Soviet Reformers Seek Mantle Of Legitimacy
Gorbachev and Yeltsin come under fire for trampling principle of legality, Constitution
AFTER three days of sometimes dramatic debate, the emergency session of the Soviet Congress of People's Deputies, the country's highest legislative authority, was ready to render judgment on creating a new political order for the country.The Congress has grappled with an unusual dilemma - how to have a political revolution and constitutional continuity at the same time. The aftermath of the failed putsch of Aug. 19-21 has amounted to nothing less than a revolution. Powerful institutions of Soviet life, including the Communist Party and the central Cabinet, have been disbanded by decree of the new authorities. All this has been done in the name of protecting constitutional legitimacy. The opposition to the coup, led by Russian President Boris Yeltsin, insisted it was the true defender of constitutional order and was seeking to restore the rightful Soviet president to office. In the name of the Constitution, Mr. Yeltsin issued a decree that removed people from posts, suspended newspapers from publication, and halted the political activity of Communists and others. But at the Congress of People's Deputies the democratic steamroller driven by Yeltsin and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev has come under criticism for rolling over the Constitution. That has forced democratic reformers to back off a bit. Initially the democrats sought to circumvent and dissolve the parliament and Congress. But they have now found they will have to work with the elected deputies - at least for a little while. At press time, the Congress was poised to vote on three major documents which together would reshape the Soviet political system. One is a revised version of the plan, presented Monday by Mr. Gorbachev and 11 republican leaders, for revamping the structure of the Soviet Union itself, changing it from a federation into a loose confederation. The second guarantees human rights and freedoms. The third is a bill of constitutional amendments which alter the central government institutions during the transitio n to a new treaty of union and a new constitution. The draft resolution on the new shape of the union, as published by Reuters, calls for establishing a transitional power structure. The Russian government sought some changes, but the final version was not clear at press time. The draft recognizes republican declarations of sovereignty and calls for the signing of a new union treaty "by all republics wishing to do so." In the meantime, the resolution says, new interrepublican treaties on economic and financial cooperation, ecology, human rights, religious freedom, and other subjects should be concluded. It calls for creation of an economic common market, "in the framework of which free movement of goods, people, and capital can be ensured." Independent states such as the Baltics or even former Soviet satellites of Eastern Europe, could join this economic treaty, it suggests. The new "union of sovereign states" should reach an agreement on a unified security structure and foreign policy, the document states. The basis of that should be observance of all Soviet [Btreaty obligations, including treaties on arms control and foreign debts. United armed forces will be maintained, but will be radically reformed. Military spending will be reduced and defense doctrines jointly agreed upon. The Congress, according to this resolution, "confirms the responsibility of the union as a nuclear power" and pledges to take "special measures for establishment of the most reliable guarantees ruling out unsanctioned deployment of nuclear weapons." It adds a call for further agreements on reducing strategic nuclear weapons and for negotiations to completely eliminate shorter-range nuclear weapons. The structure of the central government during the transition period is defined in a separate draft law, made available to the Monitor by the Russian Information Agency. This creates a State Council composed of the Soviet president and the leaders of the republics to make decisions on basic domestic and foreign policy, as proposed on Monday. The Cabinet and ministerial structure is replaced by an interrepublican economic committee formed by the republics on an equal basis. The key compromise to the original Gorbachev-Yeltsin plan is a decision to retain the present Supreme Soviet, the standing legislature whose members are elected from the larger Congress of People's Deputies. The republican leaders initially sought to get rid of the entire parliamentary structure, replacing it with a council of representatives, 20 from each republic. Now they will retain the lower chamber of the Supreme Soviet, the Council of the Union. But they will reorganize the upper Council of the Re publics, with a new membership chosen by the republican parliaments and new powers. The new, more powerful republican chamber is clearly formed as a check on the conservative union legislature where members of the now-suspended Communist Party still dominate its ranks. The republican chamber is given the power to legislate activity of all union bodies, on interrepublican matters, and to ratify international treaties. All other legislation must be passed by both chambers. This draft closely follows the structure called for in the draft union treaty which was due to be signed on Aug. 20, the day after the attempted coup began. The decision to retain the Supreme Soviet in some form is a clear concession to attacks from conservatives, who insist it is the only source of constitutional legitimacy remaining after the coup. "Both the Supreme Soviet and the congress are incapable of acting and should be dissolved," Col. Viktor Alksnis, leader of the conservative Soyuz (Unity) faction, told the weekly "Argumenti i Facti.The trouble is that today it's the only legitimate body that can secure the transfer to the new power structures. Thus, it's very sad, it should be preserved."