Czarist eagle to replace Soviet emblem

December 02, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

MOSCOW -- Liquidating one of the last symbols of the Soviet past, President Boris N. Yeltsin has officially replaced the hammer and sickle with the two-headed eagle as the seal of the new Russia.

The eagle, whose heads face east and west, had been a symbol of the Russian czars since the 15th century.

But in today's fractious Russia, the bird's two heads may unwittingly represent a nation divided.

"It's going to be controversial," historian Roy A. Medvedev said of the presidential decree published yesterday. "We absolutely need a new symbol, because nobody is proud of the old one. I understand the desire to return to old traditions, but this must be done carefully, since people don't want to return to the 19th century."

The Yeltsin government has been trying for some time to do away with the hammer and sickle, the Soviet symbol that glorified labor and the union of workers and peasants. But the now disbanded Parliament had repeatedly rejected the eagle.

In another development, Mr. Yeltsin backed off yesterday and allowed the 13 parties competing for seats in the new legislature to publicly criticize his draft constitution.

Mr. Yeltsin had warned last week that any party lashing out at the constitution would lose its state-sponsored television time.

In one of the flip-flops that have characterized the president's rule-by-decree, Mr. Yeltsin's spokesman denied that the president had ever set any restrictions in the first place.

Mr. Yeltsin's decree, published yesterday, is a temporary measure until ratified by the new legislature, to be elected Dec. 12 and known by the pre-revolutionary name of Duma. The eagle is to be mounted on key government buildings by Jan. 1, according to the decree.

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