When will the indignities end for former Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev? He has lost his limousine, passport and the luxurious office complex that housed his think tank. And Thursday, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former Kremlin chief had to shove through a cordon of police to get to his desk to read an eviction notice.
"If this government calls itself democratic and this president calls himself the people's president, how can this be?" Gorbachev asked at a news conference Thursday, perhaps the last he will hold in the sprawling headquarters of the Gorbachev Foundation.
On Wednesday, Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin ordered the foundation ousted from its government digs, a decree that police gathered to enforce Thursday.
"We are being closed, as if we were a spy nest," Gorbachev said, bitterly recounting how police blocked the gates of his offices and seized all equipment and accounts early Thursday.
Feisty and defiant, Gorbachev stepped up his attacks on longtime rival Yeltsin, threatening to take the Russian government to court for stripping him of his right to travel. After Gorbachev ignored a summons to testify about his leadership of the Communist Party from 1985 to 1991, Russia's Constitutional Court last week asked the government to keep him from leaving the country. Gorbachev was forced to postpone a planned visit to South Korea.
"On what grounds was my trip canceled?" he asked Thursday, pounding the table with a clenched fist. "Under what laws?"
Ironically, Gorbachev, as president, followed a Soviet practice of limiting foreign travel and emigration for almost all citizens; but he significantly relaxed those restrictions, and millions traveled more freely as a result of his rule.
Speaking of himself in the third person, as is his habit, the former Communist Party chief accused Yeltsin of trying to "hush Gorbachev up and put Gorbachev in his place." He also warned that Yeltsin's campaign against him might be part of a larger scheme to squelch all opposition.
Despite his somber tone, Gorbachev, 61, clearly relishes the tug of war with Yeltsin. He vowed that his think tank, the Foundation for Socioeconomic and Political Studies, will continue to operate; he said, though, that he would comply with the presidential order transferring its spacious headquarters in northeastern Moscow to the Financial Academy, a state institution. Gorbachev's group, with its staff of 60, also lost a country estate used for educational seminars.
Gorbachev said the two stubborn politicians have not spoken to each other since Gorbachev resigned the presidency in December. Gorbachev learned from the television news Wednesday night that Yeltsin had ousted him from his complex. Yeltsin's decree specified that the foundation could rent 1,000 square meters in its former headquarters--about one-sixth of the space it had.