Muslims vs. Communists In Soviet Tadzhikistan
After hard-line party regains power, opposition raises protests
IN front of the pedestal where the statue of Vladimir Lenin stood until it was toppled last week, speaker after speaker makes impassioned calls for progress in this desperately poor Central Asian republic of Tadzhikistan."Long live freedom.... Long live democracy.... Long live friendship among peoples," one man shouts into the public address system set up in the central square of the Tadzhikistan capital of Dushanbe. At each pause the crowd of demonstrators cries "hurrah," many thrusting their fists into the air. Such scenes have appeared throughout the Soviet Union since the Aug. 19-21 hard-line coup collapsed. But the circumstances surrounding this protest in Tadzhikistan, which borders Afghanistan and China, set it apart. The vast majority of demonstrators here are Muslim, many sitting in neat rows in front of the pedestal with legs folded, and dressed in skull caps and traditional robes called Dzhomahs. Their protests are over Communists' attempts to defy the democratic trend sweeping the Soviet Union and restore tight control in this mountainous republic of about 5.1 million people. It is the first such instance of a republican Commu- nist Party comeback since the national organization was dispersed by Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev shortly after the coup attempt. "We can't allow this republic to have a totalitarian regime," says Daulat Khudonazarov, a Soviet people's deputy from Tadzhikistan and a prominent centrist in the opposition. "We need reforms to integrate into the world market, and this regime which is without perspective is seeking to return to the old stagnation period." The economic situation in Tadzhikistan, which has the highest percentage of rural dwellers of any Soviet republic, is noticeably more critical than in other regions. In Dushanbe, seasonal fruits and vegetables are available, but little else. For example, lines at one bakery had formed at 9 p.m. on a weekend because of a severe bread shortage. The republic has little industry and is known mostly for growing cotton. The opposition protest near the pink, Russian-style parliament building on the central Freedom Square began Sept. 21, defying a state of emergency imposed in the city. That day, the Communist-dominated republican legislature staged what opponents term a "parliamentary putsch" that forced the resignation of then acting-parliament-President Kadriddin Aslonov. He was replaced by former Communist Party boss Rakhman Nabiyev, a burly man whose ruddy complexion and gray hair make him appear stamped from the sam e mold as former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. The parliament acted a day after Mr. Aslonov banned the Communist Party, which had renamed itself the Socialist Party, and ordered confiscation of its assets. It also followed the toppling of Lenin's statue, which horrified many of the Communist faithful. At a news conference, Mr. Nabiyev dodged answering most questions on the political situation, including the need for a state of emergency. But Interior Minister Mamadayez Navzhuvanov made it clear that force would not be used to disperse demonstrators, adding that the "top priority is in dialogue and finding common language." During three days of talks with the opposition - a broad-based coalition of the Democratic Party, the Rastokhez popular front movement, and the Islamic Revival Party - the hard-liners agreed in principle to lift the state of emergency, as well as to reimpose the ban on the party. Nabiyev also offered to leave his post if he were allowed to compete in popular presidential elections, scheduled for late October, but which may be put off until December. Parliament met Monday to consider the proposals. Some opposition leaders in the Democratic party and the popular front appear willing to accept such an arrangement. But the Islamic party, with only about 10,000 members is clearly the dominant party in the coalition, and is demanding the permanent retirement of Nabiyev and his communist allies. "We can never forgive the Communists for their actions after the [1917 Bolshevik] revolution. They burned almost all our books and destroyed almost all our mosques," says Nurodin Trazhonzoda, an influential Islamic spiritual leader in the republic. "We have to finish Communist rule - either that or our republic will be sent back 50 years." Opposition leaders say it is merely a matter of time before the communists are forced from the political stage. "Their time is simply past. This episode is merely a convulsion," says Mr. Khudonazarov, who like many coalition members, is occupied more with the future than the present. The Democratic Party is weak, comprising mostly intellectuals whose influence does not reach far beyond Dushanbe's city limit. The real key to the future development of the republic is the Islamic party, which is technically banned by parliament, but is operating openly nonetheless. Leaders eschew creating a fundamentalist Islamic state on the ruins of Communism, insisting they are committed to democracy and a market economy. Indeed, while Gorbachev is reviled in most parts of the country, he is revered by the Muslims of Tadzhikistan for allowing the revival of religion. Gorbachev posters are plastered all over the opposition headquarters at the city Executive Committee building, as well as the pedestal where Lenin's statue stood. Democratic Party leader Shodmon Yusupov says the parliament's "coup attempt" has united the opposition and the need to rescue the economy will keep the coalition together after the Communist threat recedes. He trusted the Islamic party's policy regarding democratic reform, he says, but adds that its aversion to fundamentalism could change if there were a delay on economic reform. "The republic could be susceptible to a new form of Bolshevism or fundamentalism if the economic situation isn't improved soon," Mr. Yusupov says.