Russian Vice President Alexander V. Rutskoi on Saturday accused President Boris N. Yeltsin’s government of pursuing a policy of “economic genocide” against its own people.
He also warned that if his boss’s government fails to declare an economic state of emergency, there will be a “social explosion” that will lead the country back to totalitarianism.
This unabashed denunciation of Yeltsin, something no American President could imagine coming from his vice president, was delivered at the Congress of Civic and Patriotic Forces, an assembly of more than 30 groups that is trying to create a movement of nationalist forces.
Rutskoi, whom Yeltsin picked to be his running mate for last June’s election, has emerged as the leader of Russian nationalists, who represent a growing movement of political opposition to Yeltsin.
The burly Afghan war hero-turned-vice president lit into Yeltsin for everything from his economic policy to his attempt to maintain a joint army for the Commonwealth of Independent States rather than to start a separate Russian army.
Rutskoi accused Yeltsin’s economic team, headed by Deputy Prime Minister Yegor T. Gaidar, of justifying the sacrifice of people in the name of reducing the budget deficit.
“They are ready to accept retirees dying while they stand in line for milk, hunger swoons of schoolchildren and the oppression of people who disagree with such approaches and reforms,” Rutskoi said angrily. “Doesn’t this remind you of the Bolshevik principle--revolution at any cost?” Rutskoi asked the crowd, which roared its agreement.
Yeltsin’s government, Rutskoi said, has failed to replace the Communist experiment with a healthy nation-state.
“Instead, we have started a new, this time democratic, experiment on our people, which in this initial stage already made the Russian masses complete paupers,” he said.
Rutskoi has repeatedly attacked Yeltsin’s economic reforms, but Saturday’s speech, together with an article published Saturday in Pravda, the Communist Party newspaper, were his strongest assaults yet.
Yeltsin launched his reforms Jan. 2 by lifting price controls and subsidies, which caused prices to increase five, 10 and even 20 times on basic goods. Many people have found that they can no longer buy even basic groceries.
“A lot of the current economic policy is being made without love for the people, for our homeland,” Rutskoi said in his emotional speech, which was interrupted several times by loud applause. “The result is clear: realization of the policy of economic genocide against the Russian people.
“But we have a way out,” he continued. “An emergency situation can be introduced in the economy. If we don’t do everything we can for the sake of the people, there will be a social explosion and the people who came to power in 1917 will come to power again.”
Other than his condemnations and frightening predictions, Rutskoi had little to offer. Throughout his speech and lengthy article, which took up two full newspaper pages, Rutskoi did not define his declared “economic emergency situation,” nor did he give a recipe for economic success beyond saying that he wants an “all-around program” that will “regulate the transition” to a market economy.
While Rutskoi’s speech was the centerpiece of a two-day meeting of the assembly, the body’s overall aim was to create a new political movement.
“We organized this because, after the euphoria following the (August) coup ended, there was a growing sentiment that something wrong is happening in society--that the Russian state was caught in the avalanche with the Communist system and that it, too, was swept away,” said Natalya A. Narochnitskaya, an international affairs adviser for the Constitutional Democrats, one of the assembly’s organizers. “We want to use this opportunity to create a powerful political movement that can influence policy.”
The Constitutional Democrats and the Russian Christian Democrats, the other main organizer, are nationalists, but not ultranationalists. In fact, they attempted to exclude the ultranationalist Pamyat group, but several dozen Pamyat members, dressed in black shirts, forced their way into the meeting and interrupted speakers with whom they disagreed.
“We did not want Pamyat to come because we wanted to show everyone that it is possible to be patriotic without being like them,” Narochnitskaya said. “To me, patriotism means to seek what is best for the country. But the concept of patriotism has become mystical in our political vocabulary--and now it sounds like a bad word.”
Pamyat was not the only group that dressed for the occasion. Dozens of men came attired in the traditional military uniforms of pre-Bolshevik Russia, and some even wore large sheepskin hats and Cossack cloaks and carried leather whips.
During the breaks, men and women dressed in colorful Russian costumes played balalaikas and other traditional Russian musical instruments and sang the Russian national anthem and folk songs.
In the lobby of the Rossiya movie theater, the city’s biggest, where the two-day conference is being held, people sold czarist memorabilia, nationalist literature and pins of the Russian flag and the double-headed eagle of czarist Russia.
The meeting’s organizers were obviously trying to arouse a feeling of patriotism for a Russia that has not existed for many decades.
“Russia has started to die,” Mikhail G. Astafiev, chairman of the Constitutional Democrats, said. “All wholesome forces in the country should search for a way to save it.
“We criticize the (current) government,” he added. “It does not protect our national interests.”
Speaker after speaker accused the current government of betraying Russia’s interests by joining in the creation of the Commonwealth of Independent States, by letting “Harvard professors” design Russia’s economic reform, by giving up strategic weapons too easily and by allowing virtual “apartheid” measures against ethnic Russians living in non-Russian republics of the former Soviet Union.
“The current government ignores such fundamental national interests as territory, naval fleet and borders,” Narochnitskaya said.