“The United States does not easily support the suspension of parliaments. But these are extraordinary times.” Thus spoke Secretary of State Warren Christopher m October in Moscow, where he announced President Clinton’s proposed mid-January visit. The step was clearly designed to signal U.S. approval of the Russian elections scheduled for December 12, even though under the best of circumstances those elections will be terribly biased. Why did Christopher enact such a comedy? Because, he said, President Clinton is full of admiration for the “courage” of Boris Yeltsin in his struggle for “democracy” and “free-market reform.”
The shelling of the Russian Parliament is not the only thing our “democrats” have to swallow. They must now cover up or rationalize actions by the Yeltsin government that have, to put it mildly, a very remote relationship with democracy: seizure of total control over television, management of the other mass media, bans on political parties and newspapers. Freedom, it would seem, depends on the whim of the master. Thus Pravda and Sovetskaya Rossiya were graciously told that they could resume publication-if they changed their names and their editors!
The manner in which the new constitution is being introduced is even odder. The draft produced by a special conference sponsored by Yeltsin has now been rewritten by his servants to make it even more to his measure. It will become law if it is approved by half the electorate, but whatever happens, it will not be debated by any parliamentary assembly, neither the old Supreme Soviet nor the new Federal Assembly provided for in the draft. In announcing this procedure, Yeltsin revealed he no longer intends to hold a presidential election next June. Sergei Filatov, head of his administration, explained that the original promise to hold an election was no longer binding. Once you have sent in the tanks, who cares about a broken pledge? (Yeltsin’s later statement implying that the election was on after all was even less binding.)
If you are unconcerned about constitutional niceties, you may be shocked by the “ethnic cleansing” in Moscow. The emergency laws have enabled police in the capital to carry out mass raids against Caucasians, who are being beaten up and deported by the thousands. (In Russia “Caucasian” refers to a denizen of the Caucasus-Armenians, Georgians and other Chechens-whom Russians regard as darkies.) Yeltsin’s advocates defend the crackdown on the grounds that the “Caucasian mafia” dominated the food market and that a majority of Muscovites approve. Yet was it necessary to attack only one of the many mafias, selected on the basis of ethnicity and thus pandering to the lowest instincts of Russians? While the police raids do not go unreported in the Western press, they fail to provoke the wrath of our editorialists, once so full of moral indignation over breaches of democracy in Eastern Europe.
Do I hear voices from the right jeering at the cheek of someone of the left preaching against double standards in the coverage of Russia? There is, alas, an element of historical truth in the charge. For many years, a good section of the Western left, for all sorts of reasons (the end justified the means, the future was being forged in the Soviet Union, etc.). turned a blind eye toward, or even glorified, crimes committed in the name of socialism. Though the sin is an ancient one and the number of unconditional supporters of the Soviet Union dwindled in the last quarter-century, the left is still paying a price. For many people, and not only in Eastern Europe, socialism is still associated with Soviet repression, with the gulag.