The faces in the dressed ranks reflected the ethnic diversity of the Soviet Union. Under a plan drawn up by military organizers, the 8,643 soldiers, sailors and airmen who took part in the Nov. 7 parade through Moscow’s Red Square were drawn from Lithuania, Georgia, Russia—from all of the nation’s 15 republics. But the shoulder-to-shoulder solidarity was merely stagecraft.
On the 73rd anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, the Soviet Union is in turmoil as independence-seeking protesters—from the Baltic states to the republics of Georgia and Armenia— strive to break with Moscow.
In Red Square last week, a man fired two shotgun blasts from a spot only about 80 m from where Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev stood on the reviewing stand atop the Lenin Mausoleum. Plainclothes policemen swiftly arrested Alexander Shmonov, a 38-year-old, unemployed factory worker from Leningrad.
KGB officials later charged Shmonov with attempted terrorism, but said that the shots had discharged harmlessly into the air and the ground.
Still, on the Soviet Union’s most important holiday, the gunfire in Red Square emphasized the country’s growing disorder.
So did an anti-Communist demonstration in front of party headquarters a few blocks away. Among the more than 5,000 protesters, Alexander Sharov, a 38year-old civil engineer, pointed to one placard that read, “Seventy-three years on the road to nowhere.” Declared Sharov: “That says everything. And we will need another 70 years to get out of the mess we are in now.” Gorbachev, in a speech from Lenin’s tomb, acknowledged that ethnic unrest, shortages of consumer goods and breakdowns in law and order had all worsened in recent years. But he added: “One should not panic, still less call for a reversion to the old ways. Perestroika is an intense and profound political process, which is taking place in a complicated and dramatic manner.” Certainly, the official viewing party support-
ed that statement: in addition to Gorbachev and Prime Minister Nikolai Ryzhkov, Moscow Mayor Gavril Popov and Russian Republic President Boris Yeltsin were conspicuously present. But Popov, for one, had argued against staging any parades, given the coun-
try’s severe economic and political troubles. Similarly, Yeltsin acknowledged that his presence was intended as a conciliatory gesture, adding that he and Gorbachev planned to meet soon in an attempt to resolve their deep differences over the transition to a market economy. Those gestures dampened persistent rumors that growing social chaos would prompt the military to launch a coup.
At the same time, however, 13 prominent economists openly expressed doubts about Gorbachev’s ability to revive the Soviet Umon by a switch to a market economy, claiming that the president’s current transition plan was fatally flawed. In a letter, which the liberal
Moscow daily newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda published last week, the economists predicted that Gorbachev’s attempt to limit privatization, while raising retail prices by executive decree during a two-year transition period, would spark hyperinflation and lower the already miserable living standards that Soviet citizens endure. Declared the economists: “The inflationary spiral is winding up too quickly, the collapse of the consumer market is growing and the economy is moving farther from a state of equilibrium.”
Those charges have received widespread circulation because two of the letter’s signers have worked closely with Gorbachev. They are Nikolai Petrakov, who has served as the president’s personal economics adviser, and Stanislav Shatalin, the author of a more radical plan to switch the Soviet Union to a market economy within a mere 500 days. Gorbachev initially endorsed that approach, but later backed away from such Shatalin recommendations as the massive sale of state enterprises to private enterprises and the legalization of individually owned farmland.
Gorbachev has linked his reforms to a rewritten union treaty, one which envisions the republics voluntarily joining a market-oriented system within a single country. But Kirghizia, in Central Asia, is the only republic that has not sought either outright independence or sovereignty— the primacy of republican laws over national legislation. Last week, Gorbachev disclosed the outlines of a new treaty that would allow the republics such benchmarks of independence as their own armies to maintain internal order.
While soldiers from all parts of the Soviet Union marched through Red Square, the marking of Revolution Day in many of their home republics ranged from pointed indifference by most Estonians to an anti-Communist rally attended by 5,000 demonstrators in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev. Clearly, Gorbachev’s famed political skills were at work as he expressed his willingness to achieve reconciliation during the widely televised spectacle. At the same time, the first public appearance of some military hardware, including four SS-25 intercontinental ballistic missiles, a small part of the country’s nuclear arsenal, emphasized the outside world’s stake in the need for Moscow to achieve change without slipping into internecine violence.
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