The New Opposition

The official, illustrated soviet democracy movement guide.


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.


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.

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."

Rector of the Historical Archives Institute in Moscow, Afanasev is also a crusading critic of past Soviet leaders. "We cannot talk about bad Stalin and good Lenin," he says. "It is more productive to recognize the Leninist essence of Stalinism."

Mostly in their late 20s and early 30s, the Young Turks represent a new generation that is pro-Western, democratic, and less apprehensive about capitalism than its elders. Unlike the Establishment Rebels, the Young Turks have little previous experience in government or ties to the Communist Party. But their forceful arguments and the passion and energy they bring to the democratic movement have made them very influential figures, despite their youth.

Arkadii Murashev, people's deputy
Murashev was a principal organizer of the huge pro-Yeltsin, anti-Gorbachev Moscow rallies. The 31-year-old Murashev is cochairman of Democratic Russia and secretary of the Interregional Group of Deputies.

Murashev is rigorously anticommunist, pro-free market, and pro-Western. His office—decked out with pictures and memorabilia of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher—resembles that of an American conservative. An extremely outspoken leader, Murashev called on Gorbachev to resign back in October 1990 and has said that some of the present leaders of the democratic movement, including Boris Yeltsin, will someday soon be replaced by real democrats with no previous ties to the Communist Party.

Gary Kasparov, world chess champion
Kasparov is an ally of Murashev and a key player in the Russian democratic movement. The 27-year-old former member of the Central Committee of the Azerbaijani Komsomol has been an unwavering critic of Gorbachev since the Soviet leader allied himself with the hard-liners.

Kasparov argues that U.S. and European support for Gorbachev impedes the drive for democracy in the Soviet Union. Dismissing the Bush administration's position that failing to support Gorbachev would mean a return to the hard line, he has written, "The real struggle is not between a brave general secretary and dangerous conservatives…but between a desiccated, though still violent, totalitarian system, and a people attempting to breathe beneath its crushing weight."

Nikolai Fedorov, minister of justice for the Russian republic
Like many of Boris Yeltsin's other ministers, Fedorov is very young (32), radical, and a fierce critic of the Communist Party. A former Soviet people's deputy, Fedorov was one of the first deputies to demand termination of the Communist Party's monopoly on power. As justice minister, he has led Russia's struggle with the central government over control of the republic's natural resources. Fedorov claims that only Russia can sell its gold, natural gas, and oil.

Galina Starovoitova, people's deputy
Starovoitova is a member of the Interregional Group of Deputies. She gained fame championing the republics' right to self-determination.

A Russian, Starovoitova in 1989 supported Armenians in Azerbaijani-controlled, Nagorna-Karabagh who sought to reunite the region with Armenia. The Armenians expressed their appreciation for Starovoitova's support by electing her to represent them in the Congress of People's Deputies.

Major Vladimir Lopatin, people's deputy
A forceful proponent of military reform, Lopatin leads a group of progressive young army officers in the Congress of People's Deputies. He is extremely popular among younger members of the army; five army units nominated him to represent them as a people's deputy. The 28-year-old Lopatin looks barely old enough to drink yet is a very influential figure in the military reform debate. Lopatin has emerged as a key adviser to Yeltsin.

He has been vocal in calling for cuts in military spending, and in 1989 he introduced a military reform plan that would have left the Soviet Union with a smaller, all-volunteer army. Lopatin was booted out of the Communist Party last winter.

Griigorii Yavlinsky, director of the Center for Economic and Political Research
A year ago, the 36-year-old Yavlinsky was an obscure economist heading the state labor committee. Today, he is one of the most influential economists in the Soviet Union.

In early 1990, Yavlinsky was appointed deputy prime minister for the Russian republic and chairman of the Russian Commission on Economic Reform. With two other young economists, Alexei Mikhailov and Mikhail Zadornov, he authored the republic's radical 400-day program for economic reform (which Stanislav Shatalin later modified into the 500-Day Plan for the Soviet Union). Yavlinsky also helped convince Gorbachev to join with Yeltsin in August to back free-market reforms. But he resigned from his post just two months later, after Gorbachev backed away from the 500-Day Plan, saying it couldn't be implemented without central coordination.

In early April 1991, Yavlinsky predicted that deepening economic collapse would force the Soviet Union to undertake radical economic reform sometime in the near future. Although without a formal government post, Yavlinsky wields power in developing economic policy for the Russian republic. For instance, he is the chief author of Russia's new draft law on privatization.


Independence movements exist in nearly all of the republics. Among the more influential are Sajudis (Lithuania), Rukh (Ukraine), the Round Table Bloc (Georgia), the Armenian National Movement (Armenia), and the popular fronts of Azerbaijan, Latvia, and Moldavia. Independence forces actually control the governments in Armenia, Estonia, Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Moldavia.

