'Democrats' with a taste for repression

Wednesday, August 14, 1991

By Irina Glushchenko

MOSCOW — In the still-raw atmosphere of Soviet parliamentary politics, charges of "totalitarianism", "Stalinism" and even "fascism" are not unusual. In May, a scandal erupted in the Moscow city soviet when Socialist deputy Yury Khramov compared the methods used by leaders of the Democratic Russia bloc with those of Hitler and Stalin — and had "democratic" deputy leap on him with fists flying.

Russians are learning that it is not enough to elect self-proclaimed "democrats" to have democracy become a reality. This has been underlined recently by a severe crisis within the Democratic Russia parliamentary organisation.

When it won majorities last year in the Russian parliament and the Moscow and Leningrad soviets, Democratic Russia was a loose band united only by its members' hatred of the Communist Party. The new "democratic" deputies held personal views ranging from left Social Democratic to Reaganite neo-conservative.

To weld this bizarre jumble into a parliamentary caucus, Democratic Russia leaders turned to the methods they knew best — and at which many of them had become expert during their days as middle-ranking arm-twisters in the Communist Party they now loftily condemned.

The attempt to impose Stalin-type discipline on a bloc that lacked political agreement led to an explosion. Around half of the Democratic Russia deputies in the Moscow soviet have now quit the caucus. Analogous conflicts have broken out in the Russian parliament and the Leningrad soviet.

The flight from the Democratic Russia ranks of many of the real democrats has left the ruling bloc influenced to a disturbing degree by people whose thinking is decidedly authoritarian. As evidence of the impact this has had, knowledgeable Muscovites cite the decision by Russian President Boris Yeltsin to choose as his deputy Colonel Alexander Rutskoi, a former leader of the nationalist organisation "Fatherland".

In June the journal Moscow News published an article by Aleksei Ulyukaev entitled "Brown Stains on the Red Map". In this article, the author warned explicitly of fascist tendencies maturing within the "democratic movement".

Ulyukaev noted that the new political leaders felt "an intense yearning for revenge" and that, despite superficial differences, they expressed the same pretensions as the Communist Party to being "the sole defenders of the people, bearing

witness in their name before God and humanity".

The most disturbing aspect of Ulyukaev's article is that, although the target of the criticism is absolutely clear, the article never once mentions either Democratic Russia or its leaders — Yeltsin, Moscow Mayor Gavriil Popov and Leningrad Mayor Antoly Sobchak.

Thus journalists are once again having to resort to hints and Aesopian language, and in a practice which for some years had fallen into disuse, to trust to the ability of their audience to read between the lines.

Even so influential a journal as Moscow News is not prepared to speak openly. This suggests that the atmosphere of intimidation is returning, and that journalists are once again being made to bow down before the authorities. Only now, the authorities are "democratic".

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