Democrats challenge Yeltsin's man in Moscow

Wednesday, September 25, 1991

By Renfrey Clarke

MOSCOW — Within weeks of the defeat of the August coup, important sections of the Russian democratic movement have come out in public opposition to actions of President Boris Yeltsin and his associates.

In the second week of September two lively demonstrations took place here, condemning moves by Yeltsin to bring the administration of the capital under his close control.

On September 8 1000 people rallied outside the local soviet building in the Krasnopresnensky region of Moscow to protest against Yeltsin's decision to gut the Moscow city soviet of most of its authority. In the absence of an opposition press, the Moscow soviet has acted as an important sounding-board for criticism of the Russian government.

Under a decree of August 28, Yeltsin stripped the city soviet of most of its budgetary powers, of various powers relating to the control of city property, and of its right to appoint senior officials. This concentrated authority in Moscow almost exclusively in the hands of Mayor Gavriil Popov, a close Yeltsin ally.

Popov too has done his bit to feed the growing opposition to the new rulers of Russia, implementing a string of arbitrary and unpopular decisions. The most outrageous of these has been a refusal to confirm the appointment as head of the Moscow militia, or police force, of Militia General V.S. Komissarov.

Komissarov has a reputation as a tough, honest fighter against organised crime who has not been afraid to investigate the close links between the Moscow "mafias" and corrupt officials. He was appointed as Moscow's top police officer by the city soviet early this year, following a lengthy selection procedure.

Popov's repeated refusal to allow Komissarov to take up his duties has aroused speculation that the new rulers of Moscow have secrets they do not want exposed.

On September 5, Popov proposed four of his close political allies for the top jobs in the Moscow militia. His nominee for militia chief is an economics journalist; the others are a newspaper editor, an economist and a paediatrician. None has any experience of law enforcement. In a once orderly city that now has a burgeoning crime problem, the mayor's selections have gone down badly with the public.

Eleven deputies of the city soviet subsequently declared a hunger strike, demanding that the appointments be annulled and that Komissarov, as the choice of the voters' elected representatives, be confirmed as militia chief.

On September 10 more than 1000 people converged on the square opposite the city soviet building to back up the hunger strikers' demands. Speakers included representatives of the Democratic Party, the Democratic Union and the Socialist Party. Among members of the Moscow intelligentsia who supported Yeltsin's candidacy in the June presidential elections, there is now dismay at the new administration's cronyism and obvious authoritarian tendencies.

Yeltsin himself, as the hero of the struggle against the August coup, has so far been spared direct criticism even by the people attacking his policies. But the condemnation of Mayor Popov has been fierce. Skilled at catching the nuances of politics-by-proxy, Russians are in little doubt as to who the criticisms are really meant for.

Increasing divisions are now appearing within Yeltsin's Democratic Russia bloc. A rift is opening between supporters of the Russian president's attempts to concentrate power in his hands in order to smash opposition to his neo-liberal economic project, and other people whose attachment to democratic values is less self-interested.

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