Deep aversion to change slows rebirth of Russia Leaders reluctant to seek compromise CRISIS IN RUSSIA

MOSCOW — MOSCOW -- The knots of gray-coated police in disarray, the crowds surging down the streets, the taunts, the bricks, the swinging billy clubs, the swaggering gun-toting free-lancers and the would-be heroes striking poses as they packed into trucks, the grenades, the gunfire, the dead and wounded, and finally the army on the move -- it was all inevitable.

Sadly, it is probably not conclusive.


Revolutions don't run their course in a day, or a week, or a year, and what happened in Moscow yesterday and today is proof of that.

Sweeping away the Soviet Union, as Boris N. Yeltsin did in 1991, was only a first step. Now he has abolished the parliament -- democratically elected three years ago but nonetheless the embodiment of the old regime.


And that opened the door to yesterday's fighting.

To Mr. Yeltsin, it was a step he had to take. Without such a clash, Russia would have continued to flounder, a nation caught between popular reformist impulses and a still largely intact Soviet power structure.

And whatever follows the dramatic events of yesterday, it isn't over. Too much is at stake for either side to give up so easily.

Mr. Yeltsin is often depicted as a destroyer, not a builder. His allies counter that in Russia today there is still a great deal that needs to be destroyed.

The president's fights with parliament have been epic. Every one -- going back to April 1992 -- has been either directly or indirectly about the course of economic reform.

The legislators stood for delay and inaction. At every turn, for the past year, they sought to prop up the old system that had raised them and derail Mr. Yeltin's reforms.

Mr. Yeltsin thought he had carried the day when he won a referendum five months ago, but he was unable to force his opponents to recognize his victory.

As his chief of staff, Sergei Filatov, pointed out last week, the parliament continued to ignore his proposals, and at the end of the summer enacted a budget that would have sent the deficit soaring -- and with it, inflation.


Price rises have been high enough already, but what parliament was seeking would have been ruinous.

Inflation a problem

Grigory Yavlinsky, a reform economist -- who is planning to challenge Mr. Yeltsin for the presidency -- argued last week that inflation is the most pressing problem facing Russia today. It is not the shortcomings of the constitution or the timing of elections or any of the issues that have been swatted back and forth these past two weeks.

But why were the legislators so intent on letting the budget run wild?

Mr. Yeltsin's allies accuse them of intentionally trying to sabotage the reforms, and in some cases that may be true.

But the majority of deputies have conscientiously represented the managers of the bleeding state-owned industries, Jurassic-era factories that should be struggling to survive but are vTC soaking up millions of Moscow's rubles instead.


In 1990, these deputies were elected in what were generally considered fair elections -- although they were the second string, because the best people went not to the Russian but to the Soviet parliament, which disbanded in 1991.

But most of the candidates came from the big factories -- indeed, they were sponsored by the big factories.

They didn't like Mr. Gorbachev, yet they were horrified by the heavy-handedness of the attempted coup of 1991, so they willingly followed Mr. Yeltsin's lead in establishing Russian sovereignty and eventually independence.

But Mr. Yeltsin wanted to go much further than this conservative and not particularly representative legislature wanted to follow.

The deputies saw nothing fundamentally wrong with the Soviet economic system. Mr. Yeltsin wanted to do away with it. Disgruntlement became opposition, and that in turn became intransigence.

The parliament came to represent the old guard -- or at least that sizable chunk of it that survived the first blow against the Communist lock on power back in 1991.


Mr. Yeltsin, on the other hand, as he showed when he easily carried last April's referendum, had come to represent Russian popular opinion.

And one of the strongest resentments among people in Russia was that nothing had really changed since the coup. Almost everywhere, there were the same old Communist "apparatchiks" still running things -- and nowhere was that clearer than in parliament.

In plenty of countries this would still not have necessarily led to barricades, sieges and death in the streets.

'Absurd' political debate

But the political debate here had taken the form of an "absurd, shameful, suicidal and destructive confrontation," said Sergei Stankevich, a Yeltsin adviser. Each side, he said, demonized the other and portrayed the battle as one of good vs. evil.

"The trouble with Russian politics is that there is no culture of agreement and disagreement," he said. "Democracy is not just procedures for elections and the workings of the legislature or executive. Democracy is also an ability to restrict oneself in the achievement of one's political goals, an ability to admit that you are incapable of pressing home all your demands.


"Basically it is an art of sensible compromise. And the art of governance is not so much through conflict as through shared interests.

"These key elements of democracy are still not very much in evidence in the Russian political landscape. It means that Russia is sick."

This, too, may be a legacy of communism, one that Mr. Yeltsin, for all his reform efforts, is as captive to as his White House foes.

It may, in fact, be a legacy that can be traced directly to an earlier October showdown, the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917.

Then, a government struggling to establish a democratic system in a country that had been hammered by war was overthrown by a small but disciplined group of plotters led by Vladimir I. Lenin.

The Bolsheviks, as the Communists called themselves then, were ruthless, deceitful and uncompromising. Their opponents were torn by internal squabbling.


Lenin later said that power was lying on the street, waiting to be picked up.

Indeed, for the past week parliament's supporters have been talking about how to apply Lenin's tactics to 1993. Their attempt yesterday to seize the television center paralleled the Bolsheviks' seizure of the central telegraph office in St. Petersburg in 1917.

Real mediation lacking

In the summer of 1993, as in the summer of 1917, while fighting loomed, the two sides had no interest at all in trying for an accommodation. Now, as then, there have been no real mediating influences.

One possible contender for the job of mediation was the Constitutional Court, which was established in 1991. For a while its struggles to establish a system based on law rather than on raw power earned it the respect, or at least sympathy, of many.

But its chairman, Valery Zorkin, quickly became a judicial activist of the first order, and he rushed to parliament's side time after time. The court has made a habit of ruling on issues that no one has brought before it, and last week it suspended two of its members when they objected to this kind of procedure.


"I intend to make every effort to ensure that society recognizes the harmful and sinister nature of that man," Gennady Burbulis, a longtime Yeltsin adviser and crony, said of Mr. Zorkin last week. "He has lost any possibility of representing the law, and, regrettably, can no longer be viewed as any kind of sensible figure in our life."

Church steps forward

Late last week, the Russian Orthodox Church stepped forward, and talks between the two sides under the church's sponsorship began Friday. They were going on yesterday even as demonstrators approached the White House.

Mr. Stankevich, the Yeltsin adviser, praised the church's appearance on the stage. He offered the hope that it could play the same role King Juan Carlos did in helping to move Spain peacefully from authoritarian to democratic rule.

But it always seemed a difficult assignment. And yesterday, it seemed all the more so, for Mr. Yeltsin also remembered the lesson of October 1917, when the Bolsheviks prevailed because no one stood in their way.