Russian lawmakers descend from halls of parliament to unemployment line Deputies take year's pay, job-hunting help

September 28, 1993|By Kathy Lally | Kathy Lally,Moscow Bureau

MOSCOW -- Only a few days ago they were world leaders, members of the Russian parliament, accorded privilege, rank and authority. Yesterday they were just a bunch of guys standing in the unemployment line, hoping to find work.

While their chairman, Ruslan I. Khasbulatov, marched before the television lights and vowed to fight to the end, many members of parliament have decided to face facts.

"I've been in the Supreme Soviet for three years," said Fyodor D. Polyenov, 64, a trifle sadly. "So probably I'm not qualified for anything anymore."

Mr. Polyenov was one of the first peoples' deputies to visit the special unemployment office President Boris N. Yeltsin opened yesterday -- after throwing 1,000 legislators out of work by dissolving parliament a week ago today.

The office is in a tall gray building on a long gray block of Novy Arbat Street. The White House, the parliament's home, is just off one end of the street and the Kremlin, home of the president, is at the other end.

Mr. Polyenov and a colleague, Mikhail V. Seslavinski, walked through a cheerless lobby and were greeted by a newly printed poster advising the "esteemed deputies" to take the elevator to the sixth floor.

Esteemed is a treacherous word in Russian. Usually, it's used for those who are not at all esteemed. "Esteemed passengers," Aeroflot likes to address passengers just as it's about to issue an order treating them like cattle.

"Esteemed deputies," Mr. Khasbulatov would say as he was about to scold his legislators like errant and slightly mentally deficient schoolchildren.

So the esteemed deputies took the elevator to a warren of offices on the sixth floor, filled out various application forms asking about their work interests and were handed a year's pay.

"All deputies received one and the same sum," said Mr. Polyenov. "I don't know if it is a socialist sum or not."

Deputies like Mr. Polyenov, who was one of 384 full-time members of parliament within the Congress of People's Deputies, received a year's pay, were allowed to keep their Moscow apartments and were offered job-finding help.

Mr. Polyenov left yesterday with 2 million rubles in his pocket -- the equivalent of about $2,000. He was glad to have it.

"Now you can understand our moral satisfaction," he said. "We're not leaving empty-handed."

But some of the parliamentary leaders scorned the severance pay as a cheap bribe. "All deputies treat it as the 30 pieces of lTC silver paid to Judas," Igor Murashov, deputy chairman of a parliamentary faction, said the other day.

Yesterday, Vyacheslav Volkov, Mr. Yeltsin's deputy chief of staff, said Mr. Yeltsin was only doing what he had to do. "Being the head of state, the president is supposed to take care of every citizen," he said.

Mr. Volkov said 76 members of parliament already had accepted new jobs within the presidential administration or various ministries. Another 114, he said, were beginning discussions on new jobs. Only about 180, he said, remained defiantly in the White House. Many of those who are not full-time legislators had already left for their homes. Their pay will be sorted out later.

Mr. Volkov said Mr. Yeltsin's new commission had begun working around the clock to sign up the deputies for their benefits and job help.

"We can feel there has been an outflow of deputies," Mr. Volkov said, "and we can also feel that they are interested in resolving their career problems. We are all human anyway, we have families to support."

Mr. Polyenov, who represents Tula, south of Moscow, is a pleasant man with a distinguished gray beard. Before getting into politics, he was a cultural worker, doing museum and writing work. He said he was better off than most because, at 64, he could retire with 70 percent of his pay.

His colleague, Mr. Seslavinski, is 29 and was the youngest member of parliament when he was elected at age 26.

Yesterday, neither job-seeking legislator wanted to get into who is right and who is wrong in the clash between Mr. Yeltsin and the parliament.

"Let's not get into politics," said Mr. Polyenov. "Let's just think of the tale of the two sheep. They confronted each other on a very narrow bridge and butted and butted each other until they both fell off and drowned."

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