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Soviet Revolts Oust Regional Party Leaders

February 19, 1990|MICHAEL PARKS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MOSCOW — Grass-roots revolts, like those that so dramatically swept Eastern Europe last autumn, have forced out the Communist Party leaderships in more than 10 key regions of the Soviet Union in the past month.

Propelled by rising anger over shortages of food and consumer goods and by growing outrage over the abuse of power by party and government officials, the rebellion is certain to spread even faster in coming government and party elections.

But popular mistrust of the party, the government and other authorities is so great now that people readily take to the streets to depose men who, even under perestroika and democratization, have been among the powerful in the country.

Any indication of official corruption, which is viewed far more seriously in an era of severe shortages, is now sufficient to bring tens of thousands of enraged Soviet citizens into the streets for rallies that are strikingly similar to those that brought down the Communist regimes in Czechoslovakia and East Germany.

These demonstrations, which have paralyzed several major cities and filled large sports stadiums to overflowing, lead to crisis meetings by the regional party committees. There, amid sharp debate, the leaders resign or are voted out amid criticism of their "mistakes." The alternative, it is sometimes said, would be chaos in the streets and the party's inability to rule.

In many cases, the protests have been led by new groups, such as the "popular fronts" and "democratic unions" that have developed, usually as a rival to the local party organization, over the past two years and number an estimated 3,000 with perhaps 2.5 million members nationwide. Others have been organized by the emerging independent trade unions. Early successes in several cities have encouraged activists in others to mount similar campaigns.

And, to the alarm of local and regional officials, the central leadership under President Mikhail S. Gorbachev appears quite ready to accept the results of this grass-roots rebellion, perhaps because it is removing party officials who have opposed the implementation of his political and economic reforms.

Now known as the "Volgograd phenomenon," following the successful struggle that ousted the whole party leadership in that region, the local protests are quickly gathering into a movement that already is shaking the Communist Party structure at its core and replacing some of its most powerful figures with younger, more dynamic officials able to command popular support.

In Volgograd, Vladimir Kalashnikov, the regional party's first secretary, acknowledged that he had used his vast powers to get an apartment for his daughter so she would not have to endure that city's yearslong wait for housing. The party leadership had also arranged, people learned, for the construction of a special apartment building for top officials.

Enraged that such a personal abuse of power was continuing in this era of reform, tens of thousands of people took to the streets in late January in demonstrations that paralyzed the city center. The party hastily convened a top-level conference, and Kalashnikov and the rest of the regional leadership resigned. A temporary leadership was appointed pending internal party elections.

"Our events were the consequence of the revolutionary processes that are under way here," Anatoly Lemyakin, the head of the party's ideological department in Volgograd, commented later, adding that the party had lost trust because of high-level corruption.

"This is the result of decades of a political system based on 'command and administer,' which became everything to the party. But the main thing is the shortage of everything, including a shortage of true authority. That is what provoked this crisis."

In addition to Volgograd, in central Russia, the party first secretaries and in some cases whole leaderships have been forced to resign in Kaluga, south of Moscow, in Sverdlovsk and Ufa in the Ural Mountains, in Tyumen in western Sibera, in Karelia on the Finnish border and in Chernigov, Chernovtsy, Ivano-Frankovsk, Khmelnitsky and Yuzhgorod in the Ukraine.

In Donetsk, another Ukrainian district, and in Ulanyovsk on the Volga River, the party leaders are under virtual siege by continuing demonstrations demanding their resignations. The regional party leadership in Khabarovsk in the Soviet Far East is under similar pressure as a result of a scandal over cars imported from Japan.

The party leaders in Azerbaijan and Baku, its capital, were replaced last month after more than 200 people were killed in ethnic violence. The resignation of the top party and government leaders has also been demanded by protesters in Tadzhikistan in Soviet Central Asia after rioting there.

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