Yeltsin ends observance of 1917 Bolshevik uprising Revolution Day to be a day of reconciliation

November 08, 1996|By Clara Germani | Clara Germani,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

MOSCOW -- Thousands of Communists marched in a sea of red banners through the city yesterday in their annual celebration of Revolution Day.

But, firing a political shot straight from his sickbed, President Boris N. Yeltsin made it their last.

Just two days after open heart surgery, Yeltsin surprised doctors with the speed of his recovery by taking a few steps out of bed yesterday. While he was at it, he signed a decree abolishing the Communists' most important holiday.

Next year, Nov. 7 -- the 80th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution -- will be known as the Day of Accord and Reconciliation, the decree said.

The day will remain a holiday. It would be too unpopular to rob the people of a day off. A poll of Muscovites this week showed that while they were ambivalent about celebrating the revolution, they didn't want to lose a holiday.

"The revolution of 1917 dramatically changed the destiny of our country. Keen not to allow confrontation in the future, in the interests of unity I declare the November 7 holiday to be the Day of Accord and Reconciliation," Yeltsin declared in the decree issued from his intensive care room.

Presidential press secretary Sergei V. Yastrzhembsky said the decree was in line with the new policy of Yeltsin, who played a key role in ending nearly 75 years of Communist rule in the former Soviet Union.

"The president is closing the era of discord and public cataclysm which ravaged the country between 1905 and 1993. This is a step by a powerful president," Yastrzhembsky said, referring to the period between the first democratic revolution and an abortive hard-line revolt against Yeltsin three years ago.

The spokesman also said that doctors decided to keep the president in intensive care for at least another 24 hours, though Yeltsin has been pressing to move from the Moscow Cardiological Clinic to the nearby Kremlin hospital, which has presidential offices and a homier atmosphere.

The decree also declared that 1997 would be the Year of Accord and Reconciliation.

But the decree itself was the checkered flag for all political sides to jump back into the fray after a brief period of respectful quiet during Yeltsin's surgery and recovery.

The holiday renaming is unlikely to please Russia's hard-core Communists, who held rallies across the land and in the former Soviet republics yesterday to mark the anniversary.

Neither will it please liberals who want the Kremlin to denounce communism as a totalitarian ideology and to brand the 1917 revolution, the civil war and bloody purges that followed it as crimes against the nation.

Radical Communists call Yeltsin's administration a "government of occupation" and say no peace can exist between them and the Kremlin unless communism is restored in Russia.

Nov. 7 was the key national holiday in the Soviet Union, marked by parades, concerts and festivals and the traditional military march across Red Square before the assembled Politburo.

The Communist Party would work up dozens of official slogans to be used on banners or chanted by columns of marching workers.

Such tongue-twisters as the 1980 Revolution Day slogan "Toilers in Agriculture! Strengthen the feed base of animal husbandry!" were pored over and compared with previous holiday slogans. A dropped superlative in a slogan could signal anything from detente to famine.

Revolution Day was kept on the list of official holidays after the collapse of the Soviet Union, though the government preferred not to dwell on its official title -- the Anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution. (The revolution occurred overnight from Oct. 25 to Oct. 26 on the old Julian calendar, which Russia still used at the time.)

Yesterday's Revolution Day celebration in Moscow clearly benefited from the Communist Party's yearlong political organizing -- from its parliamentary election victory last December to its vigorous but unsuccessful presidential challenge of Yeltsin this summer.

The turnout for a parade and rally here appeared to be twice as large as the 10,000 who attended last year, and columns of marchers from different Communist factions and unions were much better organized.

The crowd, an unanimated group of mostly middle-aged and elderly Russians, carried banners emblazoned with everything from the nostalgic "The Ideas of October are Invincible," to the anarchic "Bullets for the Rich, Salaries for the Worker."

The parade ended in a rally in front of the Bolshoi Theater because the Yeltsin government had denied the Communists access to the traditional Red Square celebration site because of construction. A string of workers, students and politicians spoke about their suffering under market economic reforms.

Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, who lost the presidential election to Yeltsin, said the government is "unable to govern."

"We have all sorts of things in our history, but when we got president for a day, that was a comedy before the whole world," Zyuganov said, referring to Yeltsin's one-day transfer of power to Prime Minister Viktor S. Chernomyrdin.

Pub Date: 11/08/96

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