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Yeltsin's New Gambit: Hire the Dissidents

September 30, 1993|MICHAEL A. HILTZIK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MOSCOW — For Russian legislators deprived of their livelihood by President Boris N. Yeltsin's dissolution of Parliament last week and willing to show their loyalty to the president, Gennady Melikyan is the man to see.

He's the minister Yeltsin has assigned to find jobs and hand out healthy stipends to legislators who have abandoned the obstinate parliamentary leadership still holding out at the White House, the legislative headquarters.

"There are certainly some problems," Melikyan, the labor minister in Yeltsin's government, said Wednesday, discussing his unique outplacement service. "An overwhelming majority of deputies have extremely high demands. Almost all of them want to be no less than deputy ministers."

Melikyan's ministry is the sponsor of a nondescript office high atop a Moscow high-rise where the Yeltsin government is taking job applications and doling out a year's advance pay in cash (1 million rubles, or about $1,000) to deputies who have obliged Yeltsin by quitting the Parliament house.

About 400 have so far applied for jobs, and Melikyan promises that all will be found employment--if not in a ministry, then in one of several newly created advisory commissions big enough to absorb scores of bodies. (One commission alone, on health care, can take about 50 deputies.)

That may sound like an open bribe to keep legislators on the government's side. But the commission's chairman, former dissident and deputy Georgy I. Zadonsky, tried to put a better face on things by suggesting that Yeltsin is striving to husband whatever professional skills the deputies have acquired in their more than two years of legislative experience.

"In that time they got a unique experience of management," Zadonsky said in an interview at his office Wednesday.

Observing that many of his bureau's beneficiaries are by no means Yeltsin supporters, he said: "For Russia this is a completely new approach. In the old days, these political opponents would have been exterminated. Now these are people who may not agree with the president but are learning that they can deal with him."

Zadonsky noted that deputies with established experience in certain fields are encouraged to return to those fields. Former military men, for example, are being reassigned to the armed forces, doctors to medical centers and so forth.

But the evidence suggests that most deputies do indeed value their own "management" experience highly. Five of them have demanded the job of deputy minister for external economic relations (foreign travel an established perk).

One deputy, a former truck driver, hinted strongly that he expected a high post at the Ministry of Transport.

"Perhaps he should be given a good truck so he can drive it," Melikyan said.

The labor minister has found himself in the delicate position of telling some deputies that they are not qualified for high managerial posts. "Naturally, I tried to express this in a more human form, telling them there should be more experience of managerial work to function as a deputy minister. It was not very pleasant."

On the other hand, the department has engaged in outreach of its own; Zadonsky himself carried the president's offer of jobs and pay to the White House "to inform deputies of our service."

For all that, a visit to the Employment Commission for Former People's Deputies demonstrates that not all are satisfied with the demeaning process.

"I don't hide it that I came for the money," said Vladimir Mukusev, a former television reporter who had to quit that job when he was elected to represent a Moscow legislative district in 1991. "The government pay is all I get, and I've been out of work for a week already."

But he said that he considers "humiliating" Yeltsin's attempt to employ the former legislators.

Mukusev's reasons for quitting the Parliament building demonstrate that not all those who have given up on Parliament Chairman Ruslan I. Khasbulatov's resistance are motivated by whole-hearted support for Yeltsin.

Mukusev expressed disgust at the squalid turn the legislature has taken in the last week, when it has come increasingly under the influence of nationalistic elements backed up by paranoid paramilitary types carrying weapons.

One of these confronted him Tuesday, Mukusev said, in a White House hallway. ' "Who are you?' he said, and when I told him I was a deputy and I should be asking him what he was doing there," Mukusev recalled, "he said, 'You're a scumbag, and we'll shoot you first if Yeltsin's men come in here.' "

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