After an emotional vote to keep “socialist” in the country’s name, the Soviet Congress today endorsed the concept of a new union treaty to keep the nation from breaking apart.
The national Parliament also voted to require every republic to hold a referendum asking its residents whether they want to remain in a restructured union.
Lawmakers later approved President Mikhail S. Gorbachev’s proposal for a national referendum to decide whether to scrap communist ideology and allow private ownership of land.
The 2,250-member Congress of People’s Deputies charged the Supreme Soviet, the smaller standing legislature that it elects, to draft the precise wording of both referendums and set dates for them.
Officials said votes on the private property referendum would be counted separately in each republic. But it was unclear whether a few republics could permit private property if the majority did not.
The legislature of the republic of Russia, which encompasses three-quarters of the Soviet land mass, already has approved private property. Boris Yeltsin, Russia’s president and Gorbachev’s main political rival, has said there is no need for a referendum.
Alexander Zhuravlev, a deputy from the Byelorussian capital of Minsk, set off hisses and a raucous debate by suggesting that the Soviet Union rename itself simply “Russia.”
A legislative committee had proposed changing the country’s name from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics to the “Union of Sovereign Soviet Republics” to reflect the republics’ growing autonomy.
Urging the Congress to “take a holy act” the day before Christmas, Zhuravlev said that “our fatherland is Russian, and so I propose that we call ourselves as we did in the past: Russia.”
Leningrad Mayor Anatoly Sobchak proposed instead that the Congress adopt the name favored by the late Nobel Prize-winning dissident Andrei Sakharov: “The Union of Soviet Republics of Europe and Asia.”
Other delegates chipped in with “Union of Soviet Republics” and “The Treaty Between Russia and Its Colonies.”
Congress Chairman Anatoly Lukyanov cut off the heated debate, telling the deputies to “put your emotions back in your pockets.”
The Congress then voted 1,365 to 189 with 170 abstentions to retain the name Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
Immediately after the vote, a delegate who did not identify himself rose to object that it was meaningless.
“We have voted for socialism. But what kind of socialism?” he asked.
“Stalinist socialism? Brezhnev-type socialism? Ration-card socialism? Or Swedish socialism? No matter what we name our country, we still need to define its economic system.”