Some of the republic leaders striving for independence are free-market democrats. Some, however, are first and foremost nationalists whose commitment to democracy and free markets is questionable.

Vyacheslav M. Chornovil, people's deputy of the Ukrainian Supreme Soviet and chairman of the Lviv Oblast (regional) Council
Chornovil, a longtime human rights activist, heads the Democratic Bloc of Ukraine's "Radical Faction," a group that urges the earliest possible independence for Ukraine. An advocate of rapid transition to a market economy, the 52- year-old Chornovil has eliminated much of the Communist Party's influence in his home region of western Ukraine.

Chornovil is the most important political leader in western Ukraine. Absorbed into the Soviet Union in 1940, the people in western Ukraine are pro-Western and overwhelmingly pro-independence. Ninety percent of voters in Lviv voted for a free and independent Ukraine and 85 percent of western Ukrainians generally opposed Gorbachev's new union treaty in the March 17 referendum.

Imprisoned in 1967, 1972, and again in 1980 for championing Ukrainian independence and exposing illegal activities by Soviet authorities, Chornovil is the author of the Chornovil Papers, a book documenting Communist officials' flagrant disregard for Soviet laws.

Oles Doniy, student
The 21-year-old chairman of the Kiev chapter of the Ukrainian Student Association at Kiev State University gained international prominence in October 1990, when he led a hunger strike and mass protests against the Communist government of Ukraine. The protest peaked on October 17, when 100,000 students filled the streets of Kiev and forced Vitaly Masol, prime minister of Ukraine, to resign.

Unfortunately, Doniy was one of the first casualties of the shift to the hard line in the Soviet Union. He was arrested on January 8 for his role in the hunger strike. He has since been released, but the charges against him still stand. More recently, Doniy narrowly lost a run-off election for a seat in the Ukraine Supreme Soviet to Vitold Fokin, who replaced Masol as prime minister. Party officials enticed voters to choose Fokin over Doniy by giving out cheese, kielbasa, and Coca-Cola.

Levon Ter-Petrosian, president of Armenia
For the past three years, Ter-Petrosian, a well-known scholar of ancient Armenian history, has been extremely active in the Armenian democracy movement. Ter-Petrosian was jailed in Moscow for six months in late 1989 and early 1990 for organizing nationalist, prodemocracy demonstrations. He became president of Armenia's legislature in August 1990 and is consistently rated Armenia's most popular political figure in independent polls.

During his brief term in office, the 45-year-old Ter-Petrosian has continued his fight for the Soviet republics' self-determination. He was the key figure in Armenia's August 1990 declaration of independence. After the crackdown in the Baltics, Ter-Petrosian led a delegation of the newly created Federation Council, which also included the president of Byelorusia, to investigate the incidents and mediate a solution to the crisis.

Ivars Godmanis, prime minister of Latvia, and
Dainis Ivans, vice president of Latvia
Ivans could be called the "heart" and Godmanis the "mind" of the independence movement in Latvia. Both leading members of the Latvian Popular Front, they assumed their current government positions in May 1990. Ivans, a youthful 35, was president of the Latvian Popular Front from its inception in 1988 until he became Latvia's vice president in May 1990. A journalist, Ivans won wide-spread acclaim in Latvia for leading a successful grassroots fight against a hydroelectric dam across the Daugave River.

Among Baltic leaders, Godmanis is the most radical free marketeer. He has said that the government welfare should apply only to the disabled and pensioners. Like Klaus in Czechoslovakia, the 49-year-old Godmanis faces uphill battles on most economic issues because, aside from his small group of core advisers, the Latvian government is still composed primarily of socialist government bureaucrats.

Zviad Gamsakhurdia, president of Georgia
Gamsakhurdia is one of the most controversial leaders in all of the republics. Supporters call him an intelligent, strong-willed, long-time opponent of the totalitarian communist system. But his enemies accuse him of being a narrow-minded nationalist or even a fascist. Either way, he remains Georgia's most popular politician.

In the November Georgia elections, Gamsakhurdia led the seven-party Round Table/Free Georgia coalition to a resounding victory over the Georgian Communist Party. Part of Gamsakhurdia's popularity derives from his status as the son of Konstantin Gamsakhurdia, one of Georgia's most famous novelists.

The 51-year-old Gamsakhurdia has been a critic of the Soviet Empire since he was a teenager. Founder of Georgia's Helsinki Union human-rights monitoring group, he was thrown in jail during the 1970s for "anti-Soviet" propaganda, serving prison terms in Tblisi, Moscow, and the Caspian Sea region.

William D. Eggers is policy analyst for East European economic affairs at the Heritage Foundation.