Deep aversion to change slows rebirth of Russia Leaders reluctant to seek compromise CRISIS IN RUSSIA

October 04, 1993|By Will Englund | Will Englund,Moscow Bureau

MOSCOW -- The knots of gray-coated police in disarray, the crowds surging down the streets, the taunts, the bricks, the swinging billy clubs, the swaggering gun-toting free-lancers and the would-be heroes striking poses as they packed into trucks, the grenades, the gunfire, the dead and wounded, and finally the army on the move -- it was all inevitable.

Sadly, it is probably not conclusive.

Revolutions don't run their course in a day, or a week, or a year, and what happened in Moscow yesterday and today is proof of that.

Sweeping away the Soviet Union, as Boris N. Yeltsin did in 1991, was only a first step. Now he has abolished the parliament -- democratically elected three years ago but nonetheless the embodiment of the old regime.

And that opened the door to yesterday's fighting.

To Mr. Yeltsin, it was a step he had to take. Without such a clash, Russia would have continued to flounder, a nation caught between popular reformist impulses and a still largely intact Soviet power structure.

And whatever follows the dramatic events of yesterday, it isn't over. Too much is at stake for either side to give up so easily.

Mr. Yeltsin is often depicted as a destroyer, not a builder. His allies counter that in Russia today there is still a great deal that needs to be destroyed.

The president's fights with parliament have been epic. Every one -- going back to April 1992 -- has been either directly or indirectly about the course of economic reform.

The legislators stood for delay and inaction. At every turn, for the past year, they sought to prop up the old system that had raised them and derail Mr. Yeltin's reforms.

Mr. Yeltsin thought he had carried the day when he won a referendum five months ago, but he was unable to force his opponents to recognize his victory.

As his chief of staff, Sergei Filatov, pointed out last week, the parliament continued to ignore his proposals, and at the end of the summer enacted a budget that would have sent the deficit soaring -- and with it, inflation.

Price rises have been high enough already, but what parliament was seeking would have been ruinous.

Inflation a problem

Grigory Yavlinsky, a reform economist -- who is planning to challenge Mr. Yeltsin for the presidency -- argued last week that inflation is the most pressing problem facing Russia today. It is not the shortcomings of the constitution or the timing of elections or any of the issues that have been swatted back and forth these past two weeks.

But why were the legislators so intent on letting the budget run wild?

Mr. Yeltsin's allies accuse them of intentionally trying to sabotage the reforms, and in some cases that may be true.

But the majority of deputies have conscientiously represented the managers of the bleeding state-owned industries, Jurassic-era factories that should be struggling to survive but are vTC soaking up millions of Moscow's rubles instead.

In 1990, these deputies were elected in what were generally considered fair elections -- although they were the second string, because the best people went not to the Russian but to the Soviet parliament, which disbanded in 1991.

But most of the candidates came from the big factories -- indeed, they were sponsored by the big factories.

They didn't like Mr. Gorbachev, yet they were horrified by the heavy-handedness of the attempted coup of 1991, so they willingly followed Mr. Yeltsin's lead in establishing Russian sovereignty and eventually independence.

But Mr. Yeltsin wanted to go much further than this conservative and not particularly representative legislature wanted to follow.

The deputies saw nothing fundamentally wrong with the Soviet economic system. Mr. Yeltsin wanted to do away with it. Disgruntlement became opposition, and that in turn became intransigence.

The parliament came to represent the old guard -- or at least that sizable chunk of it that survived the first blow against the Communist lock on power back in 1991.

Mr. Yeltsin, on the other hand, as he showed when he easily carried last April's referendum, had come to represent Russian popular opinion.

And one of the strongest resentments among people in Russia was that nothing had really changed since the coup. Almost everywhere, there were the same old Communist "apparatchiks" still running things -- and nowhere was that clearer than in parliament.

In plenty of countries this would still not have necessarily led to barricades, sieges and death in the streets.

'Absurd' political debate

But the political debate here had taken the form of an "absurd, shameful, suicidal and destructive confrontation," said Sergei Stankevich, a Yeltsin adviser. Each side, he said, demonized the other and portrayed the battle as one of good vs. evil.

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