Russia's ultimate authorities -- its people -- appear to lean toward Yeltsin A CRISIS IN RUSSIA

September 23, 1993|By Will Englund | Will Englund,Moscow Bureau

MOSCOW -- A peculiar sort of democracy prevailed here yesterday, with two men both claiming to be president and both declaring the other to be outside the law.

But the winner in the showdown between Boris N. Yeltsin and Alexander Rutskoi, the erstwhile vice president who is now the standard-bearer of the anti-reform forces, is likely to be the man who can pull the country with him.

When Mr. Yeltsin suddenly dismissed the parliament Tuesday night, he was gambling that his popularity within the country -- confirmed just in April when he won 57 percent support in a referendum -- would carry him through again.

zTC He was gambling that his credentials as a reformer and democrat would overcome any uneasiness about his trampling the old Soviet-era constitution.

By yesterday it appeared that that gamble was not such a long shot.

To be sure, plenty of people said they liked his reform policies more than they liked him, but that's not a distinction that makes much difference right now.

When Russians consider his opponent, they see a man who called earlier this week for the restoration of the Soviet Union, and repeated the old Bolshevik rallying cry, "All power to the Soviets!"

That played very well among Mr. Rutskoi's circle of friends, but did little to win over any converts.

Instead, people in the streets of Moscow yesterday said they were fed up with the political fighting that has already gone on for so long, and wished Mr. Yeltsin had moved sooner.

"Yeltsin's problem was that as a former apparatchik he waited too long to make such a move. He wasn't willing enough to break the rules of the old game," said Galina Dolgushena, a computer operator.

"We've chosen a path to a new life. That means everything old has to be swept aside. He should have done this a long time ago. If you need to amputate your hand, better to do it at once. Don't prolong the agony."

If anything, Mrs. Dolgushena's comments were typical of those being made in Moscow yesterday in what so far has been one of the quietest political confrontations in Moscow's history.

For all the dramatic poses being struck in parliament, and the talk of civil war, workaday Moscow just kept rushing on yesterday -- a beautiful September day that heralded the onset of what Russians call Grandma's Summer.

The largest contingent of troops on the move around the capital consisted of 20,000 soldiers out digging up potatoes. Col. Vladimir Guryanov of the Moscow Military Command said they )) were trucked off their bases in the Moscow region for the job yesterday to help out at nearby collective farms.

That's a lot of potato-diggers, but there are a lot of potatoes here. Truckloads of them arrived at the Ministry of Auto Transport offices yesterday, for sale to retired employees at a bargain cost of just 50 rubles a kilogram (about 2 cents a pound), instead of the market price of 200 rubles.

Vera Ivanovna, who worked for the ministry for 38 years, happily bought 154 pounds, for her family of four people and one large dog.

"We're very grateful to the leaders of the ministry," she said, sounding like an old Soviet loyalist, but she went on to talk about how much she supports Mr. Yeltsin, his market reforms, and his move against the parliament.

"This was inevitable," she said. "Whether it was yesterday, today or a month from now, it was inevitable. Of course Yeltsin had to do it. He had nothing else to do."

In the nearby Hermitage Park, Margarita Rakhmanova, a retired nurse, also talked about why she backs the president, while she pushed her grandson Alyosha in a stroller.

Her daughter, a music teacher, and her daughter's husband, a doctor, live with their two children in a communal apartment, she said -- "and it's terrible."

But they've just bought their own place, and will be moving in as soon as they can find some money to pay the movers.

"Their life is getting better," she said. "They cherish hopes for their own family. There's opportunity now. Do you understand?"

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