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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Miners Should Stay At the Mines

The news that Russian miners are arriving in Moscow on Tuesday to support President Boris Yeltsin during the coming Congress session inevitably evokes the unsavory memory of Romanian miners descending on Bucharest for similar purposes in June 1990.


At that time. President Ion Iliescu, the ex-Communist who succeeded Nicolae Ceausescu in Romania's Christmas revolution of 1989, was under pressure by students who wanted him out. They had demonstrated for six weeks against the Communists in Romania's new leadership, and after a night of riots Iliescu went on television to ask civic-minded Romanians to come defend the government.


The next morning the first sinister train-loads of miners arrived. Armed with axe handles and thick cables, they ruled the city for three days, moving into University Square where the protests were held and attacking anyone whose looks they didnt like, from long-haired youths to gypsies. The way the Iliescu team tried to present this -- as a spontaneous response to his appeal for help -- did not deceive anyone.


Similarly, the notion that 2, 000 miners would spontaneously decide to come up to Moscow for the Congress is laughable.


An account in Izvestia, which generally supports the president, said that a special trainload of miners from Russia's Kuzbass coal region was coming to Moscow to provide "political and moral support" for Yeltsin and his government.


The article did not say why the president now felt he needed 10 times more miners than came for the last Congress in the spring, when 200 burly men formed a human chain between the Rossiya Hotel where the deputies were lodging and the Kremlin's Spassky Gate. But it did make clear that opponents of Yeltsin are already protesting, with ex-Communists accusing the president of paying for sumptuous meals to entice the men to the capital.


Yeltsin is not Iliescu, and the pressure he will face during the Congress -- to restore elements of the previous communist system -- is the opposite of what the Romanian faced. But the fact that he should feel obliged to use similar means of intimidation is most disquieting.


Some Yeltsin supporters might argue that bringing in the miners is only natural given reports that other political forces are arming themselves in preparation for the Congress. But in a nascent democracy like Russia, it is simply wrong for those in power -- who have the resources of the military and police at their command -- to mobilize a force of men for purposes of intimidation. It sends the vrong signal to Muscovites, to Russians and to the world.