Russia regions get 'diktat democracy': Yeltsin's decision to send in the tanks in his battle with parliament has tipped the scales in his favour across the country

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The Independent Online
'THE PARADOX,' says Igor Filatev, deputy governor, champion of private property and pugnacious cheerleader of Boris Yeltsin's decision to call in the tanks, 'is that we have only had real democracy for a week.'

A bigger paradox lies atop a jumble of paper on Mr Filatev's desk in the administration building in Tambov, 450km (280 miles) south of Moscow. It is an official diktat, freshly typed, scrawled with three signatures and divided into six separate sections of legal gobbledegook. This, says Mr Filatev, is the first fruit of Russia's re-invigorated democracy in the deeply conservative farming region of central Russia: 'We are trying to gain control of the local newspaper.'

He wants Tambov Life - partially owned by the local council and known as Tambov Pravda until the August 1991 Communist coup - either shut down or placed under the supervision of his office, normally responsible for privatising, not seizing, assets.

A former chemical engineer determined to avenge what he says was his father's persecution, he describes the newspaper as 'an organ of Communist-fascist dictatorship'. He exaggerates. Its real crimes are dullness and equivocation. Throughout the crisis in Moscow, Tambov Life published verbatim decrees issued by Mr Yeltsin on one side of the page, those of his rival, Alexander Rutskoi on the other.

Across Russia the balance of power has shifted. So too have traditional roles. Campaigning under the banner of press freedom is Vladimir Biryukov, editor of Tambov Life and former head of propaganda for the local Communist Party. 'This is pure political sabotage,' he says.

By shelling the White House, President Yeltsin has emboldened his radical allies and broken the back of all but a handful of regional parliaments. The advantage, though, could be lost. Instead of preparing for elections, many are simply settling old scores.

Inspiring them is the example of Mr Yeltsin's new Information Minister, Vladimir Shumeiko. He has banned 15 hardline publications outright and ordered Pravda and Sovietskaya Rossiya to change their names, alter their editorial lines and dump their editors.

When Russians voted in a referendum six months ago, Tambov's 1.3 million people spoke out against reform. Fifty four per cent of those who voted said they had no confidence in Mr Yeltsin and 57 per cent rejected his free-market policies. But that was before he called in the army.

'The common man associated democracy with chaos,' says Valentin Davituliani, the region's presidential representative, a post invented by the Kremlin after the 1991 putsch to act as its eyes and ears in the regions. 'Now that they see that a democrat like Yeltsin can restore order with a firm hand many start to believe in democracy.'

What democrats need now, he says, is 'a massive campaign of brain-washing'. The plan sounds less sinister in Russian but does highlight a decisive factor in forthcoming elections - control of propaganda. Mr Davituliani, already selected as a candidate for the Russian Choice Party of Yegor Gaidar, wants an army of campaigners to fan out across countryside to counter the still tenacious influence of the old Communist Party machine.

The old elite, though, is in retreat. Village and town soviets (councils) have already been shut down by presidential decree. Larger regional soviets were not included in the ban. (Mr Filatev insists the omission was a typing error). Instead they are being urged to dissolve themselves.

Tambov deputies have resisted the call to disband. But they also see the writing on the wall. 'There is no opposition anymore. What can we do?' asks Alexander Ryabov, Soviet chairman and, like counterparts in most of Russia's 87 other regions and republics, erstwhile boss of the local Communist Party.

He makes no secret of his past: 'I'm a classic 'partyocrat'.' Nor about his views on Mr Yeltsin: 'If he is a democrat, I'm Jesus Christ.' The free market, he says, is leading Russia to ruin.

But he concedes that the Tambov Soviet's days are numbered. After unanimously approving a resolution condemning Mr Yeltsin three weeks ago, it meekly rescinded it on Monday. Mr Ryabov himself vows to sit tight until his phones are disconnected and offices sealed by police. But he is also making plans to stand in the December elections.

The only hint of more resolute opposition to Mr Yeltsin are a few poorly printed leaflets scattered around town: ''This bloody regime should not celebrate its victory over the workers. Its defeat in the class struggle ahead is inevitable.' For all but the most rabid extremists, though, it is elections not class struggle that will decide.

(Photograph omitted)

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