Why Boris can ignore writing on Kremlin wall: Russia's reforming Prime Minister faces down a raucous reception in Congress but fails to win over the critics of his monetarist policies

Click to follow
MOSCOW - If the crumpled telegrams taped to the the wall of the Great Kremlin Palace are anything to go by, President Yeltsin does not stand a chance. But then neither does anyone else.

They come from all of over Russia and scattered bits of territory stranded by Moscow's hasty retreat from empire: angry, bitter voices demanding the Congress of People's Deputies do something.

'When are you going to stop the speculators and put and end to this bordel,' writes Mr Vinokurtsev from Neya. 'Elected representatives of the people. Remember the people. Yeltsin and Gaidar are skinning us alive,' pleads Vladimir from Apatiti. 'Deputies, make Tsar Boris move police cordons separating the people from the Kremlin,' demands a factory worker from the Kokoshinko region of Moscow.

Stuck on a bulletin board outside the Kremlin assembly hall, they belong, like the Congress, to the traditions of a different age. In the old days they were a sacred part of the Soviet political theatre - the days when the Great Kremlin Palace was the venue for the Communist Party Congress, when deputies clapped and voted in unison, when loyal subjects in the sticks trooped obediently to their local post office to send telegrams with comradely messages of support. Everything has changed. But, like the Congress, elected in 1990 and still swarming with former servants of the party, the telegrams linger, their past purpose hijacked by the raucous new democracy. In place of glowing panegyrics dictated by local party cells comes a torrent of abuse, offset by a few lonely messages of support for President Yeltsin and his Acting Prime Minister, Yegor Gaidar.

It is one of the great ironies of Russia's transition to democracy that the most docile servants of the old order - those who spent their lives in lock-step with the latest editorial in Pravda - now regard anything other than constant, absolute dissent as treachery. They are the ones who on Tuesday called for President Yeltsin's impeachment and yesterday blamed him for Russia's falling birth-rate and assorted other crimes.

Meanwhile, it is the democrats, those who dared dissent in the past, who now demand deference to the will of the state, many of them convinced that only a firm hand can secure their gains. Oleg Rumyantsev, author of Russia's new draft constituion and one- time champion of liberal tolerance, now demands 'tough state measures' to push through reform. Those who block the way must be punished, particularly ethnic enclaves seeking to split from Russia: 'We need economic sanctions against all separatists.' The last person to try such tactics was Mikhail Gorbachev in the Baltics. It did not work.

Nationalism, though, is the one issue that blurs all factional allegiances at the Congress and in the country. Several of the telegrams stuck on the wall took up the theme - one from an angry Russian marooned in the Baltics; another from Central Asia. Most, though, come from within Russia and have a simple demand: they want the government out.

Of 32 telegrams put up yesterday, only 10 offered any comfort to Mr Yeltsin. One came from Ludmilla Feodorovna, a history teacher in Kanamchuv: 'We support Yeltsin and Gaidar's government. Reform. Parliament is the last refuge of the Communists, a brake on reform.'

The bulletin board reveals probably less about the mood of the nation - undeniably bleak though it is - than about the type of people who send telegrams to the Congress. They are the types who, if they live in Moscow, might spend their days haranguing passers-by in the slush outside the Lenin Museum off Red Square.

But if they represent only a fringe, they also highlight one of the biggest problems facing Russian democracy: only the fringe can be bothered to pay any attention any more. According to a poll in Moskovsky Komsomolets, only 19 per cent of the population have any interest in the current Congress and think it might influence their lives. Fifty nine per cent believe it will not and 22 per cent have no opinion. With Congress divided into 14 factions at the last count, and even these often little more than fractious cabals with no clear agenda, politics is, as Marxists used to say, 'divorced from the masses'. Debate in the main hall rarely focuses on what has just been said by the star speaker of the day - President Yeltsin on Tuesday, the Prime Minister, Mr Gaidar, yesterday.

The most pressing concern of many deputies seems to be how much of the proceedings will be televised and complaints from the Speaker, Ruslan Khasbulatov, that too much money is wasted voting on silly motions and constant recounts because deputies press the wrong buttons.

One person in the Great Kremlin Palace disappointed by what he saw yesterday was was Gennady Andrianov, chairman of the city council in Vladimir. Not a deputy himself, he came to Moscow to see what was being done in his name. 'My electors don't ask if I'm a Communist or a democrat,' he says. 'They ask me why there is no sugar in the shops . . . What matters are social questions and, most important of all, money.'

Mr Andrianov supports the government, not because he likes it but because there is no one else. 'If somebody could give us a guarantee that a new government won't make any mistakes, we can think about a change. So far, no one can give such a guarantee.'

And this is why, at least so far, President Yeltsin can probably ignore the abusive telegrams.