians. It is not worth waiting for a revolutionary change -- they will simply gradually oust their predecessors."

Mr. Gladkov predicted that Mr. Yeltsin will have to relinquish his power just as Mikhail S. Gorbachev did.

"Yeltsin, as I see him, is doing his historical task," Mr. Gladkov said. "He's not a builder. He's a destroyer. His successor will be the builder."

Mr. Gorbachev tried to remodel the old system, Mr. Gladkov said. "Gorbachev had to give way to Yeltsin," he said. "A bulldozer was needed, and that was Yeltsin. I think the times select the politician.

"Now the times are changing again," Mr. Gladkov said, "and so must the politicians."

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