``I decided to move here because after three years of perestroika [restructuring], there have been no real changes,'' said a young man, explaining to a crowd of bystanders why he had joined Saturday's demonstration in central Moscow. He was, in fact, talking after the main demonstration had been broken up. Twenty minutes earlier, groups of police and plainclothesmen had dived into a crowd several hundred strong and pulled out about half a dozen demonstrators.
This was the first time in four weeks of such demonstrations that the police had cracked down. And it was, one prominent activist said, ``a blatant provocation by Yegor Kuzmich [Ligachev] and his bandits.'' Mr. Ligachev is the second-ranking Soviet leader and is widely considered to take a markedly more conservative approach to reform than party chief Mikhail Gorbachev.
The dispersal of the demonstration is one of several recent moves by the authorities that have put a chill on the run-up to the Communist Party conference that will soon bring 5,000 delegates to Moscow to discuss reform. These include instructions to the media to moderate their sharp criticism of the way delegates to the conference had been elected. The demonstration had, however, returned to this theme. Its leaders were agitating for the formation of a Popular Front, which they describe as a mass organization to support Mr. Gorbachev's push for radical reform.
The crackdown was carefully planned. A police general was on hand to direct operations, though at one point he took refuge in a subway station to avoid persistent questioning by an irate crowd. The numbers of police and plainclothesmen were considerably greater than on the previous Saturday. Some police were well drilled.
``Whatever you do,'' Maj. Lev Birman told his men, ``smile.'' Demonstrators complained that KGB (secret police) provocateurs were active among the crowd.
By an interesting coincidence, one suspected provocateur was known to this correspondent. Burly and bearded, dressed in denim jacket and jeans, with tattoos on his knuckles, he was standing on a wall, yelling his support for the Popular Front. When a police major came within range, he shouted anti-police slogans literally into the officer's face. A few minutes later he was dragged away and thrown dramatically into a police bus.