Hard-liners give up, leave parliament Foes of reform were united by anger and hate dTC

October 04, 1993|By Howard Witt and James P. Gallagher | Howard Witt and James P. Gallagher,Chicago Tribune

MOSCOW -- The hard, angry men who orchestrated the weekend assaults in Moscow -- and many thousands of their armed supporters who swarmed into the streets behind them -- ranked among the most hate-filled, irrational human beings ever created by the corrupted Soviet system.

They also were among its craftiest, well schooled in techniques of organizing revolutionary cells, inciting crowds and fomenting violence.

Among them were die-hard communists who never accepted the demise of the Soviet Union, fanatic nationalists who fought to restore the glory of the "Russian Motherland," neo-Nazi storm troopers who wore swastika emblems on their combat uniforms, and disgruntled Russian army officers who dreamt of re-creating the powerful Soviet Army.

Their ranks also included royalists who wanted to restore the regime of the czars, Russian Orthodox priests who blessed anti-Yeltsin fighters before they rushed into combat, jack-booted Cossacks with long swords and fur hats, and mercenary soldiers who have fought for pay in the numerous ethnic wars raging on Russia's periphery.

Although divided by radically different ideologies -- it was the communists, after all, who executed Russia's last czar -- they were united by hate.

If this dangerous amalgam of anti-democratic forces were to have succeeded in seizing power, Russia could have been plunged back into totalitarianism and darkness.

But it seemed equally likely that this hate-filled alliance simply would have fractured along ideological lines; such marriages of convenience scarcely seem to last.

Communists, for example, still hate fascists as a residue of World War II, while Cossacks hate the communists who tried to outlaw them.

And they all despise Russia President Boris Yeltsin for presiding over the dissolution of the Soviet Union and ushering in dramatic economic and political reforms.

They hate Westerners, and particularly Americans, for the support they have given Mr. Yeltsin -- and the "decadence" they have brought to the ancient Russian nation.

They can't stand Armenians, Azerbaijanis, Chechens and any other nationalities from the former Soviet Union, who are perceived to have built up mafias inside Russia to control business and commerce.

But they reserve their most bloodcurdling wrath for Jews, spitting hatred against them with nearly every word they speak.

Jews destroyed the old Soviet Union, so they could steal its resources and dominate its people, the hard-liners assert. Jews control the Russian economy and run it for their own benefit. Jews own Russia's mass media.

Jews run the Kremlin -- and the White House in Washington.

One army deserter who had been guarding the parliament -- an otherwise calm, rational and well-spoken man -- suddenly interrupted a conversation about politics with the observation that Patriarch Alexy, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, is actually a Jew.

But facts had little to do with the unreasoning, deep-seated prejudices that spewed from the Yeltsin opponents, many of them impoverished, poorly educated workers and pensioners who have suffered greatly under the sharp economic transformations of the past two years.

In fact, anti-Semitism is an ancient problem in Russia, the land where the czars dispatched their loyal Cossack troops to wage murderous pogroms against Jewish villages. And in moments of deep crisis, Russian anti-Semitism has always surged.

For more than a year, extremist communist and nationalist militants have been maneuvering their way into positions of influence inside and around Russia's parliament -- aided by Parliament Speaker Ruslan Khasbulatov's active purges of liberal deputies from the leadership of legislative committees.

Some of these people were elected legislators who belong to extreme nationalist, deeply anti-Semitic groups such as the National Salvation Front, which have openly called for the violent overthrow of the Yeltsin government.

Others, such as hard-line communist leader Viktor Anpilov, held no elected parliamentary position. Mr. Anpilov, an organizer of the anti-Yeltsin demonstration last May during which protesters wielding rocks and steel rods clashed violently with police, headed the group of protesters who attacked the television center last night.

And some were experienced former military officers.

The commander of the parliament's paramilitary defense forces, Army Gen. Albert Makashov, had been sacked from his job as commander of the Volga military district after backing the abortive August 1991, hard-line coup. He commanded the assault on the TV center.

Vice President Alexander Rutskoi, a pilot, is a former Afghan war hero. He was shot down twice and captured by Mujahedeen rebels fighting the Soviet-backed Afghan regime -- once by an American Sparrow ground-to-air missile, a fact that some observers believe has contributed to his anti-Americanism.

But there also were far less stable fighters in the anti-Yeltsin ranks.

Mr. Khasbulatov and Mr. Rutskoi, while endlessly proclaiming their allegiance to constitutionality and the rule of law, actually agreed to allow about 100 goose-stepping neo-Nazis from the Russian National Unity party to join the ragtag band of parliamentary guards. They took the lead during yesterday's assaults on police lines.

"These are our temporary allies," explained Army Col. Yuri Martinov, a guard assigned to protect the parliament's fourth floor. "But I can assure you, we will never allow fascism to rise in our country. If these National Unity soldiers ever step out of line, we will tell them to leave."

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