Murder stirs Stalinist crackdown in Russian state

May 26, 1994|By Will Englund | Will Englund,Moscow Bureau of the Sun

DYURTYULI, Russia -- Razil Musin, who caused so much pain and unhappiness in his lifetime, has in death brought even more sorrow down upon this hard-luck city in the heart of new Russia.

In a flashback to the 1930s, Dyurtyuli is in the throes of an old-fashioned Stalinist terror campaign against political and ethnic opponents. Since Mr. Musin's murder earlier this year, hundreds have been arbitrarily arrested and held without charges, while others have lost their jobs and been forced to make humiliating public confessions.

Dyurtyuli's sorrow, however, started when Mr. Musin was alive.

The former Communist Party leader here had been a talented but ferocious chief.

He ruined the careers of those who crossed him, and drove talented people out of Dyurtyuli. It was said that his reign was marked by intimidation and crime, that he once covered up a murder on a collective farm, that he used to rape girls in the city orphanage.

When the Communist Party fell from grace in 1991, the city thought it was done with him, but to the horror of its residents he was appointed head of the local administration -- in effect, mayor of Dyurtyuli -- last Feb. 22. A week later he was blown to pieces by a hand grenade fastened to the gate of his new city-built house. The people of Dyurtyuli hardly mourned, although thousands thought it prudent to turn out for his funeral. Mr. Musin, they knew, had very powerful sponsors, up to and including the regional strongman, Murtaza Rakhimov, the president of the Autonomous Republic of Bashkortostan -- a region near the foothills of the Urals that is famous for its horse sausage and acute chemical pollution.

Mr. Rakhimov, who was furious at Dyurtyuli's failure to give him aSoviet-style landslide in December's national elections, lost little time in capitalizing on Mr. Musin's bloody end.

He and his men saw a perfect opportunity to move in and smash their opposition, and they are doing so with a vehemence unmatched since Stalinist times.

Using arbitrary arrests, concocted confessions, guilt by association and public humiliation, they are spreading fear and recriminations through out the city.

"It's like the terror of '37 all over again," said Mira Bakhtiarovka, a defense lawyer. Indeed, what's happening here does eerily echo the great purges of Josef Stalin's time, which were sparked by the murder of an inconvenient Bolshevik named Sergei Kirov.

The scale here is much smaller, of course, and the stakes are not so high: Victims merely face prison terms or the loss of their jobs, not execution.

But the parallels are there: the assertion of an impossibly widespread conspiracy, the disregard for plausibility, and the chillingly pathetic reaction of the victims.

Residents are denouncing their neighbors; victims are betraying others; and some of those who stand accused even insist to this day on proclaiming their heartfelt loyalty to the man on top, to Mr. Rakhimov.

Mr. Musin, who was 50, was killed as he left for work in the morning. By that afternoon Mr. Rakhimov's men had moved into action. Workmen were busily repairing the gate and removing all signs of the murder, while police were already starting to round up suspects.

Over the next several weeks they hauled in more than 500 people for interrogations.

Up to 100 people were detained, most of them held for as long as a month without access to lawyers and without formal charges being lodged against them.

A confession was extracted from one young man, but police then found a suspect they liked better and beat a confession out of him instead.

11 people charged

Eventually 11 people were charged in the murder, including the son of Mr. Musin's predecessor, but things didn't stop there.

Investigators said the murder probe had uncovered a shockingly pervasive web of corruption, and they kept digging.

LTC In April, by Mr. Rakhimov's decree, 18 of Dyurtyuli's most prominent citizens -- the head of the local school, the chief doctor at the hospital, the head of a bank who was one of Mr. Musin's competitors -- were thrown out of their jobs.

He cited only "the flagrant violation of the state's discipline." The 18 men assume they will soon be facing criminal charges.

One of them, Munavir Galiev, the chairman of a collective farm and a decorated Hero of Socialist Labor, was urged by a friend to try to fight the purge.

"I don't want to get involved in politics," he reportedly answered. "I just want to hang myself."

The school chief, Vil Kazykhanov, was publicly accused by Mr. Rakhimov of being the "ideologist and instigator" of Mr. Musin's murder.

Mr. Kazykhanov, who is also a Tatar poet of some renown, happens to be one of the very few people in Dyurtyuli who say they got along with Mr. Musin. He points out that the former party chief had been instrumental in rehabilitating his father, who had been sent off to the camps by Stalin in the 1930s.

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