MOSCOW — When Boris N. Yeltsin made an official statement before the Supreme Soviet about the creation of the Inter-Regional Caucus of People's Deputies, some members questioned our timing and our patriotism.
The advocates of "monolithic unity" say that we are trying to split the 2,250-strong Congress of People's Deputies. We are against a split, but we are for a democratic parliament in which deputies are not pawns in the Kremlin's game. We are full-fledged political figures with the legitimate right to create groups inside the parliament based on an array of political, economic and other vital interests. Working together, it is easier to act the way the voters want us to.
The inter-regional caucus includes farmers, workers, doctors, engineers, writers and scientists. There are about 400 of us thus far--deputies from all of the Soviet republics except Turkmenia. The platform that united us was explained in the first issue of the paper People's Deputy, which the group issued for the opening of its conference:
"The level of life continues to decline catastrophically. How can we clothe and feed the country? There are different ways. We need the shortest and the most effective. The majority at the Congress (of People's Deputies) refused to embark on this. The solution of crucial problems is being postponed indefinitely. Hence the strikes and the aggravation of ethnic and social tensions. The Inter-Regional Caucus of People's Deputies of the U.S.S.R. has set forth the task of uniting all the healthy forces toward taking the country out of the crisis."
Our caucus sees the way out in more radical \o7 perestroika\f7 reforms: transition of all power to the people and the land and the means of production to the working people. According to an opinion poll, 83% of caucus members stand for the political and economic self-determination of the Soviet republics.
On the eve of the last day of the Congress of People's Deputies in June, we worked well into the night writing the "manifesto" of our inter-regional caucus. The manifesto was signed by more than 150 deputies. In the morning we asked the Presidium to give us an opportunity to read the document at the session. President Mikhail S. Gorbachev talked me into postponing the announcement. His arguments were very persuasive: Houses were being set on fire in Fergana, Uzbekistan, and clouds of ethnic tension were thickening in other regions. We agreed and also postponed the conference that was to finalize the creation of our caucus.
At last the conference was held at the end of July. It worked out a program of action and a package of alternative draft laws to be submitted to the Supreme Soviet for discussion.
Such a caucus is an unprecedented phenomenon on the Soviet political scene. Probably this explains the apprehensive attitude of some members of the upper echelon. Our opponents want to pit the country's leaders against us by alleging that we are trying to knock together the core of a future opposition party or a shadow Supreme Soviet, despite the fact that there are 90 members of the present Supreme Soviet in our caucus and that Gorbachev recognizes its status.
Moscow's bureaucracy wants to present our conference as the attempt of Yeltsin, the "troublemaker," to assert himself as the indisputable leader of the pack. This is not true. On the eve of the conference, we, the members of its organizing body, discussed in a room at the Hotel Moskva the question of chairmanship. The majority named Yeltsin. But Yeltsin was the one who suggested a co-chairmanship. We could not come to an agreement and decided to sleep on it.
When the debates began at the conference the next morning, the chair on which Yeltsin was sitting suddenly collapsed. I noticed because I was sitting next to him and joked that this was a symbol of the collapse of totalitarian authority in our country.
Anyway, we made a choice in favor of collective leadership. The conference nominated a 25-person coordinating council of the caucus and elected its five co-chairmen: Yeltsin, Yuri N. Afanasyev, Viktor Palm, Gavriil Popov and Andrei D. Sakharov.
Now the session is over. The deputies have gone back to their constituents. Time will show whether the voters believe in our ideas.