Thousands of people marched through central Moscow on Sunday in support of Boris N. Yeltsin, the city’s former Communist Party leader, and of his anti-Establishment campaign for a seat in the new Soviet parliament.
Chanting “Hands off Yeltsin!” the crowd swelled to more than 10,000 as it marched from Gorky Park across the Moscow River and around the city’s boulevards, then gathered outside the Moscow City Hall to protest official attacks on Yeltsin.
“Down with party bureaucrats!” the crowd shouted in the square across from the red brick building, denouncing Yegor K. Ligachev, who remains Yeltsin’s foremost opponent within the party’s ruling Politburo, and Lev N. Zaikov, Yeltsin’s successor as the party’s first secretary in Moscow.
“Down with Ligachev! Down with Zaikov!” the demonstrators shouted, waving their clenched fists. “They must answer to the people! The party must answer to the people!”
Similar to the demonstrations that protested Yeltsin’s removal as the Moscow first secretary in November, 1987, those on Sunday constituted a direct challenge to the Kremlin leadership, which last week appointed a party commission to examine his political orthodoxy. Yeltsin was not present Sunday at the march or the preceding rally, both of which were unauthorized.
With such unrivaled grass-roots support, Yeltsin’s candidacy for the Congress of People’s Deputies cannot be ignored, for he has managed, more than any other national political figure, to capture the public imagination in the election campaign.
Yeltsin, 58, a husky, plain-speaking Siberian, who is currently the first deputy chairman of the Soviet State Construction Committee, is seeking the at-large seat representing all Moscow in the Congress of People’s Deputies in next Sunday’s parliamentary elections, the first multi-candidate national elections since the earliest years of the Soviet state.
His candidacy has been based largely on a call for the acceleration of President Mikhail S. Gorbachev’s domestic reforms and a denunciation of conservative party officials, their hesitation to move ahead boldly and their dedicated protection of party privileges.
Laid Out His Program
At a rally in a working-class suburb on the outskirts of Moscow on Saturday, Yeltsin again laid out his populist program of sweeping political reform and for economic measures intended to boost living standards and promote real growth.
With banners that proclaimed, “If You Are Tired of Injustice, Vote for Yeltsin,” the demonstrators dramatized the temper of the times--the growing frustration with the country’s economic problems, the impatience with the reform program, the anger at the bureaucracy and the desire for decisive measures that will cut through all this to solve the nation’s problems.
But a Yeltsin victory could become a springboard for his return to power--he had been a junior member of the Politburo--as well as the precedent for other political outcasts choosing to run, in effect, as opposition candidates on a platform critical of the party leadership.
“He is against the party ‘Mafia,’ and that is why the party is against him,” one marcher, Taras Osipov, 65, a retired engineer, said in the square across from City Hall. “Yeltsin is with the people and for the people, and the people are with him and for him.”
Party Vote Counts
The Communist Party newspaper Pravda, meanwhile, published the results of the voting within the top party leadership for the 100 deputies who will represent the party in the new legislature. All of those nominated were overwhelmingly elected, but Ligachev received 78 “no” votes, more than any other candidate from the top leadership, in the balloting.
Gorbachev himself received 12 “no” votes out of the 641 cast by members and alternate members of the Central Committee joined by other senior party officials--news that Pravda published on its front page.
Other Politburo members received a number of negative votes, a change from the past procedure of unanimous acceptance of party recommendations. Alexander N. Yakovlev, regarded as the Politburo’s leading liberal, received 59 “no’s,” and Vadim A. Medvedev, the chief party ideologist, received 22 negative votes.
Yeltsin and his supporters have charged that the party machine in Moscow is working day and night to defeat him, and the mood on the street is now such that if Yeltsin is defeated, many Muscovites will doubt the fairness of the elections.
Ballots From Abroad
But Yeltsin supporters fear that party leaders, fearing the impact of his victory, will include in the Moscow at-large constituency all the ballots of all the Soviet troops, diplomats and other officials stationed abroad.
Yeltsin’s opponent, Yevgeny A. Brakov, the reformist director of a giant automobile plant in Moscow, benefits from the party’s massive organizational ability, specially convened rallies and meetings, extensive press coverage and all the other help that the party machine can provide.
As they marched through the streets rhythmically chanting “Yel-tsin! Yel-tsin!” his supporters glued blue and white campaign posters to the walls of government buildings and apartment houses. “Yes for Yeltsin, No to Bureaucracy!” one said, and another declared, “Beat the System--Elect Yeltsin!”
Emboldened as more and more passers-by identified with the Yeltsin cause and joined their ranks from the sidewalk across from City Hall, the crowd started to march on Red Square, just four blocks away. But police prevented any further movement, parking rows of buses across Gorky Street, one of the city’s main thoroughfares, to prevent the people from going any farther.
As the crowd began to surge forward and youths threatened to break through the police lines and turn over the buses, older Yeltsin supporters calmed the demonstrators.
“Don’t do anything silly,” one man told the youths. “Don’t give them any excuse to say that we are undisciplined or violent. To win, we must be clear-headed.”
But the mood of the crowd was unmistakable--and a warning to the Soviet leadership.
When a city official clambered to the top of a bus and ordered the crowd to break up the demonstration, there were whistles and hoots of derision. “Shame, shame!” the demonstrators began to chant.
“The way that they are working against Boris Nikolayevich (Yeltsin) is outrageous,” one protester, Raisa Kazakov, an economist, told reporters. “These methods do not calm the people, but inflame them.”
Members of the party’s policy-making Central Committee established a special commission last week to investigate charges that Yeltsin had deviated from the party’s political line by calling for a multi-party system for the Soviet Union. Yeltsin denied the allegations, explaining that he simply believes there should be an open discussion of the pros and cons of such a system for the country.
In its monthly bulletin, the Central Committee had published a partial transcript of the October, 1987, meeting at which he was denounced for his criticism of Gorbachev--he felt that the reforms were proceeding too slowly--and then removed from the party leadership. With its harsh condemnation of Yeltsin, the transcript appeared intended to undercut his candidacy.
On Sunday, the local newspaper Moscow Pravda published a new attack on Yeltsin, asserting that it was a “myth” that he was more faithful to the party’s political principles than others.