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Russia Seizes Party Property With a Fervor

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In the name of social justice, 500 airline seat slipcovers have been confined to a bank of washing machines until further notice.

Under the watchful eye of the non-Communist Russian Federation leadership, a publishing house has just issued 20 million portraits of Soviet founder V. I. Lenin at a cost to the citizenry of $200 million.

Fleets of vehicles, seized from Communist Party bureaucrats in punishment for the party’s complicity in last week’s failed coup, now sit idle in special garages; their drivers and passengers still show up for work daily and draw salaries for doing nothing.

The government of the Russian Federation has acted with particular zeal in seizing Communist Party property after Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev’s order that all party assets be frozen and placed in local government care.

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Swift, sometimes illogical confiscations have caused some to wonder whether the new Russian masters will prove to be better stewards of the Communists’ vast holdings and whether they will be any more inclined than their predecessors to share the wealth with the people.

Sheremetyevo Airport managers jumped to the call for all party property to be transferred to local jurisdiction, seizing a party-owned industrial cleaner on the airport premises. The business was midway through laundering slipcovers from international flights. The Moscow daily Komsomolskaya Pravda on Wednesday ticked off a number of other hasty property repossessions like the soggy slipcovers, which it said were still in their washing machines and safely “under arrest.”

Such tales of bungling spark little emotion among most of the Soviet Union’s 287 million people, who are long accustomed to inefficiency. Many expect little to change in the post-party age, except the political affiliation of the clique in power.

The Panorama publishing house previously run by Communists is now under Russian jurisdiction. Yet its first production under the new management was a standing order for Lenin posters claiming: “The Communist Party is the wisdom, honor and conscience of our epoch.”

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Little change can be expected in public access to the exclusive Oktyabrskaya Hotel, formerly operated by the party hierarchy, Komsomolskaya Pravda said. The paper predicted that the five-star luxury high-rise will continue to house only official delegations, fat-cat Soviets and foreign tourists: “The doors of the hotel, as before, will be closed to mere mortals, and its telephone number won’t be available by calling directory assistance. . . .”

But the party’s unfathomable wealth has become clearer to many Soviets since Gorbachev ordered the wholesale hand-over. Yuri Luzhkov, Moscow’s deputy mayor and the man overseeing property seizures in the capital, has totted up the worth of party assets and claims that the Communists controlled more than $4 billion in land, buildings and other valuables. The party laid claim to 5,000 buildings, 195 publishing facilities with 80,000 employees, 19 hospitals and a Moscow headquarters so colossal it would take at least 30 football fields to equal its floor space.

The 250-member party Central Committee alone commanded the use of 500 shiny black Volga sedans. Party apparatchiks have been stripped of their chauffeurs and wheels. But the fate of the fashionable fleet has yet to be decided. Even the sleek Zil limousines used to ferry about the likes of Gorbachev have been sidelined, according to media reports.

Overzealous application of the transfer orders has stirred concern and some criticism of the self-styled reformers whose impetuous confiscations have been likened to the nationalizing fever of the Bolsheviks.

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Workers for the city of Moscow early Wednesday fixed a seal on the front entrance of the capital’s Communist Party High School, where successive squads of party functionaries got their ideological training for decades. The building was shut down, its staff sent home and its prime quarters deeded over to a group of reformers planning a “Humanitarian University.”

While the swift seizure of property has raised eyebrows, many of the transfers will ultimately benefit the public. Local officials in some cities have promised to convert party offices to much-needed clinics, day-care centers and cultural clubs.

In the Azerbaijani capital of Baku, for instance, local leaders have announced they are converting the party headquarters into a museum to display 12,000 works of art, for which there was previously no suitable home.

Those charged with overseeing the national wealth previously managed by the party have conceded they are unaware of the exact extent and whereabouts of some of the money.

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The confiscation order signed by Russian Federation President Boris N. Yeltsin on Sunday was released Wednesday by the republic’s news agency. It noted that foreign governments have been asked to help track down the loot. Russia’s government has asked all foreign countries to freeze any party bank deposits or other assets and to report them “to the Russian Council.”


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