WORLD

A MOOD OF REBELLION

A HOST OF DOMESTIC ISSUES GREETS MIKHAIL GORBACHEV ON HIS RETURN TO MOSCOW FROM THE SUMMIT

HOLGER JENSEN June 18 1990
WORLD

A MOOD OF REBELLION

A HOST OF DOMESTIC ISSUES GREETS MIKHAIL GORBACHEV ON HIS RETURN TO MOSCOW FROM THE SUMMIT

HOLGER JENSEN June 18 1990

A MOOD OF REBELLION

WORLD

A HOST OF DOMESTIC ISSUES GREETS MIKHAIL GORBACHEV ON HIS RETURN TO MOSCOW FROM THE SUMMIT

It should have been a triumphal homecoming. Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev returned to Moscow from the United States last week with an unexpected trade accord, agreement on strategic and chemical arms reductions and a mutually acknowledged personal rapport with President George Bush. In San Francisco, following the Washington summit, Gorbachev rekindled his friendship with former president Ronald Reagan and also had a meeting rich in trade potential with South Korean President Roh Tae-woo. And he received enough cheers, hugs, medals and other expressions of American goodwill to make the most ardent Communist consider defection. But he evidently did not impress many of his fellow Russians with his summit successes; his critics said that Gorbachev should have stayed at home to attend to pressing internal matters. And he had little time to enjoy the afterglow of what the San Francisco Examiner called his final “Gorbasm” in California.

Far more popular abroad than in his own

capital, the Soviet leader stepped off the plane in Moscow and into a quicksand of domestic concerns. A new explosion of ethnic violence in Central Asia set the Soviet republic of Kirghizia against neighboring Uzbekistan. As well, three rebellious Slavic republics, the Russian Federation, Byelorussia and Ukraine, rebelled against Gorbachev’s plan for a regulated market economy, forcing parliament to suspend

debate on higher food prices and other measures that were to take effect on July 1. Independent-minded Soviet legislators also delayed action on a new law easing emigration restrictions, which the U.S. Congress says must be passed before it approves the trade pact that Bush and Gorbachev signed. And the giant Russian Federation, now led by Gorbachev’s archrival, Boris Yeltsin, joined the secessionist drift of the Baltic republics. Said one Moscow-based diplomat: “Everyone, conservative or radical, is in an anti-centre mood.”

Gorbachev’s most immediate problem was the fighting between Kirghiz and Uzbek militants in Kirghizia, which killed more than 100 people and led the army to seal the border between the two Central Asian republics. Interior Minister Vadim Bakatin blamed what he called the “caveman, medieval nationalism” of that region. But Western analysts said that Moscow’s failed economic policies, which had left vast numbers of people out of work, were helping to fuel ethnic rivalries. Similar unrest has occurred throughout Central Asia and the Transcaucasus, including the republics of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Tadzhikistan and Georgia.

Less explosive, but potentially more damaging to Gorbachev’s chances of holding the Soviet Union together, was the declaration of sovereignty by the Russian Federation. Among other things, it demanded “the right to free secession from the U.S.S.R.”

A Russian parliamentary spokesman said that the measure was designed to give the republic more autonomy in trade and economic policy, rather than outright independence.

But the declaration put the Soviet Union’s largest republic on a crash course with the Kremlin. And it could only lessen the chances of a reconciliation between Gorbachev and Yeltsin, who is gaining support among many disgruntled Soviets. “There is no doubt that Yeltsin will do better than Gorbachev,” said Yuri Rubokov, a 39-year-old Moscow dentist. “Gorbachev is a man of the past, not the future.”

The sprawling Russian Federation contains 52 per cent of the Soviet population, threequarters of the country’s land mass and most of its oil, gas and coal. Even before Yeltsin won election as chairman of the republican parliament on May 29, that body was insisting that the federation be allowed to sell its own natural resources without dealing through the Soviet central government. Yeltsin has since announced his intention to trade directly with the Baltic republics, which would break Moscow’s

sanctions against Lithuania and defang the central government’s threat of economic reprisals against Latvia and Estonia if they persist in their demands for independence.

Encouraged by Yeltsin’s support, the Baltic premiers sent another telegram to Gorbachev on June 6 asking for negotiations on secession. A similar message on May 13 had received no response. Gorbachev insists that the Baltic republics adhere to new Soviet legislation requiring a referendum on secession and a transition period of at least five years. But the three premiers contend that because dictator Josef Stalin held no referendum when he forcibly

annexed their countries in 1940, no referendum should be needed for their withdrawal. Resolution of the Baltic impasse will be another factor in securing U.S. congressional approval of most-favored-nation trading status for the Soviet Union.

The mood of rebellion that permeates the Soviet republics also manifested itself last week during a Warsaw Pact summit in Moscow, where the Kremlin’s former allies formally abandoned their role as the guardians of communism in Eastern Europe. Hungarian Prime Minister Jószef Antall set the tone for the June 7 meeting by calling the seven-member alliance “an outmoded organization” that no longer serves any useful function. But Gorbachev persuaded him and the other Eastern Europeans to remain members and transform the pact “into an alliance of sovereign and equal states resting on democratic principles.” Their final announcement made no mention of Soviet troop withdrawals from their territories, but spoke of “constructive co-operation” with their old adversary, NATO.

Because of the disintegration of the Soviet empire, Western diplomats said that the survival of the Warsaw Pact, although a demilitarized version of it, was a victory for Gorbachev. But Soviet attempts to secure similar demilitarization of the NATO alliance received a cool response in Copenhagen, where the 35-nation Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe held a meeting last week.

While Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze was trying to promote the Conference as the centrepiece of a new European security order, U.S. Secretary of State James Baker told the gathering that “NATO will contin-

ue to serve as the indispensable guarantor of peace.” In another foreign setback, Gorbachev received a harsh rebuke from Communist North Korea, a traditional ally, for what its government called his “unpardonable, traitorous bargaining” with South Korea’s president in San Francisco.

But South Korea has more to offer the beleaguered Soviet president than the impoverished North. Gorbachev’s priorities are economic and, in a nationally televised news conference at week’s end, he reaffirmed his commitment to creating a free-market economy. Flanked by visiting British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Gorbachev declared: “The market is not an invention of capitalism. It is an invention of civilization.” In quiet and determined tones, he went on to tell his people that they would have to make the difficult transition—whatever the cost.

HOLGER JENSEN

DIANNE RINEHART