On anniversary, Yeltsin stubbornly continues battle


August 20, 1993|By Kathy Lally | Kathy Lally,Moscow Bureau

MOSCOW -- A fit and feisty Boris N. Yeltsin emerged at the Kremlin yesterday, on the second anniversary of the failed Communist coup, promising to stare down today's adversaries just as he did those of August 1991.

Mr. Yeltsin, who has been mostly out of sight in recent weeks as his legislative enemies flailed away at him, said he was on the march once more.

He vowed an all-out assault on the conservative-dominated Parliament he has been battling over the last year, laying out the prospect of a tumultuous fall season.

"A plan of activities is beginning to take shape," he said. "It will cover about two and a half months, part of August -- I call it artillery preparation -- then September, the crucial month, then October and probably part of November."

Mr. Yeltsin, talking comfortably with reporters in a large Kremlin hall, said his big mistake in the heady days after he faced down the Communist plotters two years ago was neglecting to dissolve the Parliament and call new elections.

"It was our failure to call new elections to Parliament immediately," Mr. Yeltsin said. "We have taken two years to reach this point, and it should have been done immediately. . . . The new Russia must not have such a Parliament, it must not."

The all-out war between the president and the Parliament, which wants to take a slower, more conservative approach to reform, has jeopardized the transformation of the economy, Mr. Yeltsin said.

"There is a deep split, a crisis that threatens not only the national interests of Russia, but the tranquillity of world society," he said.

Mr. Yeltsin said he wants the elections that normally would be held in 1995 rescheduled for this fall, although the current constitution does not give him the power to call them.

The Russian president, looking relaxed and in command, was by turns jovial (bragging that he played 14 games of tennis the other evening), sly (hinting that his prime minister had overstepped his bounds by asserting Russia would never negotiate with Japan on the disputed Kurile Islands) and entirely fierce (growling that he would ignore any ultimatums from his critics).

Mr. Yeltsin held sway yesterday against the backdrop of enormous changes that have taken place in the last two years. The Kremlin was where the August 1991 coup plotters were holed up two years ago. Then, he directed the resistance from the

Russian Parliament building -- known as the White House.

Now, roles are reversed. These days, Mr. Yeltsin's enemies hold forth from the White House.

"One can only regret that the House of Soviets, the White House, by the walls of which two years ago citizens of Russia defended freedom and democracy, has become a bulwark of revanchist forces," he said.

As he spoke, nearby Red Square was filled with tourists instead of the tanks of two years ago. GUM, the giant department store that rises up along one side of Red Square, now is filled with luxurious boutiques and crowds of Russians looking for the best in perfumes, tennis shoes and stylish suits.

Two years ago, hopeless faces searched shelves sporadically stocked with cheap, unattractive house dresses and ugly plastic shoes.

Two years ago, lines of tired shoppers spilled out of stores all over Moscow hoping to buy grayish meat or a few anemic vegetables.

Yesterday, pedestrians were practically falling over street vendors offering bananas, kiwi fruit, pineapples, peaches and melons. Everything is far too expensive, Muscovites say, but at least it's there.

Yesterday, a thriving computer company bought the whole city a day's free ride on the subway.

During the news conference, Mr. Yeltsin reminded his audience that the 1991 coup plotters still have not been tried. The trial has been suspended because the prosecutor, Valentin Stepankov, wrote a book about the case before it went to court.

An anti-corruption commission appointed by Mr. Yeltsin has also accused Mr. Stepankov of shielding corrupt officials from investigation.

But, Mr. Yeltsin said, "justice definitely will prevail."

Among most people, there is little appetite for pursuing the past. They would just as soon forget about the plotters.

They are consumed with all the problems accompanying the establishment of their new life -- rising crime, low pay, enormous inflation and learning how to accept freedom after a lifetime of accepting orders.

Last night, several thousand Communist sympathizers demonstrated against Mr. Yeltsin, marching from the White House to the headquarters of the KGB, the once-dreaded Soviet secret police. They were a sad crowd of disappointed faces, unable to understand the changing times, lashing out with anti-Semitic signs and slogans longing for the past.

But they are in the distinct minority -- a recent poll of Muscovites reported only 8 percent thought life was better under the Communists.

"Russia today is having hard times," Mr. Yeltsin conceded. "Having merely started the reform, we realized how hard it is. . . . But we shall succeed. . . . Russia is on the move; the reforms have become a reality. Despite all the mistakes and hardships -- and they are great -- people retain their loyalty to the choice made in August."

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