Russia: Deputies dread president's housecall: Boris Yeltsin has taken their parliamentary seats. Now they fear he wants their homes. Andrew Higgins meets some unhappy MPs

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The Independent Online
EACH day it gets worse. First came the tanks to lob shells at their office windows. Yesterday came a repair man to fiddle with the electronic lock at Entrance Number Six, 8/12 Akademik Korolyov Street. Boris Yeltsin wants not just their seats in parliament but, they fear, their Moscow flats too.

Russia's diehard deputies - those who shunned the offer of a 2m rouble golden handshake and stood firm to the end - are about to lose the one privilege that really mattered: permission to live in Moscow and a flat for the family.

'It is not just the flats, we have been insulted, humiliated,' complained Gemal Dinov, a former Communist Party lawyer. He moved into Korolyov Street three years ago after his election to the Congress from Dagestan on the Caspian Sea. He is not keen to go home. 'They call me and say 'we elected you until 1995 so just sit tight over there'.' Nearly everyone in Entrance Six and next door says the same. They came to Moscow from the sticks. Their success may have been modest - more qualified figures got seats in the prestigious Soviet Congress, not just the Russian one - but they had made it. Now they risk being sent back to where they started.

There has been no official eviction notice yet but Moscow's Mayor, Yuri Luzhkov, a zealous ally of Mr Yeltsin, has let it be known that he wants to take over the Korolyov Street flats, along with those in Rubolovskoye Chaussee. More menacing, though, is a threat by the Mayor to 'clear' the city of all those who do not hold a propiska, the dreaded Soviet- era residence permit that was supposed to have been abolished but lingers as a useful bureaucratic club. 'Umalatova, Baburin and others have no more business in Moscow. It's time for them to go home,' said the Mayor, referring to two of Mr Yeltsin's most virulent critics, Sazhi Umalatova, a Communist, and the nationalist leader Sergei Baburin.

Quarrels about flats may seem trivial but this is the stuff that Soviet - and until a new generation arrives - democratic politics are made of. The 18-month stand-off between Mr Yeltsin and parliament revolved in public over disputes about budget deficits, financial targets and arcane points of constitutional law. The issues are real. But equally real, especially for out-of-town deputies, is the fear of losing a foothold in Moscow. Mr Yeltsin plays the privilege game like the former politburo member he is - lavishing favours on friends, snatching back dachas, cars and flats from enemies.

On their way out yesterday to walk their dogs, go shopping or collect the kids from school, deputies stopped to swap stories about what happened inside the White House when the tanks started firing, and what might happen next. Several said their neighbours had been beaten. They are also worried about Ilya Konstantinov, a neo-fascist deputy who they thought was in Lefortovo Prison but was yesterday declared missing or on the run.

Also alarming was the news that Mr Yeltsin was to reinterpret the terms of a decree promising all deputies paid leave until the end of their term in 1995, ownership of flats and other 'social guarantees'. The Kremlin now says any deputy not out of the White House by 3 October is no longer eligible.

This is bad news for Anna Gerasimov, a bouncy 15-year-old schoolgirl whose father supported Alexander Rutskoi. She has no desire to go back to Vyborg, on the Finnish border. Glummer still was a 30-year-old MP from central Russia, who declined to give either his name or constituency. He was banking on Mr Yeltsin's word. He got out of the White House before the tanks came and worries the diehards may have spoilt it for everyone. 'Boris Nikolayevich changes not only his promises but also his decrees as his mood changes. There is no guarantee of anything. The press is already singing songs to the President and democracy. Soon we won't need elections, soon there will be letters of thanks from the people. Then we will have a second Father of the People, Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin.'

He says he will not stand again. Neither, it seems, will many now living in Korlolyov Street. A former deputy from Tatarstan sees no point: 'I'm not going through this again. These are illegal elections. I'm fed up with all this. We survived two coups in three years. It's enough for anyone until the end of his days.' As he talks, a brand-new chauffeur-driven Alfa Romeo purrs to a halt. Out steps one of the most dedicated supporters of Mr Rutskoi and Ruslan Khasbulatov - a deputy from the Far East. She was in the White House to the very end but does not want to talk about it. Nor about the fancy car. The deputy from Dagestan hugs her. 'I thought we were building democracy,' he says, mimicking, probabably unconsciously, the Soviet slogan about building Communism. 'We have built nothing.'