Democrats in Russia Battle among Themselves Reformers Say That the Republic's New Leadership Is Adopting Authoritarian Methods of Old

Article excerpt

THE ornate hall on the second floor of the Moscow City Council building has been transformed from a reception room into a battle-planning center.

Amid the gilt, mirrors, and red wallpaper, chairs have been pushed aside to make room for the cots of 11 City Council deputies entering their third week of a hunger strike. The action stems from a dispute between some council members and Mayor Gavril Popov over naming a new police chief.

"This is a political protest against the misuse of power," said Vyacheslav Titov, a hunger-striker. "We are struggling to resist anti-democratic methods used by Popov."

The 11 council members aren't alone in complaining that the nation's new democratic leaders, who greatly increased their stature following last month's failed coup, are usurping authority from elected bodies. After facing down the common threat, democrats in Russia have begun to battle among themselves. For example, the 300,000-strong Democratic Russia movement, once a supporter of Boris Yeltsin, has backed away from the Russian president, with some saying that the new leadership is acting no better than the old.

Since the coup, "those in power have shown a tendency to monopolize politics, the economy, and the media," said Democratic Russia leader Vladimir Bokser at a news conference.

Mr. Bokser said Russian authorities had limited television to presenting only Mr. Yeltsin's point of view. Other leaders complained about a lack of action on economic reform, especially from special Yeltsin appointees serving as presidential trouble-shooters in outlying regions of Russia.

"The uncontrollable strengthening of the executive power can lead to the suppression of the legislative arm and the emergence of a new authoritarianism," warned Lev Ponomarev, another Democratic Russia leader.

Pavel Voshanov, Yeltsin's press secretary, dismissed suggestions that the president sought unlimited power. He said Yeltsin had already canceled some decrees that enhanced his authority during the crisis days of late August, such as an order making him commander in chief of the Army. "President Yeltsin seeks to act only within the framework of the Constitution," Mr. Voshanov said. "Everyone must remember these are extraordinary circumstances and not the norm."

But Democratic Russia will continue to distrust Russian authorities until direct multiparty elections are held at all levels of government, leaders say. The elections could be held as early as next year. In the meantime, the movement is preparing to form a shadow government, Interfax news agency reported.

Georgia is already an example of democracy gone astray, democratic leaders say. Earlier this year, the Transcaucasian republic elected former dissident Zviad Gamsakhurdia president in a landslide. …