W hat idea can unite the peoples of the Soviet Union and avert its split into hostile groups, regions, or nations? The one most frequently mentioned and debated is that of a "commonwealth" or "confederation," with each of the country's 15 republics enjoying a large degree of economic and political independence. To learn what the Soviet Union might look like if such a system were adopted, The Times asked nine Soviets who already are involved in either blocking or promoting separatist movements to comment.
VYACHESLAV A. MIKHAILOV,chief of the ethnic-relations department, Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party:
The Soviet Union will not survive in its present form. It will evolve into a new form of statehood, with much looser ties between its constituent parts and with these parts enjoying much greater rights. With maximum possible decentralization of the country's power structures, there will be greater freedom for political, economic and cultural interactions.
It follows that the ultimate goal in the political evolution of the Soviet Union is a confederation of independent states.
We always had elements of confederation. There is the provision in the Soviet constitution that enables the republics to secede from the Soviet Union. But that right was an empty declaration. The new law setting up the procedure for secession is a major step toward real confederation. It is the only road to progress.
I foresee a Soviet Union that will be smaller than it is today. The momentum for independence in the Baltic republics is so great that even confederation could be unacceptable for them; they will refuse to sign the new union treaty or, to be more precise, the treaty among the former Soviet republics. But I do not think that the Ukraine, for example, will drop out. After all, the Ukrainians have coexisted with Russia for centuries. They will stay in the future confederation.
In general, I foresee the appearance of two groups of republics. Those with predominantly raw-materials' industries, which need a stable market and must import the bulk of their consumer goods, will gravitate toward an economic federation. I am talking about the Central Asian republics and Azerbaijan. Those with more diversified economies will be more inclined to press for a larger degree of political independence.
There will be political opposition. Political forces occupying extreme positions--such as the nationalist movements--will press for immediate dismantling of the old "empire," regardless of consequences. Inter-ethnic fronts--such as the new United Workers Front and similar organizations--will oppose the slide toward confederation. This already is happening: They demand that their representatives be included in all negotiations aimed at transforming the state structures and relationships. They say they want to dampen, even arrest, the centrifugal forces in the Soviet Union. This is a political reality we need to account for.
The process of transformation will probably take a relatively long time, perhaps several years. But the crucial period, which will determine the direction, will be from July to December of this year. If the Soviet Union does not disintegrate as a state by the end of this year, we shall witness an orderly transition, with the least damage and sacrifices for all. I am convinced that the economic situation will determine the political evolution. Economic levers are the only ones to put things into their proper places.
ALEXANDER TSIPKO,deputy director of the Institute of Economics of the World Socialist System:
The Union of Socialist States--the approach since 1922--will not suffice as a basis for a new confederation. We could build a new federation of Russian states on an older foundation--the dramatic appearance of Russia and the Russian empire.
If we try to settle relations on the basis of history, there will be grounds for arguments. The Baltic republics, it is clear, were incorporated through military violence; they have a right to return to their old statehood. Going back half a century is hard, though. They may prefer to look forward to a new relationship.
A union based on the Slavic nations has great historical legitimacy. Russia was not only an empire but the motherland of many peoples whose destinies are intertwined with Russia. The future of Russia, the Ukraine and Byelorussia can be resolved not on the mythological basis of the Union of Socialist Republics but on the basis of Slavs interacting with one another in history.
As for the other nationalities, each will have to make its own decision--Georgia, Armenia, Tadzhikistan, Kirghizia. In that way, we can come to terms with one another.