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Republics Still Lack Democracy

THE new wave of nationalism sweeping the world has left several changes in its wake - new political alliances, new borders, democratic values.Nationalism and democracy are coexisting fairly well in Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia, where people enjoy both freedom and national sovereignty. This is generally not the case, however, in the Soviet Union. No one benefited more from the autonomy granted the Soviet republics than did their leaders. Nursultan Nazarbaiev of Kasakhstan, Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan, and Ayaz Mutalibov of Azerbaijan, for example, greatly increased their personal power and enthusiastically embraced both their new positions as heads of state and the recognition accorded them by foreign dignitaries and by their old sovereign, the president of the Soviet Union. These leaders were less enthusiastic about embracing their countries' budding democratic institutions, insisting that such institutions endangered the republics' sovereignty and incited ethnic conflicts. To buttress their anti-democratic positions, these leaders not only retained their positions as first secretaries of the regional communist parties, but used the existing party and state apparatuses as bases for personal power and as tools for crushing nascent democratic movements. By demanding democratization in the Soviet Union and by signing declarations promising the observance of human rights in their republics, these leaders have shown themselves to be chips off the old Soviet despotic bloc. Despite their democratic posturing, it is clear that the level of freedom in their regions is far lower than that in Moscow. President Karimov, for example, has actively persecuted the opposition organization "Birlik," as well as several Uzbek deputies in the Soviet parliament who disagree with him. In addition, the correspondent from Komsomol'skaia Pravda, Moscow's most popular newspaper, was unceremoniously ousted from the Uzbek republic simply for contacting persons Karimov considered "suspicious." In Georgia and Armenia, the new nationalist leaders have created their own political structures which are deeply hostile to Moscow and the Communist Party. Despite the oppositional nature of these structures, however, the degree of freedom in these republics is far less than that seen during the transitional period of 1987 to 1990, when both the center and the nationalist movements were weak and political freedoms were at their highest level. The developments in Georgia are telling. Zviad Hamsakhurdia has instilled what Valerian Advadze, a prominent Georgian intellectual, has called a "fear of moral and physical destruction" that "precludes any dissent." Mr. Hamsakhurdia, a former Soviet dissident, tolerates no criticism of his activities and decries his opponents as agents of the KGB and the Kremlin, even arresting them from time to time. During the election campaign in May, he abused his powers, persecuting his rivals in the harshest ways. It is ironic that the International Helsinki Committee has barred Hamsakhurdia, a former dissident, from membership. LIKE Uzbekistan's Karimov, Hamsakhurdia actively opposes any independent press. Correspondents from Moscow's most liberal mass media were unable to operate freely in Georgia, and the president of the International Organization of Journalists had to intervene on their behalf. It is no surprise that intellectuals in the national republics have become embittered by the dictatorial behavior of their nationalist leaders. Given their abiding regard for free speech, they echo the 2,000-year-old musings of a Judean intellectual named Josephus Flavius, who suggested that creative individuals would prefer an empire with a liberal potentate to a regime of zealous nationalists or religious fanatics. There exists a dogma in the West that the disintegration of the Soviet Union will, by itself, bring political freedom to the people of the national republics. This is clearly not the case. As the West becomes increasingly involved with the leaders of the Soviet national republics, Western politicians must place political freedoms on the list of items requiring discussion. Republic leaders must learn that it is not enough to simply stand up against the empire, demand sovereignty for their republics, and demonstrate good will toward the West. The sympathy and support of international public opinion require the promotion of true democracy in the republics. Now it is the national republics, rather than Moscow, that must be taken to task for the violation of human rights and the suppression of democracy.

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