Forces in the Soviet Union are now locked in a titanic struggle whose outcome will determine communism’s fate in the Soviet Union and the future existence of the Soviet multinational state. On one side are Mikhail Gorbachev and his current allies: the military-industrial complex, the KGB, and the Communist Party, all struggling to preserve the system that ensures their continued privileged existence.
On the other side are Boris Yeltsin and the Russian democrats. Joining forces with various independence movements in the republics, such as Rukh in the Ukraine and the popular fronts in the Baltics, they oppose the totalitarian communist system and advocate a voluntary political/economic union. Despite the many shared goals of these movements, the democratic forces lack any coordination. And, except for Yeltsin, few of their leaders and rising stars are well-known in the West. Yet these individuals are likely to play a major role in determining the future of the Soviet Union. The following is a guide to some of the most interesting and prominent of them.
WHO’S WHO IN RUSSIA
Democrats head the city councils of Leningrad and Moscow, and Boris Yeltsin is president of the Russian parliament. Still, democratic forces can't consistently garner a majority in the legislature. Most votes deadlock between the democrats and the Communists.
Most of the democrats are fairly young, pro-Western, and allied with Boris Yeltsin in his struggle with Gorbachev. They advocate a complete break from communism and a rapid move to a free-market economy. Still, there are differences among the democrats in strategy, temperament, and background.
THE ESTABLISHMENT REBELS
These democrats tend to be in their 40s and 50s. Children of the Khrushchev era, they are of the same generation as Gorbachev. But unlike Gorbachev, they have become thoroughly disillusioned with communism.
Gavriil Popov, mayor of Moscow
Popov is the darling of Western free marketeers. Cato Institute Vice President David Boaz called one Popov speech “the most libertarian speech I have ever heard from any politician from any country, ever.” The 54-year-old Popov is one of the most popular politicians in Russia.
A short, stout man of Greek ancestry, Popov is the former editor of Voprosy Ekonomiki (“Question of Economics”). He wants Moscow to begin privatizing housing and shops. The shops would be given to the shop workers, and the apartments given or sold for very low prices to the occupants. “Privatization of housing is a very important factor in liberating man from the bondage of state control,” says Popov. Unfortunately, he lacks sufficient power and executive authority to implement his free-market reforms.
Anatoly Sobchek, mayor of Leningrad
The 52-year-old Leningrad State University law professor is one of Russia’s most respected democrats, trailing only Yeltsin and Popov in popularity. Last summer, when there was wide speculation that Prime Minister Nikolai I. Ryzhkov would be forced to resign, the democrats pushed Sobchek for prime minister.
Like his counterpart in Moscow, Sobchek has ambitious plans for his city, including turning it into a free economic zone, converting the region’s vast military complex into civilian industries, opening a stock exchange, and privatizing shops and small businesses. Unfortunately, except for the recent sale of four state stores in April, Sobchek has made little progress in realizing his goals. The problem: The Communists still maintain de facto control over all facets of the city’s political machinery, and unless he can exercise legitimate authority, they can thwart his attempts at reform.
Yurii Afanasev, people’s deputy
Afanasev is one of the democratic movement’s most radical leaders. Uncompromising in his criticism of the current regime, he declares, “The USSR is not a country, nor is it a state .... It is a neighborhood of states and nations that are tired of their colonial and colonizing past, that have been tortured and humiliated by Stalinist efforts at unification.”